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Interviews

Life Members have been part of the RAD for more than 40 years and have a great amount of experience and wisdom to share. We have selected Life Members from all over the world to answer questions submitted by RAD staff from the Marketing Communication and Membership team. Enjoy reading and learning their stories, highlights and anecdotes from their journey with the RAD!

Have the evolving attitudes and stereotypes around idealised body shape in the last 40 years been more liberating or restrictive for students working towards being professional dancers?
During my career, there has always been discussion over body type and shape, especially when students want to pursue a professional career in dance. I don’t feel this will ever change. Dancers are generally taller these days, but they still need to be within a certain height range for most companies as there can be partner issues. Students who possess a body that can demonstrate beautiful, uncluttered lines are still sought for classical companies around the world.

Having said that, there are also technical and performance skills of paramount importance; and a certain athleticism is also a definite advantage. Strength through the whole body must be developed to cope with the choreographic demands of today. Dancers who do not conform completely to the usual aesthetic are still able to work in companies that do not place as much emphasis on body type. Indeed, some companies look for dynamic, versatile and excellent individuals who can contribute fully from the creating process to the performance. Overall, I feel there are more opportunities for dancers, especially those whose skills cross the dance genres.

During your life membership, is there a particular RAD event that you remember? Why has it made such an impact?
The event I was most excited about was the Genée International Ballet Competition held in Sydney in 2002. Prior to that time, I had never been able to attend the event as it was always in London in January. For a New Zealander with a young family this was out of reach, besides being at the beginning of our summer holidays did not help. The Genée held at the Sydney Opera House, a masterpiece of architecture and an iconic part of the Sydney Harbour, was indeed an event second to none.

Luke Rittner’s momentous decision to run the event for the first time away from London showed the Royal Academy of Dance was indeed a worldwide organisation. Although many dancers from New Zealand and Australia had already competed very successfully in London, there was the opportunity to show what we, in the Southern Hemisphere, could do in terms of dancing and welcoming others from around the world to this fantastic event. 

You have passed your love of dance onto some members of your family, what is it like to see your daughters take the same path?  
Dancing has always been a way of life in our home. So much so, we were breathing, eating and even sleeping dance! Dancing came naturally to my two 

deanna Jayasuriya LMdaughters at a very tender age. I always encouraged them to appreciate art in its myriad forms. When they were young I never had any serious ideas about them becoming dancers. I pushed them to attend my classes, not necessarily to pressurise them to become dancers, but to learn discipline. They learnt that in order to excel, they must be dedicated, and that simply being my daughters would not be enough!

Their identity as dancers has steadily evolved thanks to a fusion of dancing behind me, watching me closely and developing their own individuality.Today I am so proud that they have taken after me, keeping the legacy alive. Natasha, who has recently taken over as principal of my school (which I started in 1980 with a handful of students), will undoubtedly take it to even greater heights. I dedicate my career to Miss Yvonne Bradley, my ballet teacher in Sri Lanka, who had so much of faith in me.

As a newly retired teacher, are you still involved (or planning to stay involved) in the dance world? Please tell us about your future projects.
I will stay involved as long as I can, to help strengthen our school. In Sri Lanka, there are very talented children who come from very difficult financial backgrounds. As the founder of a school with social responsibility, if I can train at least ten underprivileged students to become professionals, I will be the happiest. Dance can effectively release creative energies and provide children with the means to express themselves.

My main objective at this stage is to help preserve classical dance forms for posterity and to enable underprivileged children to learn from them. I want to promote culture and harmony through dance, not only guiding pupils in dance but also bringing harmony among diverse communities. I believe dance can supersede the artificial and obsolete barriers of race, religion, caste, creed, region and nationality which divide people from people.

Please tell us about your dance career and your proudest achievement:

My passion for Theatre Arts started as a young child. Every month, my parents took me and my brother to the Palace Theatre and The Royal Theatre in Susan Hayward LMBath in England to see musicals. When I was about 8 years-old, a dance teacher from London named Cecilia Lassman opened a little dance school across the street from our house in the church hall. After a few months, she invited the local children to a demonstration ballet class. I was absolutely fascinated with the structure and movement of ballet along with the classical music.

After the class I went home and asked my mother if I could join the dance school. As we were very poor my mother would have to see if we could afford it. My parents really believed in the arts and the decision was made for me to attend one lesson a week. As I grew older I needed more classes. To do this I ran errands for our neighbours, doing their shopping every Saturday.

Eventually I was taking classes 6 days a week, expanding to tap and modern, along with private lessons for competition work. My passion for dance grew. The discipline in this art form has helped me throughout my life in many areas. Even today this is still the case. I have a sense of focus, tenacity, achievement and fulfilment in my chosen field of teaching ballet.

I came to America in my early twenties in 1967, having taught with my teacher in England. I contacted the local RAD organiser, Mary Conmee, and within days I was attending my first teachers’ course on the Margot Fonteyn syllabus. There I met another RAD teacher from England who offered me a teaching position in her school located in a very small rural town 25 miles south of San Francisco. Thus my career in the states started. Later when Mrs Thomas retired I took over the school.

From our small beginnings teaching RAD syllabus we have had great successes. Three students have taken us to International Ballet Competitions, in Sydney in 2002, Athens in 2004 and recently to Antwerp in 2014. Three of our students have done Solo Seal in the past. One of these, a young man named Logan Learned attained his Solo Seal award and is now a principal dancer with Sarasota Company, Florida (directed by Iain Webb and his wife Margaret Barbieri). Another student Vivan Aragon, who went to Genée in Sydney, is a soloist with a Modern company in San Francisco, Garrett+Moulton.

What are the challenges of teaching pupils today compared to the aspiring dancers of the past?
Generally, pupils nowadays are not focused on the passion they enjoy most; they have a lot of activities to choose from, all of which they want to do. In addition, school and homework give them a lot of pressure. As a result, some come to Ballet classes after school with depleted energy. However, there are still exceptions, with delightful children whom we love to teach.

Another challenge we have today is dealing with the parents. The beauty of ballet is its deceptive strength, the internalisation, a demanding technique and correct execution. Those attributes are all hidden and some parents do not understand that. It is hard to explain something they cannot see. Parents want to advise us and they take it very hurtfully when we feel a child is not progressing and is asked to be withdrawn. The problem is that some pupils suffer from lack of attitude and application, even though they are physically very capable. In the past years, parents had more trust in teachers and they saw ballet as a special art.

When I was teaching, I taught with no expectations and the children learnt with no expectations. Both sides felt the excitement of teaching and learning. The journey was more important than the destination. Today the image of ballet is more readily available to the masses because of the internet, dancing dolls etc... It looks attractive and everyone wants to learn ballet but the philosophy of ballet, as mentioned previously is lost. Everyone just wants instant coffee! The image of ballet for children is tutus, pointe shoes, pirouettes and high legs; when it is not present, they are disappointed and they want to leave. Parents when selecting a teacher look for ballet bars, mirrors, floor and a big studio. I started with chairs, tiled flooring in a school hall and no one ever suffered injuries as we had to adjust the technical demands to the circumstances.

What has been your single-most satisfying experience as an RAD Registered Teacher?
My single most satisfying experience as a teacher is that unknowingly and unintentionally, I have touched many lives through teaching ballet. Ballet is a discipline which inculcates many values from grooming, to poise, to confidence etc. The list is endless!

My daughter who is an RAD graduate and our teachers who came to us at the age of five or six years old today help us to teach, give their time off despite their different chosen directions. A few of our ex-students have branched out on their own path with a strong link to dance. I treasure lovely thank you letters and verbal appreciations from our students. Many ex-students thank me not only for teaching them ballet but for what ballet has brought into their lives. They have become successful individuals managing their own lives with confidence and strong values.

My most recent highlight was when my daughter Khushcheher, our school’s teachers and some of our ex-students came to pay me a tribute for completing 50 years of teaching Ballet in India. In total surprise and awe, I witnessed three former students, who began at my school at the tender age of five years old and now in their 50’s, produce a choreographed dance piece. I could not believe they had still retained their training and moved with ease and confidence, enjoying themselves on stage. I was touched and I felt very much rewarded to see my little seeds blossoming along with the values ballet has inculcated in them.

How have teaching methods changed over the last 40 years?
The change has been enormous. Years ago, it was so much stricter and pupils respected their teachers. They knew teachers were being strict for their good and for the love of ballet.

Valerie Guy LM 2

Now teachers have a completely different approach which I think works for modern children. Teachers can’t be too strict these days and pupils have to be treated in a different way.

Personally, I studied with Noreen Bush in London. She was very strict but we absolutely loved her because we knew she was being firm for our own good. Now teachers have to be more diplomatic: 'Oh yes that was very nice darling but you could just do a little but more now, if you can just to stretch your feet a bit more.' It seems to be working with the modern teachers now and we hope that it will be a success in the future.

Actually, I do think sometimes teachers were too strict in the older days. I think you can get through to pupils by using both strictness and encouragement. It’s better to keep it balanced. I think that if teachers are too soft, pupils will get lazy. They have to know that if they want to get anywhere they’ve got to work hard at it.

How did you start teaching in Jersey?
When I first started teaching, I had very little to do because I had come back to jersey on holiday where my parents lived. As the World War II broke out, we wanted to stay together as a family in Jersey. I had just passed my RAD Advanced exam (now Advanced 2) and I was doing nothing here. During the occupation in 1941, a few little girls around my area wanted to learn piano so I taught them and at the same time, I started my dancing school with about six pupils. When the occupation finished I had a really good school so it wasn’t worth doing anything else.

It was very difficult to teach during the war: we couldn’t get materials or dancing shoes in Jersey because we were cut off from England. Children used to come in slippers and their parents used to make things from old vests, tunics or out of old sheets. It was an interesting time. Imagination had to go a long way in those days. Although it was a hard time, it was also a wonderful period. I was fortunate enough to live in the countryside, the children couldn’t get into town for their lessons so they came to me; it was really lovely.

Are you still dancing now? How does it affect your health and general well-being? 
After more than 50 years of teaching, I thought I had hung my slippers up for good but my passion for teaching was still very much alive. After a few months of retirement I applied for a part time teaching position. There were many elements in dance that I missed: the mental stimulus of the syllabus and choreography, the opportunity to give life to steps and stories, nurturing and providing an opportunity for creativity and advancing the passion, love, understanding and joy of movement.

Having the opportunity to share those values with eager young dancers certainly motivates me mentally and physically. I always leave the studio satisfied that I have planted a seed of passion for ballet. 

Have you kept some of the clothes or accessories that you first used when you started learning ballet? What do they mean to you? 
I have kept my Primary exam tutu. My mother and I went by streetcar (tramway) for at least three fittings; I still remember how excited I was to bring it home. How things have changed now that we just order the ballet wear online! I also have a beautiful blue umbrella that I used for 'Singing in the Rain'. Several of my students have used it for solos and it always brings back exciting memories.

Do you feel that the work of the RAD has moved with the times? 

Tania Gordilho LMMy ballet school, Ballet Bahiano de Tenis, was founded in 1976 and I have always used the Royal Academy of Dance syllabi. The RAD is excellent and comes close to perfection in terms of teaching and learning ballet. I am very proud to have been an RAD Member for more than 40 years and to have had the chance to gain the skills to learn, to teach and to pass on knowledge to my pupils and teachers in my ballet school. 

The Royal Academy of Dance has been able to evolve with the times and has created a unique method where the syllabi can reach all levels and all ages, from children to teenagers and adults. The essence of the RAD method on classical ballet technique focusses on quality, placement, alignment and turn-out. It also develops skills on flowing movements where musicality and artistic expression can be influenced by each dancer’s feeling. 

I am very happy and honored to have been part of the Royal Academy of Dance for more than 40 years. 

Can you tell us about your best experiences as a teacher?

In 1966 at the age of 15, I went to London with Mr. Claude Newman, an RAD Registered Teacher. There I participated in my first Royal Academy of Dance course taught by Mrs Archibald. I was the youngest aspiring teacher in that course. 

When I came back to Brazil, I started teaching and entered my first group for the Primary exam where all my little ballet dancers achieved the maximum grade: Honours. Throughout the years, I would become more amazed and I would keep on falling in love with my role as a ballet teacher. I would add passion to all my movements, inspiring my pupils and making them fall in love with the art of ballet. They would feel my heart beat.     

I’ve always attended all the courses and competitions that RAD promoted. In 1995 during a winter course that was held here and directed by Lynn Wallis, my daughter Fabiana Gordilho won a scholarship to represent Brazil in the 75th Anniversary of the Royal Academy of Dance. She got the chance to attend a summer course in Tring Park in London in which Ms. Tina Stuart and Ms. Marly Apoliano were part of the examiners committee. Fabiana also won the Phyllis Bedells Bursary. 

I have taken my pupils to many ballet competitions. I have always been proud of the results they achieved thanks to the RAD method and their daily hard work. Some of my pupils entered the Genée International Ballet Competition and went to the finals. Some of them won scholarships to join renowned schools such as The Paris Opera Ballet School, the Royal Ballet School in London, Ballet schools in Vienna, Leipzig and Dusseldorf. As professional dancers, I had pupils working for the Royal Ballet Company, Centre Chorégraphique National - Ballet de Lorraine in France, Nacho Duato’s company in Spain, Ballett Zurich, the Chilean National Ballet and the Companhia Nacional de Bailado in Portugal.