The performing arts in all their variety, beauty and wonder have nourished my mind and fed my soul. If you throw reading (fiction, non fiction, poetry, history etc.) into the mix, I’m indeed blessed.
During my childhood, I longed to perform. But performance, a lisp and my inherent shyness sat uncomfortably together. It quickly became clear I’d never be an actor, singer or dancer. Art eluded me, also, but that’s another story.
I longed to learn ballet. But children like me, born in the 1930s and essentially war-time kids, didn’t have much opportunity to learn to dance. Anyway, my mother said I was far too big to be a dancer. I didn’t learn ballroom dancing because of shyness and awareness of my ‘too large body’.
As grateful as I am for my education at an all-girls Catholic school, that schooling had its downside. For example, one nun at school instructed me and my life-long friend, Marcia, to stand at the back of the choir and mime the songs.
‘Voices like old crows,’ she said dismissing us. ‘Be quiet and stay out of everyone’s way.’
Mother, father and aunts
My mother and father read to me. Fond memories of the books they chose linger all these years later. They laid the foundation for a rich reading life.
My parents also both liked music. They sang. Musicals, comic opera, popular songs, ditties from their school days, nursery rhymes, all sung with gusto. My voice became subsumed into theirs on long ‘Sunday drives’. Remember them? A cake and thermos of tea in the boot of the car and a journey of discovery to the hills or beach. Picnics on a rug spread on the sand or grass. And singing all the way.
Manpowered, my father worked 16-hour days but kept Sundays free for us. Here’s a link to a blog about his unhappy experience. It’s among the most read blogs on my site.
My mother’s sisters visited our house regularly. My aunts played our piano and sang. Their repertoire consisted mostly of Irish songs learned from their parents, and war songs. With their boyfriends and husbands away at ‘the War’, life may have been miserable for them.
I thought they were good fun, although very old. The poor darlings were in their twenties! I also thought them beautiful and clever. They doted on me and loved that I sang with them.
I learned to play the piano, but not for long. Practising in a room far from my parents and baby sister felt too hard. And the piano teacher terrified me.
Introduction to performing arts – theatre
For my twelfth birthday, my father gave me tickets to The Pirates of Penzance. He escorted me to His Majesty’s Theatre to set the foundation of my love of the performing arts. My new blue dress and a tiny touch of lipstick felt magic. The beautiful theatre with its red velvet curtains excited me. I loved how the crescendo of chatter hushed and the first notes of the overture rang out. I was hooked.
By the age of sixteen, I’d left school, been to business college and started a job. Friends from the college, Jan and Xenia invited me to a Bell Shakespeare production with them. I needed little encouragement. Midsummer Night’s Dream. My father bought me tickets in the top tier of the theatre, the gods.Jan, Xenia and I went to the other four plays in the season.The Tempest, A Winter’s Tale, Merchant of Venice and King Lear.
We spent all our savings and went again. Hung around the stage door and someone invited us in. Heaven! We joined the Shakespeare Society of WA and got bit parts as soldiers in a production. Jan went on to act professionally.
Performing arts, classical music
While I loved the singing of my family, I didn’t hear classical music until a few years after my first theatre experience. A group of nurses went out with a group of medical students. Many had a broader arts education than me. I learned about classical music. Soaked up Beethoven, Mozart, Hyden. Learned to sing (in key) several pieces from opera. Added music to the arts I’d already fallen in love with.
My belief in myself as a dancer got a boost when I studied psychodrama. A woman I admired chose me to enact the role of her dancer in a psychodrama. For the first time I understood I could move and dance and use my body freely, however I wanted. Such a relief after a lifetime of misbelief. Here’s the link to a fun blog, Blue shoes begging to dance.
An introduction to formal dance came much, much later, perhaps when my oldest granddaughter began to learn ballet. My daughter, Jenny, invited me to concerts where we watched bunnies hopping on stage, flowers nodding, witches casting spells and fairies hiding from wild animals. My granddaughter and her sisters grew in grace and technical skill.
Below the Shenton Dance Program in 2019 with one of my granddaughters on the cover. So beautiful!
It’s been thirty-five years since that first children’s ballet concert. But recently a new generation of ballet dancers has emerged. Three of my great-grandchildren now learn ballet. I look forward also to their concerts.
Jenny and I went to more professional ballets as the girls matured. Now I can say I have favourite ballets, and some I’ve seen a few times. I wrote about a trip to the ballet with my granddaughters here. John and I have gift tickets for Cordelia in September. How lucky are we!
Performing arts in later years
My introduction to the performing arts went in fits and starts,. But I continue to have a serious interest, and to love the theatre in all its forms. Hopefully, my interest will continue for a long time into the future.
I’d love to hear other people’s experience in the comments. And, if you’d like to read more about what being eighty is like, you might consider subscribing to my blog.