People often tell cancer patients to rest, but is that always the best advice?

There’s more and more evidence to prove that’s the complete opposite of what you should do. You should be as active as possible. Some in the medical world are not always on board with that. One lady I’ve been teaching was told to rest for seven months after very tricky surgery. She got diabetes and was quite poorly as a result. There’s still a lot of education to be done. 

When I got my diagnosis, I was reluctant to admit how active I was, because I didn’t want them to tell me to stop. I didn’t want to tell my surgeon that I was running a half marathon a few days before my surgery, but she said: that’s fantastic, well done! 

Natalie receiving her Community Engagement Dance Teacher Award. Photo: David Kaplowitz

When did you start to connect your recovery with dance?

I carried on working throughout all my treatments. We had ballet exams at my school in London, so I did that all through chemotherapy. In front of the children, I would wear different coloured wigs, which they loved. I was very active – dancing, running. That joy of dance and moving my body helped me massively, and I realised that I was faring a lot better than friends I’d made in chemo. They were suffering and there’s me turning up with my running numbers still on from a race!

Afterwards, I thought I would like to do something to help other people dance safely. Dance is such a fun thing: you can just put some music on and have a boogie in your kitchen – the endorphins you feel are priceless. I approached a cancer training programme, and told them about my dream of getting everybody dancing. Training to be a Cancer Exercise Specialist was the best thing I could have done – I learned so much. 

What do you have to consider when teaching dance to cancer patients?

There’s lots to consider, but generally, cancer patients are only seen as a medium risk. There are some limitations, and a range of unique issues for every single person, because each cancer is quite different. In breast cancer, there’s often damage to the shoulder after surgery, so we do a big warm up for the shoulders. If people have had their lymph nodes removed, it can cause lack of mobility, so we do stretches in order to move more freely.

Natalie and Poppy Barnes (front) with their ballet class. Photo: RAD

Is the effect on mental wellbeing as important as the physical benefits?

I think the wellbeing effect is actually the most beneficial. The overwhelming response I hear is that it’s brought people some joy in a dark part of their lives. Some have even said they always dreamt about dancing but never would have had the guts to go to a normal adult class. There’s a sense of unity – people don’t feel judged or intimidated, they feel empowered. We laugh a lot, especially when I get things wrong – like most people who go through cancer treatment, I suffer from cancer related cognitive impairment, also known as chemo brain. If I forget what I’m doing, the class corrects me – we giggle because we’re all going through it together. My assistant, Poppy Barnes, is also an RAD teacher. She’s incredible, and she gets every bit perfect.

Has working with the RAD been important?

To be at the Royal Academy of Dance is a real treat for everybody, because it’s not in a cancer setting. When the dancers come into the building they feel so special. It’s very inspiring. 

Where did the name Fireflies come from?

My dance school is called Fireflies. We promote better mental health through dance, so when it came to the adults, I thought: this is perfect, because you can find so much light, even in a dark situation. One of our ladies got a firefly tattoo on her ankle, and she’s trying to get us all to do it!

Was ballet always part of your life?

Yes. I was poor growing up, but my mum took me to dance three times a week, which was my light in the darkness. I was very shy, but I would go to dance and felt I could do anything. My teacher was strict but very kind to me, and I’ll never forget that.

Do you feel your life divides into before and after your diagnosis?

Very much. It feels like a new you is born the day that you get the diagnosis. Not necessarily a worse you, but a different you.

When I got cancer, I just thought it has to be for some good. I couldn’t just go back to my old life, I had to do something. Recently, I got a secondary cancer diagnosis but I’m still dancing. The hospital told me about a treatment trial called the FAIM trial. So, obviously, we were all dancing to the music from Fame in my class before I went into the hospital wearing my leg warmers! I’ll just keep going, keep dancing, keep smiling. It makes a massive difference. 


Inside RAD

A day to remember

Dance Gazette

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What first drew you to Rambert Grades?
I wanted a contemporary syllabus that would support my students as I believed it should. The syllabi that were out there were very rigid and stuck in time. I was concerned that they weren’t very reflective of contemporary, which is this evolving, breathing, changing thing. I tried to create something holistic myself, that would advance kids technically, but also allow the creative exploration that I felt was so important. It went well but it was just me. As soon as I heard whispers about Rambert Grades, I absolutely knew that was what I needed and jumped on board. It is everything I hoped for. The syllabus is reflective and encapsulates all of the history but it’s evolving, just like contemporary dance.

How have your students taken to Rambert Grades?
The structure makes sense to them. My students primarily come from a ballet background and are familiar with the process of exams. They look forward to exams, because they like that structure and the reward at the end. The second thing is the ownership they have over the material. Because the music isn’t set, we work collaboratively to find a playlist that they love, and, they get to choose the exercises and film their exam. They have a voice.

For ballet dancers, contemporary dance can develop the creative choices that they make. Then, when they come into their ballet class, they’re already thinking very openly and broadly. It also helps on a technical level, and emotionally being able to connect with the joy of movement. I find that the two work hand in hand together.

Holly Pooley leads a Rambert Grades workshop. Photo: Belinda Strodder

Is Rambert Grades building a community of teachers?
There’s so much support for the teachers, and they carry you along each step of the way. 

How do you use the material by leading choreographers like Hofesh Shechter and Alesandra Seutin who contribute to the syllabus?
There are three strands: Technical, Creative and Performance. Within the Performance strand is a solo that the student performs, a different solo for every grade. They all are so beautiful and link together. At the moment, there are two separate streams – you can choose the Hofesh stream or the Alesandra stream, depending on the dancer and what type of music they enjoy. Both choreographers are so grounded, really connected with musicality and rhythm. 

What was your own dance journey? 
I fell in love with ballet very early on, and progressed through RAD levels here in Perth. I did dabble in a little bit of contemporary, but I was a ballet kid. I ended up the other side of the world at Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds, UK, which was a huge plunge. When I graduated, I realised that my passion was in teaching. I loved contemporary because it’s so inclusive and it can involve so many practices of pedagogy. 

What has Rambert Grades given you as a teacher? 
It’s made me a lot calmer. I feel supported, and it’s made me think differently. One thing I love is how accessible its language is: the terms are very anatomical. If you use that same kind of mindset in ballet, you get different qualities out of the students. It’s allowed me to explore different teaching practices to help the students improve and achieve a broader range of outcomes. 

What would you say to any RAD teachers who are curious about Rambert Grades?
I’d describe the unique opportunities that the syllabus provides in terms of its thinking: its inclusivity and individuality makes both the students and you stronger. The RAD syllabus already asks teachers to be creative and develop their own training exercises. RAD ballet teachers are incredible, and Rambert Grades draws on skills they already have.

Rambert Grades
Created in a landmark collaborative partnership between Rambert dance company and Rambert School, Rambert Grades is a progressive and inclusive contemporary dance syllabus. It was created by some of the most dynamic and relevant voices of contemporary dance in the UK. Training is accessible to all ages, abilities and bodies regardless of prior experience of formal dance training. Across 11 qualifications, Rambert Grades teachers are taught to promote a safe environment for students to develop lifelong skills.

The collaboration with the Royal Academy of Dance provides RAD Members across the world the benefit of discounted membership with Rambert Grades. Learn more at

Inside RAD

Power in Motion

Dance Gazette

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Susan Coles was an RAD registered teacher and Life Member. She started dancing at the Westbury School of Dancing in Bristol, UK, and had great success at the Bristol Eisteddfod, winning dozens of medals and trophies – including five trophies in 1961 alone. In 1956 she was awarded the Royal Academy of Dance Scholarship, going on to teach at the Avalon School of Dancing (later the Susan Coles School of Dancing) and elsewhere. When she retired her dance school was renamed the Wells Ballet School and is now co-run by her former student, Andrea Taylor.

Susan continued to teach her granddaughter, Annabel Tonkin, who is now enrolled at the RAD Dance School in Battersea. Susan’s daughter Emma Tonkin tells Dance Gazette how the family is honouring Susan’s legacy.

What was Susan like?

She loved teaching – ballet was her life, particularly teaching. She never wanted to go on stage – she was just brilliant with children. 

She grew up in in Bristol, and went to the same ballet school as David Drew, who became a principal of the Royal Ballet, and she won a scholarship at the RAD. She started teaching at 16 at the Avalon School of Dance, which she quickly took over and became principal –eventually renaming it the Susan Coles School of Dance. She also taught at junior and senior schools throughout the south west of England. At one point, she had around 800 pupils – so she was not only a great teacher but a really good businesswoman. She was her own accountant, but would also choreograph and make all the costumes for her shows. She did everything, a one-woman band. 

What kind of teacher was she?

She was an old school teacher, very strict, but she got amazing results. She never had a failure, in over 44 years. And she wouldn’t put her fees up as she might have done. She said, I’d rather have a full class than put my fees up and have some people not be able to afford them. The proceeds of every show she did went to charity.

Was the RAD important to her?

She was tremendously proud of being an RAD teacher. I found a lovely letter inviting her for a scholarship interview, when the RAD was still in Holland Park. Later, she was asked to represent the RAD at the opening of their headquarters in Battersea Square in 1974, and had tea with the Queen, representing the RAD. There’s also a little letter inviting her to have coffee with Dame Margot Fonteyn. Sadly, my mother didn’t get to see the RAD’s new London home, but I find it very moving to watch my daughter’s ballet classes there – especially the older teachers, who are of my mother’s generation.

How did you decide how the bursary would work? 

When she died last year, it felt right to honour her and her love of ballet. She was always so inclusive in her teaching, especially for people who couldn’t afford it, so it came to me that we could help a dance student who needed financial assistance with lessons, exams and uniforms. It felt like a fitting tribute. We knew we couldn’t just make a one-off payment, because if we’re going to give a child an opportunity, we’ve got to keep it going. I’ve asked the RAD to select someone who shows promise and really wants to carry on. When they finish their RAD training, we plan to then select someone else – the bursary is ongoing. My mother would have loved to know that someone would be able to carry on dancing. 

What advice would you give to someone considering setting up a similar scheme?

Think about the longevity of the bursary. It’s a commitment – you can’t dangle a carrot in front of a young dancer and then walk away. It was also important that it linked to my mother’s ethos – I knew that she would want someone in need of financial assistance, because she would go above and beyond for her pupils. We drew on what was most important to her. 

Your mother’s legacy is also in the hearts and minds of all the people she taught. 

That’s one of the lovely things about teaching – it does live on in that way. She told me that one of her pupils became a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, and saw a little girl who had something wrong with her hips and could barely walk. So this doctor sent this little girl to my mother, and by the end of one term she was galloping and skipping around the room. It’s so rewarding – I loved hearing that story. 

The Susan Coles Bursary will support a young dancer at the RAD’s Dance School. It will provide lessons, uniform and an exam each year for a promising young dancer who has begun learning ballet but due to financial circumstances may be unable to continue with lessons.

Thinking of supporting a bursary? The Royal Academy of Dance is a registered charity and we are extremely grateful for all of the philanthropic support that enables us to carry out our important work. We are always looking to create more opportunities for young dancers around the world to access dance and to train as teachers. By supporting a bursary you can help ensure that young people can experience the chance to learn with us, no matter what their background is. We are truly grateful for every act of generosity. To find out more about supporting a new bursary please contact Isobel Turner, Head of Major Gifts and +44 (0)20 7326 8996.

Inside RAD


Dance Gazette

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Were you daunted when you were appointed to lead Rambert School in 2015? 

The school is 103 years old – we celebrated our centenary in 2020, and like the RAD spent a whole year cancelling events during lockdown! I have great respect for our history and tradition, but you can’t live in the past,. There’s a tremendous temptation, when you are offered a big role, to chuck everything away so that you can put your own stamp on it. But it’s important to look at what you’ve got and respect the things that work. 

Why is the collaboration with the RAD on Rambert Grades significant?

The RAD was a big part of my training. I did my advanced exam at Battersea – I can still remember the terror going up in the lift! And I remember reading Dance Gazette when I was 13 or 14. The RAD has evolved but still has a very clear progressive structure and an amazing reputation. People trust it. 

Contemporary dance is very accessible, inclusive and creative, and Rambert Grades is a completely different system and way of looking at dance. It has solos by Hofesh Shechter and Alesandra Seutin, both cutting edge choreographers. And it has a creative improvisational strand from the earliest years, so it’s about learning and trusting your own creativity. The two systems sit side by side – a student will learn so much from the structure of the RAD ballet syllabus, but also about having confidence in their own ability to express something. We just started talking and found we were aligned in lots of ways. It was a conversation that ended up with this partnership.

How does this breadth of training benefit a dancer?

Nobody these days trains in just one discipline. That broader perspective is vital. For dancers and for all young people, using your imagination, building confidence in your ideas and having a sense of individual expression is vital.

Why did Rambert School move to genderless teaching?

We had been mulling it over for a while. The world changes, and we have students who identify as non-binary. Our students have a voice and we listen to them. But what made it happen fast was covid. It was purely practical: suddenly, our students had to be in small groups or ‘bubbles’, and it made sense for these to be household bubbles, which were mixed gender. It worked really well, and after covid there was no appetite to go back to male/female training. Our students only perform the classical repertory for internal assessment. I only insist that they take it seriously and that it has to be safe. It has worked incredibly well. We love it, we’ll never look back. I always wanted to do the double tours when I was a dancer, I could never understand why they were male steps. I was never particularly fairy-like!

You will be a judge for The Fonteyn this year – what will you be looking for?

Every dancer is different, and I value that fact. Of course, classical ballet is key, but I like to look for expressivity and individuality in a dancer – that extra sparkle. Competitions are hard – how can there be winners or losers when there are so many talented people out there? I have learned to trust my instincts. 

What advice would you have for the Fonteyn candidates?

I’m a great believer in flow. When you get into the zone, as athletes call it, nothing else really matters. If you can get into a flow state you’ll enjoy the performance and probably perform your best. Visualise yourself rehearsing and getting ready to go on for the competition. Visualise everything about it. Imagine something going wrong, but that you managed to overcome it. Try not to let that voice of negativity in your head gnaw away – tell yourself, I’ve rehearsed this, I know I can perform well. 

What is the best advice you have received?

I started as a dancer and then was a teacher for a long time. Now I have the privilege to be the Director of Rambert School, with a totally different set of priorities. But two things that have stuck with me came from [the choreographer and teacher] Robert Cohan. He was a guru who had many wise words. I remember him talking about the creative process and saying that all you have to do is not get in the way. That sense of stepping back and accepting that it’s not all about you is really important. 

And a number of people have taken this from Bob: he said, Teach what you know, not what you don’t know. And teach with love. Because when you teach everything you know, your students will begin to learn and question themselves, and through their questioning, you’ll learn more. 

Rambert Grades

Following a successful period in Australia, the Royal Academy of Dance and Rambert Grades are delighted to be expanding their collaboration globally. RAD Registered Teachers will be offered to join Rambert Grades – a progressive and inclusive contemporary dance syllabus. This unique collaboration brings together two world-leading organisations with a shared passion for excellence in teaching practice and a desire to widen access to dance.


Why Dance Matters

Monica Mason

Dance Gazette

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Congratulations on the new role! Having spent your career in the gymnastics world, why did you want to move into dance and the RAD?

I was a gymnast at an international level, and was then CEO of Gymnastics New South Wales (NSW) for 19 years. I was very passionate about the sport and its people. But there comes a time where you’re looking for new challenges. I looked at the Royal Academy of Dance – the values it espouses and the vision of the new CEO, Tim Arthur – and thought: this is an organisation going places, and one that I’d like to be a part of.

How did you discover gymnastics?

Our parents first put us in dance class: ballet, jazz and tap. Then my sister got into gymnastics and I thought, wow, I’d love to be able to do that. I lived in a country town where there weren’t many facilities available. So every Friday, from the age of 12, I jumped on the train to the state sports centre at Homebush. It took two and a half hours to get there, but I was really passionate about it. What I loved about gymnastics – and the same applies to dance – is that it’s all about getting the foundations right, because if you have the fundamentals in place, then the harder skills can follow. I’ve already had the privilege of attending a number of RAD awards programmes here, and can see the wonderful progression, which reminds me so much of where I came from. 

How daunting was it to be leading NSW at such a young age?

I was 26, and had graduated in law. The organisation was in a difficult place, possibly heading towards insolvency, with a lot of community distrust. But by the time I left, we had 19 years of consecutive surplus and even after covid, which was a hideous experience for everybody, our member satisfaction rating was at 92%, because members saw that we got behind them. 

How is morale among Australian dance teachers, coming out of the pandemic?

The lockdowns took a massive toll but I’ve been inspired by the stories of the dance schools who fully engaged in online classes and kept their students engaged. The state of Victoria supposedly experienced the longest continual lockdown in the world, but they have now held a couple of awards. Seeing the volunteers who run them connect and rejoice in their love of dance was inspiring. It will take time, but the human spirit is incredibly strong. 

What do members need from their organisation?

If you break it down to its most basic principles, they want customer service. They want communication and relevant products. Each of the regional panels I’ve met spoke incredibly highly of the products, the Faculty of Education programmes and the quality of the examinations.

I’m passionate about making sure that our communication is two-way. Rather than speaking at members, I want to hear and share their stories. The RAD teachers I’ve met are incredibly passionate about what they do. I’d like to work out how we as an organisation can help them to grow and be the best that we can all possibly be.

Dance, like gymnastics, has had to think hard about safeguarding. How was that process in your previous organisation?

In Australian gymnastics, each state is a separate jurisdiction, with a national body where we come together. I used that independence to get child protection and safeguarding on the agenda. As early as 2004, we rolled out an award-winning programme of member protection information officers, training each of our 220 clubs in how to manage child protection. We later underpinned that with a child protection strategy including education programmes which trained up the community to ensure they were empowered both with information and the ability to find further information if they needed it. We were first movers on all of these things, before they were on the agenda at the national level. It was a comprehensive approach, and I’m proud of it. 

How do you take members with you on that safeguarding journey?

It’s about having a conversation with them, so they fully understand why we’re doing this, the benefits to them and to their students and the community more broadly. All schools will see the benefits of ensuring the welfare of students. Ultimately, we are a community, and where schools aren’t doing the right thing, we as an organisation need to provide support and, if necessary, to act. Fundamentally, for me, child protection and safeguarding are non-negotiable, and I’d like to see more regulation in this area, including by the RAD at school level.

I think everybody wants to do the right thing, so I’m optimistic that the dance community here will come along for this journey.

Why Dance Matters

Monica Mason

Dance Gazette

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Lizeth Leonhardt Avalos won the RAD Members’ Photo Competition with a picture of her daughter. She discusses her journey into teaching and leaving Mexico for Canada.

Congratulations on winning the photo competition, Lizeth! How do you feel?

I can’t explain it, I’m still in shock! I’m so happy and thankful. Honestly, the past two years have been full of monumental moments in my life, and this is one of them.

Where did you begin dancing?

I was born in Morelia in Michoacán, Mexico and started dancing ballet at four years old. My mom enrolled me in ballet classes but when it was time to go to university my grandparents said: no more ballet, it’s only a hobby and you have to focus on your career and the family business. So that’s what I did – I used to work in the morning and went to university in the afternoon. I graduated as an accountant and got an MBA, specialising in finance. I was working but still wanted to be a ballet teacher. My grandmother gave me some money to start a business, but instead of using it to open a business I used it to pay for my CBTS.

Who were your most influential teachers?

My first ballet teacher was Lourdes de Alzua who made me fall in love with ballet. When I moved to Queretaro, Julieta Navarro, the RAD’s National Director in Mexico and an amazing lady, recommended me to Consuelo Dueñas. She was tough and extremely honest: when I arrived she told me that my technique was deficient and she would not present me in the exam. I said, wow, this woman is exactly what I need!

Once you know her she is the most amazing person. She was my teacher, my mentor, my friend and I will always be thankful to her. She shared all her knowledge and experience, she really cared about me. With her support I started my CBTS. She taught me to be a teacher. 

At the same time, I also worked in a huge school with Asereth Salazar and learned a lot from her too. She has a real gift, making miracles, making things happen, and being honest all the time, no matter what. A pure example to follow.

When did you qualify as an RAD teacher?

It was in 2016. I went to London seven months pregnant with my daughter Rachel and was in a wheelchair. I had to buy bigger shoes the day before my graduation because my feet were so swollen! When I look at photos from that day, I know that Rachel was in my tummy as I received my certificate from Darcey Bussell [the RAD President] – and now she is in her own picture as the winner of this amazing competition. I couldn’t be happier!

Where do you teach now?

We used to live in Queretaro, Mexico but moved to Canada in December 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. Just before my son’s passport expired we took a flight, leaving our home, our life and our belongings in Queretaro. We went to Canada to start a new life. My husband is Canadian and my children have dual citizenship but I don’t, so for a year and a half I couldn’t return to Mexico or travel abroad until I received my permanent residency in Canada.

Finally I can travel again and right now we are in Mexico, enjoying the perfect weather that I didn’t appreciate until we moved away. That’s why the competition photo has a deeper meaning to me – for someone coming from a country with amazing weather the whole year round, Canada is a big change. Now I appreciate every warm, sunny day.

Teaching is my passion. When life started opening up again and restrictions were removed, I started looking for a ballet school for my daughter and eventually they invited me to teach again. In Mexico I used to teach in Spanish, but now I do it in English – another big change! I have met an amazing new ballet family with my adorable students, my daughter is dancing and loving it – and now I’ve won the photo competition. I feel blessed in every single way.

Advice Bureau

Freddie Opoku-Addaie

Dance Gazette

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How can an arts organisation be a ‘Good Neighbour’ to its local community?

Being a good neighbour as a cultural institution is about using the skills, assets, knowledge, privileges and partnerships that you have and sharing them with the people closest to you in the community you operate in. It is about being part of a place and investing in it so you contribute to making it better for everyone, not just yourself. It is about being generous, opening a door and letting people in. 

In essence, it is about taking on mutual stewardship of an area along with all its other members, supporting a collective and co-created approach to making projects happen that honour everyone together.

What do you hope the RAD can do for the local community in Wandsworth – and how can working with the community enrich the RAD’s work?

I hope the RAD can open the door wide to let people in, sharing what it has with others.

This isn’t so much what the RAD can do by itself, but what everyone can do together! It is about creating models of collective action and setting a shared vision and plan to collectively bring more to the Wandsworth area and ensure that everyone benefits. Working together on projects that investigate and celebrate identity in the area, we can learn from each other and get closer as citizens. 

By working with the community and giving energy and support to it, the RAD will create a framework of trust and mutual respect. In return, it will hopefully be seen as an important part of the community’s assets and a place that is open to everyone – a home. Dance (as with many other art forms) can often be seen as not for everyone. But as trust and mutual respect build, people will be more interested in learning more and trying some of the classes and programmes that the RAD has to offer. 

This is truly about creating a home for dance that is reflective of the needs of the community.

How do you ensure that this work takes root and continues to develop?

We will establish an Arts Action Group in Wandsworth to make decisions with us around the projects they want to see and how to support them. This ‘asset based community development’ model of working honours local people as experts. The group’s members could include leaders of tenant and resident groups, the head teacher at the local school, someone who has run the corner shop for 30 years, the lollipop person – community leaders. 

Together we will commission projects: some quick and light, some longer and deeper that allow us to collectively co-create and co-produce work and forge stronger partnerships through doing so. It will allow the RAD to get to know its new neighbours and partners and for everyone to learn how to work together: how to fundraise, commission and produce community projects for everyone. As the group continues to create together, ambitions will rise and projects will get deeper and more risk taking. 

Key to the commitment to the Good Neighbour Programme is the fact that the RAD will hire a new team member in to support the work so there is one representative from RAD at the table for all community-facing work – ensuring that the partnerships, knowledge and networks are continually kept and held.

What led you to found Take A Part?

I started out on a project in a community in Plymouth called Efford. They were going through a regeneration process and wanted to bring in some creative projects to support engagement. Through a huge amount of trial and error, some tears and a few arguments, I came to understand that more people engage in and have ownership over projects if they asked for them. So I started asking. That was in 2009 and I haven’t looked back since!

Have you ever taken dance classes?

You know, I never have. Maybe this is my time!


Advice Bureau

Saburo Teshigawara

Dance Gazette

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Has ballet always been part of your life?

It’s really funny – I was into the scouts and running around outside. I cried at ballet class – I never wanted to be there. Then my grandma thought ballet was wonderful and would give me so much. I wasn’t convinced. I didn’t like it – it was a lot of structure. My teacher was old-school, Russian-style, very firm. I was having some issues with my behaviour, but sweet grandma said, ‘Ballet will do the trick.’ And I remember feeling – I am not going to cry anymore, I am not going to let this win over me.

Nowadays, how do you approach students who are as rebellious as you once were?

I trick them. I do not present any structure at the beginning. First of all, I make them fall in love and be curious about it. I use a lot of slang in my class – and once they’re hooked, that’s it! I know the benefits of dance and ballet, so I can’t let anybody go.

How did you come to teach dance classes in your own home?

The school where I taught was kicked out of the place they were renting. My house was about four blocks away, so I said let’s all go together and do our ballet class. That’s the way it started. I remember a special moment when I looked at my class and saw more boys than girls and thought – oh, that is unusual. I always look at their eyes and I could see them believing me. I realised, I’m responsible for these kids because they trust me.

How do you make ballet attractive to boys?

We’ve created a generation of boys. In 2020, five of our students qualified for The Fonteyn, I’m so proud. A few years ago I was invited to teach a class in a local school and thought, I’m going to trick them into rhythm and movement. I put on music they related to and we started with claps and syncopation steps and then a simple turn. At the end of the class I said, ‘Guess what guys. I’m a ballet teacher and what you were just doing is called a promenade. This is ballet.’

What have you learned through teaching dance?

Passion is something that you build. I’m passionate about my work because I had to really fight for it. Dance can change people – not just you, but your friends, family and community.


Advice Bureau

Ivan Michael Blackstock

Dance Gazette

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What are your memories of the Genée final?

My strongest memory is feeling an overwhelming privilege to be dancing in such a beautiful theatre in front of Monica Mason, Karen Kain, Magdalena Popa and Mikko Nissinen. The Four Seasons Centre in Toronto is breathtaking and the first time I walked on stage to rehearse, I had goosebumps. I savoured every minute I was in that theatre. I was so thrilled to have made the final and hadn’t given a thought to being a medal winner. I was having the best time and winning the gold was the highlight of my life.

How did you deal with the pressures of the competition?

I was very nervous being in a different country, in a prestigious competition, boarding, meeting talented dancers from all over the world, and my ballet teacher Hilary Kaplan couldn’t accompany me. However, she did call every day to give advice which kept me calm and grounded. I tried to work hard in class and take on all the corrections from the tutors – it was very busy. As the competition progressed, it became easier to deal with the pressure because all the other competitors were so lovely and the teachers, the RAD staff, the chaperones were all so supportive. Gioconda Barbuto, the commissioned choreographer, inspired us to be part of the creative process so we were all motivated to grow as dancers and perform our best.

When did you decide that dance was the path you wanted to follow?

I have always loved dance and can’t imagine any other career path. I do actually have a vivid memory of watching the Genée final at the Sydney Opera House in 2016 and knew I wanted to be in it as soon as I could. I love learning new choreography and was very privileged to have Adrian Burnett, an international choreographer, create my Dancer’s Own solo.

Soon after the Genée, the world went into lockdown. Could you keep dancing during that time?

After the Genée, I was fortunate enough to spend time in international schools in Canada, Germany and England. Unfortunately, my trip was cut short due to Covid and I had to return home. In lockdown, I trained for my Solo Seal at home by Zoom and soon after returning to the studio, I filmed my performance. I was honoured to be awarded my Solo Seal – this was another dream come true, to complete all my RAD exams. To keep motivated during lockdowns, I try to maintain a routine of getting up at the same time, doing class, stretching and enjoy watching ballet videos, as well as trying new things like painting. I was also lucky to do some performances, both virtual and onstage, plus a short film.

What are your hopes for the future when things open up?

Unfortunately, in Sydney, we are currently in our hardest lockdown yet, but I am looking forward to finishing my pre-professional training next year and hopefully then auditioning for a company. Covid has presented some challenges, but my commitment and determination to fulfil my dream remains unwavering.


Advice Bureau

Didy Veldman

Dance Gazette

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Did this survey of contemporary ballet leave you optimistic about the health of the artform?

The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Ballet was born out of a modest publication called Network of Pointes. Dr Jill Nunes Jensen and I were passionate about bringing together ballet scholars, critics, dancers, and choreographers (who all too often were separated in discussions). At the heart of Network of Pointes were reflections by Meredith Webster (Alonzo King LINES Ballet) and a conversation with Eric Underwood (former Royal Ballet dancer). A bigger affair was the 2016 conference that Jill and I curated in New York City; the collection of voices grew bigger and bigger. This Handbook proves that ballet is, in the majority of cultural contexts, thriving and very much a point of engagement within the last two decades and in recent times. 

Do you have your own particular favourite of the ballets discussed? 

What a tough question! I’m obviously biased towards the extensive repertoire that I’ve watched in London, Paris, and New York over the last 21 years. I do have my ‘special ones’. Karole Armitage’s Drastic Classicism comes to mind; I watched a restaging at the Royal Festival Hall in 2009 and just wanted to be on stage dancing to the rock music. William Forsythe’s Enemy in the Figure is one of the many Forsythe ballets discussed in the Handbook, which also includes insightful moments in the creative processes of some very recent ballets: Cathy Marston’s Snowblind, David Dawson’s Anima Animus and Justin Peck’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming for San Francisco Ballet’s Unbound Season (2018), are pretty high on my favourites list.

How did dance first enter your life?

I’d call myself the ‘typical’ middle class girl (dancing around her home aged three) whose mother sent her to an RAD ballet school in Malta. Led by Daphne Lungaro-Mifsud, Licentiate (LRAD) graduates taught at the school in the late 1980s and early 1990s. And through reading Dance Gazette, I became fascinated with what was then the BA(Hons) Art and Teaching of Ballet. That was over 20 years ago!

How have you found teaching at the RAD Faculty during the pandemic?

Life changed in March 2020. I returned from Malta, fresh from my book launch (Princess Poutiatine and the Art of Ballet in Malta) in a wonderful 17th-century theatre in Valletta, and found myself in quarantine and then lockdown at my home in Surrey. Reconceptualising the physicality of our classes and administrative meetings was a challenge. Dancers know how to improvise, and anyone working in dance education has risen to this challenge with grace and fortitude. There are silver linings: academic collegiality and the wonderful team that I work with, as well as our students’ resilience through all the shifts and changes.

You are also responsible for Academic Integrity at the RAD – what is the challenge of that role?

The highlight of Academic Integrity is the pursuit of honesty, fairness and other values connected with respecting and recognising the work of others. All too often it is perceived as a ‘policing’ role, but I hope that our communities of students, who come to the RAD to study dance pedagogy (and so much more!), will see that Academic Integrity is in line with any code of professional conduct.

Advice Bureau

Lachlan Monaghan

Dance Gazette

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