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School of Ballet
Interviewee: Glenda Lloyd, born 1944
Date of Interview: 7th March 2008
Transcription: Kevin Murray, April 2008
So what were your dreams and ambitions when you were a teenager?
As a teenager, all I wanted to do was to teach. I knew that a professional career - a stage career - was not what I would want to do, and I knew that at a very early age, because I realised that they travelled and lived out of suitcases and I was too much of a homebody for that. I aspired to having a home and a family and I knew I wanted to dance so I thought I could do it all if I aspired to teach. I loved children and I loved dance so it seemed very natural to combine the two in teaching. And then I was probably given the most wonderful praise of my life by being told by Nellie Potts at Sculleys that I would make a wonderful teacher and I thought "that's good enough for me, that's what I'll do".
Did you have to actually learn to become a dance teacher? Did you have to take lessons?
In the bad old days, when I opened my school, no you didn't. You finished your training and you found a hall and you put out an advertisement and you dragged children in off the street... whatever you had to do to make it work is what you did. Yes, you did have to have a basic training, of course. But, no, you didn't have to have any special teaching qualifications, but good teachers... and even years ago there were teachers that recognised that they did need to further their education, so... We were given quite a good dance education at Sculleys because we were introduced to the history of dance, and anatomy, and extra curricular things as far as dance was concerned in those days. So we were given the opportunity to do a lot of things that other students would not have done, and I was very grateful for that and fell back on that quite often.
So which year was it that you started your own school?
1962... I've always got to think.
Right, so you were only 18 years old then.
That's starting early, isn't it?
How many years had you actually been learning to dance by that stage?
Only 6 years, yeah.
You said you had a number of variable teachers, some whom you didn't agree with. Take me through each of those teachers and tell me who they were, and how it all went. Initially you started at four...
...but you didn't continue, did you?
No. That was with a Miss Barr, and I really don't know anything more about her. And then I went to a teacher in Crow's Nest, a Miss Nicholson, which was the Madame Shinaro(?) experience. She was quite well recognised as a good teacher in her day. And her brother also taught Scottish Dancing, which I didn't get involved with at that time. But they were recognised as good RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) teachers... It was the expense that pulled me out of there. When we moved to Pennant Hills and my father decided that the family fortunes could be spent on my career, I went to a teacher in Eastwood, and I can't even remember that teacher's name, which is pretty dreadful. But, of course, I was only there for 12 months when I went to my cousin. I was with her for three years and then I went to Sculleys. But that three years was very intensive, and she pulled me up to where, within about a year or two of where I should have been if I'd started at five.
And what's your cousin's name?
Carol Maddox, well that's the name she teaches under - she's married.
Now, when you started living in this Shire, were there many dance teachers like yourself around at that stage?
No. There was only one teacher in Castle Hill when I came here and she, apparently, had very few pupils and was not highly regarded, so I didn't have too many scruples about moving into the area as there was nobody else here.
Right, so you didn't have a lot of competition in those days?
No. Well there weren't a lot of children either. People were on five acre blocks and...
Now you're going back to about 1962, aren't you, here?
So what was the Castle Hill area like in 1962? What do you recall about it?
There were blackberry patches in the main street. There was... Woolworths had just opened at the top of Showground Rd where there's now a Medical Centre. That was actually the selling point for me deciding to open a school in Castle Hill. These days teachers would be advised to do a study as to the viability of opening a studio, but my viability study was "well if it's good enough for Woolworths, it must be a good go-ahead area, so that'll do me, that's where I'm going".
You saw the growth potential?
Yes, well Wooworths did!
And what was the musical and the dance scene like at that time in the Shire? Was there a lot of interesting culture?
In this Shire, I think I'm right in saying that the Castle Hill Players was operating in those days. But apart from that there might have been the odd music teacher and then a complete void - nothing.
So dance was basically not being taught?
So what styles of dancing did you teach?
Well I opened with the pie-in-the-sky idea that I would only teach classical ballet, and realised after about a month that you had to offer something else as well, so my second class was a theatre class where I gave them a little taste of everything. It wasn't until many, many years later that I introduced jazz and then, finally, tap, but we never did tap at a high standard or a lot of interest. I was always recognised as a classical school.
And where did you get your inspiration from to teach classical dance?
Well, it was my first love and we were indoctrinated in the thought that classical ballet was the basis of all dance, and even other physical forms of activity were often advised to take up ballet as something that would be beneficial. So even to this day, on shows like the "So You Think You Can Dance" programs, they're still saying that classical ballet is the basis of everything. And I believe to this day that that is so.
And was that inspired by the English classical ballet or the Russian school?
No, the English. I was an RAD teacher and I was dyed-in-the-wool RAD like everybody who's ever had any association with Royal Academy is, and it wasn't until 1988 that I was invited to come aboard the Australian system and I trialled it in my school for four years before abandoning the RAD for the Australian system. We were given a speil at that time by a Prime Minister who was saying if the Australian product is as good, then we should be running with the Australian product and I decided to take that option.
RAD, of course, stands for Royal Academy of Dance, doesn't it?
That's correct, yes.
And what's the Australian system called?
adap, Australian Dance Assessment Program.
And that was totally developed in Australia, was it?
And what's the difference between the two?
The adap system has a more holistic approach. So students who would not achieve under the Royal Academy system are able to enjoy their dance and to work through the system and progress through the Australian Dance Assessment Program. The things that the RAD had in their system when I was learning have largely been dropped, and these are still alive and well in the Australian system. I loved the things that had been dropped by the RAD, for instance mime, history of dance, deportment, anatomy. I had been taught all those things and the RAD had seemed to have gone down the path where they were only bothered about making professional dancers, and I thought that was a very unrealistic approach and not one that I would have excelled at, so I wanted to encourage children that just had a love of dance rather than wanting to become professional dancers. There are so many other things that dance is good for, you should be not just pointing them in the direction of a stage career. That's my belief.
Which dancers or choreographers influenced your teaching?
Well my own teachers at Sculleys, of course. My cousin, although there were quite a few years there where I didn't want think that was so, but I'm happy to say that now. But my teachers at Sculleys were very good teachers for their era. I now know that they probably weren't as good as I thought they were, but for that era they were very good teachers. So Nellie Potts and Kathleen Daintree, they probably had the greatest influence on me as a teacher. For years I would find myself saying things to my students and thinking "where did that come from? Who taught me that? How do I know that?" And I knew I knew it but I didn't know how I knew it, so if one believed in reincarnation, maybe there's someone in my background... I don't think we should go there...
Where did you hold your dance classes?
OK, when I first moved into the Castle Hill area I was in the ANZAC Memorial Hall, which no longer exists. It was taken over by the RSL, before the RSL moved down to where they are now, it was the old RSL Hall. I was actually overseas when that hall became unavailable to us. We moved into the Gangemi Block which was in the middle of Castle Hill on Old Northern Rd, in a little one room... hire the room for one morning setup. That was not entirely satisfactory because it was upstairs and there was nowhere for parents to wait, that sort of thing. Just before I came home the school was moved into the Terminus St Kindergarten. We were there, very successfully, for a number of years. And then they decided to carpet their hall, so we're on our way again, and we moved to the Wesley Uniting Church where I was very happily housed right up until I retired.
So how many years were you at the Wesley Church Hall?
Yes, about 28 years.
How often did you have these classes? Was it a fulltime job for you?
Oh heavens no. When I first started teaching I was only teaching one Saturday morning a week, and then when we moved into... I was teaching in Castle Hill for 12 months before we moved to Castle Hill. When I moved to Castle Hill and after we came home from overseas we were in the Terminus St Kindergarten and I decided to run the jazz classes on a Friday evening, so I was there on a Friday evening and back at first light on Saturday morning. That continued at the Wesley Uniting Church, Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. When we put the extension onto this home, when my fourth child was expected, we decided to incorporate a small studio in the home, which was also my children's rumpus room when it wasn't being used as a studio, so I was able to teach Monday to Thursday in my own home, and Friday and Saturday at the Hall.
Have any of your students made it big in dance companies?
Yes, I've had more than my share. Probably the student that did the best of all of them was with the Royal Danish Ballet Company as a soloist. I've got a lass in the Australian Ballet Company at the moment. There's another whole list of students that have been to the Frankfurt Ballet Company, the Dusseldorf Ballet Company. They've danced at places like the Adelaide Festival. I've got a girl WAPA (West Australian Performing Arts). She's still studying, but I got a letter from her just since the last time I was speaking to you - she's got a secondment to Dance North in Queensland. So yes, I've had more than my share of students, graduate pupils, that have gone on and done something with their dance.
You must be proud of them?
Well I am proud of them, of course, but I always feel that the student that walks in with that magic 1% talent are not the ones that you do the most for. The ones that you do the most for are the knock-kneed and little bellied people that are pigeon toed or whatever little problem that they're having. I always felt that we gave them the most, because they improved their deportment, they improved their confidence, where the child that has that natural poise and everything going for her, well there's only 1 in 100 of them are going to make it anyhow, but they're naturally beautiful people and helping the underdog was what I seemed to excel at.
Have your students ever won at competitions?
Yes, I had one student... well, the one that actually ended up in the Royal Danish, she won the SODA competition which had a big monetary prize in those days. I had the... the years that the Baulkham Hills Shire Dance Festival was first running, I opposed quite strongly that eisteddfod starting up.
We had a very good eistedfod running in Castle Hill, and I thought that another one would probably be the death of the first one, which proved to be correct, but having opposed that eistedfod, quite strongly, I then did put students into that competition and they had a championship - we took out the championship, and a scholarship - junior and senior. The first four years that it ran we took out those four major prizes, which to me proved that it wasn't as good a competition as it was making out it was going to be if we could take out the first four prizes! Where was everybody else? My favourite saying was " You're only as good as your competition isn't", so...
Did the students compete against other dance students in the state?
Yes, well my lass that's with the Australian Ballet Company at the moment, she got as far as the McDonald Challenge finalists. She wasn't chosen, but you're down to one in eight, and they come from everywhere, overseas - a big New Zealand contingent - and all over Australia, so there's usually over 100 contestants for that particular Challenge, and she got to finalist.
Now you had a dance school in this Shire from 1962 'til your retirement in 2007, isn't it?
Yes, that's correct.
That's a long time?
Yes, 45 years.
You must have had a big standing in the Shire in terms of dance. Tell me, how did you think the Shire regarded you and your dance company?
Well, I think there was a time when everybody knew me, certainly everybody with a little girl knew me. If they weren't learning with me they either wanted to or had a friend who was or gave it a try then went to netball. Netball was where we lost a lot of our students. But that was fine... everybody can't be a dancer, so there was a lot of little girls had a try.
Now lots of girls want to dance, but not all girls, of course, are going to become good dancers. How do you as a teacher recognise the fact that they could have greatness or they don't?
I probably only had one student ever who walked in the door and I thought "yes!". And that was the lass that went to Denmark, and right from the very beginning you could tell that she just had absolutely everything. But there are other students who develop along the way, and once again I think that they are probably the ones that are better all-round dancers and can turn their hand to more things because they've had to strive to achieve. They haven't got that absolute natural talent that just makes it so easy for them.
Is it important for a dancer today to embrace all these other styles of dance such as jazz, modern dance, contemporary dance?
Yes, it is these days. You can't specialise. You must have a much more rounded tuition. Just a few years ago the Australian Ballet put on a program called "Tivolli" and those classically trained dancers were asked to tap dance and to sing and it was only the ones that had had that training in their formative years who were able to actually take roles in that particular performance that they put on.
Right. So it's important to be an all-round dancer these days?
Yes, again with the byline that classical ballet... they probably... most of them are not doing enough classical, and any good teacher will tell you this these days, that they all think that you can just add water and stir, that it's an instant world that we live in, that they don't want to put in the hard yards that is classical ballet. But, having said that, with ballet as a basis, they still need to devote time to doing all sorts of other things, including, these days, things like Pilates which gives them core strength.
Have you had much to do with the Australian Ballet School, or have any of your student gone on to become students there?
Yes, I've had a couple of students... three that come to mind, down at the Australian Ballet School. But once they get to the Australian Ballet School it's pretty much a closed door, even to the hierarchy of teaching. They want the girls and boys to transfer their loyalties. I don't know if they actually say to them "we don't want you going back to your old teacher any more", but certainly it's understood that they are 100% under their jurisdiction, and they have a very tight schedule that wouldn't allow them to be branching out. They would be signing a contract that they wouldn't go water skiing, for instance. So they are under a very tight regime down there, and yes, my students kept in contact with me - and I got Christmas cards and the occasional phone calls and visits when they were back in Castle Hill. But you can't just say "come and perform at my concerts", or anything like that, that just would not be...
Well they've got a very strict regime, haven't they, the Ballet School?
Well they have, and I can understand it. I had my own daughter at one stage doing major exams and at the same as her school teacher was wanting her for special sports tuition and I vetoed that and said no this can't happen, she's under a very strict regime of physical activity already.
There's a big controversy going on in the world of dance, of course, about the bodies of these young girls, that they're getting increasingly anorexic and that their very light frames sometimes can't support all the movements they have to do. What's your feeling about that?
Well I think we've largely come through that period. I think it was very bad there for a number of years ago. But I do think we've come through that period now and I think one of the things that's attributed to coming through that, especially here in Australia, is that we have such athletic male dancers for them to be partnered by... that the girls weight and height is no longer an issue as much as it used to be. So when you've got very athletic guys, with 6 foot 6, 6 foot 7 and 8 frames, a couple of them, it's not such an issue, lifting an 8 stone ballerina. Once upon a time if you were anything approaching 8 stone it was a big issue, but now they just sort of say so what as they lift them above their head with one arm.
Looking at the Shire generally, has the interest in ballet and music increased over the years?
Yes, I would say so, for instance in what used to be my feeder area, there's now 29 teachers of dance of one form or another. Some of them are on borderline suburbs, but still, when you think that my feeder area was from Asquith to Blacktown, well the Blue Mountains, actually, down to Eastwood, there's probably more than 29 teachers in that area. So just in dance alone, yes, there are more teachers, but that would be so in most suburbs, not just here. But then I know also that I have created my own opposition too, because there are teachers out there that are my little satellites, disciples...
They have become teachers themselves?
Yes they have. And some of them teaching for other teachers.
Did your Ballet School ever receive any official recognition from the Shire? For what you were doing for the Shire?
I was on a website that they created and before that in a community register. Certainly anytime they wanted anything I seemed to be the first port of call for ringing up ... will you take part in this, will you come to this event? But I certainly never asked any of the Councillors for anything, in particular. In fact I avoided doing that because I wouldn't even run scholarships in my own school, I always felt with scholarships that as soon as you gave a scholarship to one child that it would create jealousies, and I didn't want that to be part of my school. So I had a system where if a child needed help then she could be incorporated in the classes without there being payment involved and I was happy to do that myself. So no, I didn't go looking for other people to help me.
So you never actually received any financial assistance, then?
Oh goodness no. Quite the contrary.
Self generating, were you?
Now tell me about some of those end of the year concerts that you had?
I only had a concert every second year. I take my hat off to teachers who manage to do it every year. The year that I had a concert it nearly put me away. I felt always that I needed a year to stimulate the creative juices to go through it all again. In the off year we had students involved in eisteddfods and that was optional. Only the local eisteddfods, only top line students went outside the local area to the big eisteddfods. I never felt inclined to out the children at emotional risk of being involved in big eisteddfods outside of the minor ones. The concerts in the latter years I had a teaching staff of up to six teachers. By the time I was finished I had six teachers and a couple of pianists and we shared the work load and very happily. It was always a very diverse programme. So if we had students that had talent in another area for instance one of our concerts included a flute solo. I knew I had a student that was learning flute and played very nicely so we incorporated a flute solo in the concert. They all were ninety nine percent dance. They were always very varied and I think the concerts were known for being great variety.
What to you is the most gratifying thing about teaching dance?
Ooh thatís a hard one. I think itís seeing a young girl in particular develop and overcome maybe her inhibitions and shynessís. Itís certainly not with those students that go onto careers. Yes youíre very proud of them and itís lovely to hear what theyíre doing and getting up to and achieving. But itís the little underdog that comes good just as a person.
So what contribution do you think that youíve made to the Shire in the cultural life of the citizens?
Well I donít think thereíd be those twenty nine teachers out there but for me. I think the fact that we have so much interest in dance in this shire is probably from the early days of letting people believe that dance was a fun thing to be involved with.
So you must have given the Shire more awareness of dance by the fact that you were here and you were teaching?
Yes I think so and thatís been carried on by my daughter who now teaches at Excelsior School both in the after school programme and the in school dance. I see her as doing much the same sort of thing as I did privately. Sheís certainly introducing children that would have not had an opportunity to dance to a fun activity. Sheís a fun person to be around and the children are flocking to her classes.
Sheís carrying on the tradition of the family? Does the other daughter dance too?
No she achieved teaching status and she did teach for a little while. Sheís moved to the country and she did teach for a little while in her country school where her sons were at primary school. But her heart was never in it.
So which particular dance related activities are you still involved with?
These days my creative juices outlet is with the United Writerís Group which also meet in the church where I was teaching in the Wesley Uniting Church. Yes so Iíve become a creative writer.
Thatís great a whole change of life isnít it? What sort of stories do you write?
Well every week weíre given a task of writing a short story or poem. I would only call mine verse I wouldnít call them poetry. But writing short stories is fun. Iíve tried to discipline myself to writing something a little bit more than a short story but the discipline doesnít go that far.
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