By Rebecca Martin of Dance Informa.
The tragic passing of Gailene Stock in April stirred up many emotions amongst the dance community at large. Former students, current students, colleagues, former colleagues and even adversaries piped up and expressed their sadness over Stock’s death. They commented on her remarkable influence, not only on dancers but dance generally, and it was noted that she left an impression on all who were fortunate enough to meet her.
As the former Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet School and The Royal Ballet School, as well as an adjudicator on many prestigious panels for international dance competitions, Stock had the opportunity to inspire, encourage, select and train thousands of dance students and instil in them the skills, fortitude and courage for forging a career in dance.
I was fortunate enough to be selected by Stock to join The Australian Ballet School and while there, I was nurtured by her staunch support, kind nature and fierce intelligence. I was motivated and excited about my future as a dancer while I was her student. To this day, I carry with me the encouragement that she provided me and I recall her faith in my abilities both physically and artistically.
In darker times when other teachers sought to destroy my resolve or if I had a crisis of confidence, I would remember that Stock saw something special in me and that was enough to carry me through those hard times. Additionally, my dance training commenced under the wing of an incredible teacher in Tasmania by the name of Allison Gibson and I was subsequently taught by Brian Nolan in Melbourne prior to joining The Australian Ballet School. These teachers taught me the discipline of dance, fostered my passion, encouraged me and ultimately made me into the person I am today.
My dancing days are long since passed and I have sought an equally difficult, new path through academia that is also filled with long hours, sacrifice and the eternal question of “Is it worth it?” But my dance teachers have taught me resilience and dedication, and they have shown me that you just have to keep working hard in order to succeed.
I spoke with a number of current and former dancers about their dance teachers’ influence on them both now and in the past. Juliet Burnett, Senior Artist with The Australian Ballet, said, “I was incredibly lucky that my teachers Valerie Jenkins and Christine Keith were in turn disciplined and realistic in their approach. They made me realise that you can work hard and give everything while you have your feet firmly planted on the ground and lead a happy and full life!”
Teagan Lowe, former dancer at The Australian Ballet and Sydney Dance Company and current dancer with Vertical Shadows and Opera Australia, stated, “Each and every dance teacher has inspired me in his/her own way. I have been fortunate enough to have such a vast range of teachers whom have come from diverse backgrounds, allowing me to learn and develop techniques and training on a broader spectrum. Each has offered me knowledge, wisdom and most of all, their support throughout my training.”
Undoubtedly, the legacy of dance teachers is not restricted to the dance studio or stage. Certainly, the dancers at the top of their field owe an incredible debt to their teachers, for they would not be where they are without the groundwork provided by their teachers. But the legacy lies in more than just teaching technique. Some dancers are harder workers than others, some are gracious and generous, some are demanding and difficult, while some are confident and others remain self-conscious. Just as a great and inspiring teacher can leave a positive mark on a dancer’s life, so too can a poor and negative teacher have a lasting influence on a dancer. I know of many former dancers who have been so damaged by teachers that they cannot even bear to watch a dance performance and remain filled with insecurities and self-loathing even to this day, despite the passing of many years.
The influence of dance teachers cannot be underestimated and it is something to consider when choosing a dance school for your child. Whether a dance student is attending classes for fun or in the hopes of pursuing a career, it is vital to be aware of the kind of teaching you are exposing your child to. Teachers mould characters, foster learning and give direction to a student’s future. It is a wonderful thing to be a dance teacher and even greater to leave a legacy that lasts a lifetime.
Photo (top): Gailene Stock. Photo © Patrick Baldwin, courtesy of the Royal Opera House.