A shortened version of Pamela’s RAD Voices interview appeared first in issue 3, 2018 of Dance Gazette.
Many years ago, in Manchester (UK), I assessed a little Pre-Primary girl who had only one arm and used a prosthesis. Thus, she maintained balance with, I presume, equal weight on both sides of her body and although she could not herself move her artificial arm there was no problem of her holding hands with colleagues and the whole class was totally adapted and accepted her condition.
In 2017, I knew a few days before [another] exam that I was to be examining a candidate who was born without both arms and remembered instantly the little girl from Manchester and somehow imagined I would be seeing another “little girl “of possibly Pre-Primary or Primary level and asked if she used artificial arms. I was told by the teacher that she did not use artificial arms, that she was in Grade 3, and that I had no need to worry. My immediate thought when I heard “Grade 3” was that she would be doing Barre Work and Grand Plié in first position. I think I asked if anything had been changed or adapted for her condition, was told again not to worry and that the only difference in procedure would be that Vitoria’s Character shoes and skirt would be placed in the room in the break prior to her exam and that her colleagues would help her change for her Character dance.
Even after this preparation by the teachers I was still anxious about how the exam would proceed.
I had no idea what an amazing heart-warming experience I was about to have.
The four candidates came in, Vitoria was number 2, and they all very politely greeted me and told me their names. I was immediately struck by Vitoria’s smile, beaming eyes, beautiful physique and obvious happiness. The girls went to the barre for the first Plié exercise. The preparation is of course with both arms, and she used her head and eyes as if following her ‘invisible’ arms. Rise in first with no support was not a problem as Vitoria showed from the beginning perfect posture, weight placement and control, and I must add very correct timing and musicality. The Grand Plié in first was performed with such aplomb and technical control that I was already fighting back the tears. As the exam moved on from section to section, my worries dissipated as she danced so beautifully, even the Port de Bras which obviously requires correct usage of the arm positions was shown with such good use of head and eye-line that I could ‘see’ her ‘invisible arms’. Vitoria’s footwork was very articulate and precise. I learnt later from her teacher that at her regular school she has a desk adapted for her and she writes with her feet, surely this has part to play in her footwork in ballet class. Vitoria chose the Dance ‘C’ which she performed with ease, lowering to the floor and getting up again without difficulty.
The girls performed the Character Dance D and Vitoria’s colleagues helped her with her skirt and head-dress. Again, she performed with musicality and correct use of space and footwork, and an inner light that shone through the whole exam showing her love of dance. When the girls left the studio, I must admit that my tears just streamed down my face! I felt privileged to have had this experience, humble at the pure joy she expressed in her dancing, and full of admiration not only for her, but for her colleagues who behaved so kindly and naturally with her, her teachers who had taught her so much with care and attention and her parents and family who obviously supported her dreams.
The experience confirmed my feeling that life never stops showing us how there are so many amazing and wonderful people all over the world, and how we take for granted so much of what we were born with.
Technically it made me realise how much we depend on the placing and use of our arms to support our posture in ballet, balance and counter balance, and as Vitoria has no arms to help her she had acquired perfect posture with the muscular control and placing of her body.
We should have no preconceived ideas about what we are going to see [in an exam]. I have been examining since 1996 and have seen and experienced so many different situations and circumstances, that I am aware that when we ring the bell those eager little people (or sometimes frightened) who come and stand in front of us are always capable of surprising us and teaching us something new about life. I think that all examiners are very much aware of this.
I started going to ballet classes when I was seven years old in Harrogate, Yorkshire (Marjorie Newbury’s School of Dancing). I went to be “company” for the daughter of one of my mother’s friends who had been advised to go to dance classes for medical reasons. I didn’t really know what ballet was before that but can remember looking in a shoe shop window in town where there was a special little window displaying white skating boots and pink satin pointe shoes. I thought they both looked so beautiful and didn’t know which I liked best. After starting ballet class and seeing pictures of ballet dancers on the studio wall, I began to understand, and it was those satin pointe shoes that I would like to wear one day. I was lucky that it was the only RAD school in Harrogate at the time, although I didn’t know what that meant. As soon as I was eight I was taking my Grade 1 exam (individual exams in those days!) I can remember being always rather frightened that I might go wrong, feeling how cold it was as we did the exams in little white tunics with pink belts, short socks and ballet shoes (not yet satin), and November in Yorkshire was quite cold. But I was beginning to fall in love with ballet and dancing on stage and even doing exams. Ballet and the RAD became part of my life even when moving with my family to Durham City and having to travel into Newcastle after school to get to ballet classes (Elsa Wilkins) and finally one day reading in the Gazette (no pictures or interviews in those days) about the RAD Teacher Training Course. (The College of today). It fascinated me and at about 14 years old I knew that was where I wanted to be. My father insisted that I finish my A-levels before going so I my first day at the RAD in Fairfield Lodge was actually on my 18th birthday. Three years of so much dancing, so much studying and gaining knowledge which remains with me to this day.
Before I was in the third year I knew I wanted to travel and work abroad somewhere ‘different’. I came to Brazil in 1970 at the invitation of Dalal Achcar on a two-year contract to help introduce the Fonteyn Syllabus (which was new to Brazil) and here I am today.