Jane Devine’s remarkable career commenced in 1974, when she was offered a place in The Royal Ballet, Covent Garden. Later, in 1981, she joined the English National Ballet where she toured extensively, having the opportunity to dance many famous leading roles.
Following her years on stage, Devine spent a period of time as the personal assistant to the Director of the Royal Academy of Dancing at the London Headquarters, where she, too, was the administrator to the Professional Dancers Teachers Course. With an interest in fitness, she became the director of her own company, which delivered Teacher Training Courses, a Health and Fitness Programme of Tuition and Seminars for Fitness Professionals, as well as an Industry Recruitment Agency, and in 1994 was amongst the leading 10 Teacher Training Organisations in the UK. Holding 15 years in the fitness industry, in 1996, Devine returned to The Royal Ballet School as a Public Relations Officer. With her professional career in dancing and fitness combined, she managed the implementation of the first cardiovascular fitness training programme for students at The Royal Ballet School.
Devine’s refined knowledge of elite performance and training are distinctive qualities within her teaching approach, enriching students with a true understanding of the anatomical and physiological aspects that underpin the demands of ballet, guiding students to own themselves, their dancing and their journey into the professional world.
As more and more training is being taken via online platforms, students from around the world have access to teachers like never before. In this interview, we speak to Devine about her career, her teaching methods, what she looks for in students and how her online classes can be accessed.
Can you tell us about your training and what led you to pursue a career in dance?
“Dancing around the room at the age of five was probably the first step in my dance career! Like many young girls who love music and movement, expressing myself and pretending I was a famous ballerina was, I suspect, the start. I loved ballet from the beginning, so I had a dream and a focus from a young age.
Around the age of 12, I really knew this was it for me, and my dream was to get into The Royal Ballet. It was a far cry from the scout hall where I did my ballet lessons in Zimbabwe to The Royal Ballet, Covent Garden. I remember well the day when I was accepted into The Royal Ballet School – my mother picked me up from school and gave me a letter. The best letter of my life at that time. I was on my way. I left home at 16 and joined The Royal Ballet School in 1972, where in the first year I won the Adeline Genée Gold Medal. I trained for two years at The Royal Ballet School under two great teachers, Julian Farron (OBE) and Eileen Ward, and was taken into the company at the end of those two years.”
Describe your experience with The Royal Ballet and English National Ballet.
“I am always very grateful that I had enough talent to get into both of these world-renowned companies and to be able to have experienced their cultures and heritage as well as having the opportunity to work with many fabulous dancers and choreographers of the time. It was the era of the marvellous Royal Ballet partnership of Dame Antoinette Sibley and Sir Anthony Dowell and under the company directorship of the hallowed choreographer Sir Kenneth Macmillan. It was a pretty amazing time. After seven years, I left and joined the English National Ballet. I really loved my years with this company. The English National Ballet was a very hard-working company with a lot of touring and a lot of performing. This facilitated opportunities for younger up-and-coming dancers to be cast in leading roles, of which I was one. I was very grateful for the opportunities afforded me.”
Throughout your dance journey, what were your most valuable lessons?
“The career of ballet teaches you many life skills, particularly resilience because the career is tough, both physically and mentally. There are many challenges of all descriptions – too many to mention – but resilience is a skill truly worth developing. And of course, this skill will carry you through for the rest of your life, way past your dancing years.”
Which teacher or choreographer had the greatest impact on your life as a dancer?
“Without a doubt, the most influential person in my dance career was a teacher named Elizabeth Anderton (Betty). She was a former principal with The Royal Ballet and taught at both The Royal Ballet and English National Ballet. She had a great mind, taught in a very logical, organic way, and was able to trigger an awareness I had not experienced before. There are a lot of ballet teachers in the world, but only a few really have the true gift and she was one of them.”
Tell us about your private online classes and how dancers can book and access these.
“With the advent of the changes in the world today, opportunities have opened up for young dancers to access teachers/coaches whom they previously would not have been able to work with due to geographical constraints. This is fantastic for them! Talent comes from all over the globe – an outback town, a small village, another city or another country. These young dancers now have the opportunity to work with teachers they would not normally have had the benefit of before online teaching.
At present, I run private teaching/coaching lessons for young dancers who would like to work with me from anywhere in the world. For example, I have a young girl who has been working with me for months who lives in Japan. Interestingly, I, like many teachers, have found young dancers working online have developed an increased level of focus, which has been an unexpected bonus for both student and teacher. I am very happy to work with any young dancer who is committed and is prepared to work hard and who feels they would benefit from my knowledge and teaching methods.”
How would you describe your teaching and coaching style?
“In a few words – truthful, humorous and with an expectation of student application. It is imperative that young dancers truly understand the knowledge they are being given and know how to work with it. I so often find that young dancers have only vague ideas as to how to improve and go forward. Young dancers have to learn to value the truth about their dancing in a positive way and take all corrections as a gift. And most importantly, young dancers have to have a degree of humour about themselves, otherwise the whole process of training can become too negatively intense. Ownership of themselves and their dancing is one of the things I teach young dancers.”
What aspect do you consider important when taking on the role of a teacher and coach?
“As a teacher, one is an imparter of knowledge – not just ballet knowledge – but human condition knowledge. Dancers can suffer from many negative internal traits such as lack of confidence, negative thinking, powerlessness and insecurity. I work with the dancer to develop skills to overcome these sometimes debilitating traits, which can really hamper their progress and survival in the career. I teach with a very humanistic approach of one person relating and communicating truthfully with another person. I always encourage a two-way dialogue so that the dancer can open themselves up and communicate their thoughts and feelings to me, and then we can deal with things together.”
What can students expect from your private lessons?
“First of all, I am always very happy to help students who want to be helped. I speak with them about their objectives and what they want to achieve. I give each student an honest appraisal of their work – their positives, their negatives and then lay out a clear, concise method of how to progress. I give them ‘tools for the job’ and help them fully understand what those tools are and how to use them. My aim is that each student who comes to me learns how to stand on their own two feet, both physically and metaphorically, and in doing so, gains an increased level of self-belief, confidence and, of course, improvement in their dancing. I want students to experience the joy of ballet and the joy of the hard work that is required to attain what they want to attain, all the time being mentally healthy, balanced and enjoying the ride.”
Would you like to add anything further?
“A dancer’s relationship with ballet – love it, feel it, think critically, think creatively, be curious, experiment, learn more, and try to be the best you can be.”
By Renata Ogayar of Dance Informa.