Tess Nichol is an NZME. News Service reporter.

Age just a number for Jackie

After nearly four decades away from ballet, former farmer back en pointe.
Jackie Scannell found herself back in a grade one ballet class at age 60. Photo / John Cowpland
Jackie Scannell found herself back in a grade one ballet class at age 60. Photo / John Cowpland

A woman who is one of New Zealand's oldest ballet dancers has proved age is only a number after a near-perfect score in a recent intermediate exam.

Jackie Scannell, 60, may not be as flexible as she once was, but the former farmer can still pirouette with the best of them.

Scannell has been back en pointe for the better part of a decade - 37 years after quitting as a teen.

The Hawke's Bay retiree earned very high distinction in her August exam and is the oldest person to pass that level of examination at the BBO Dance company.

The Royal Academy of Dance in New Zealand said several people in their 50s had sat exams at Scannell's level, but never a 60-year-old.

Scannell was a keen ballet dancer from age 6, before losing interest and quitting at 15.

"I enjoyed going to ballet but to really carry on and do more with it you have to be incredibly dedicated and incredibly focused," she told the Herald on Sunday.

"I wanted to do other things. I got married and had a family; lived on a farm."

Scannell was still on her Waipukurau farm eight years ago when she learned of a ballet teacher who offered classes for adults.

Esther Juon's classes at her studio in Waipawa are structured by ability rather than age, so Scannell found herself in a grade one class alongside dancers as young as 12.

"It took a while for the body to get back, it's not what it was when I was 15, but it's not too bad," she said.

She was the oldest in her class and still is, although at intermediate level she's been joined by four other adults.

They attend two two-hour classes a week with Juon, and Scannell finds herself running through moves around her house.

"I might be in the garden or in the shower, I'll be going through things in my head."

Dance is something that completely engages her body and mind.

"It's your time, you can't let anything else intrude on it."

The very high distinction came as something of a shock.

"I will credit Richie McCaw. If you see his movie, he says 'the body will do what the mind tells it to'. Between every exercise, I was repeating that to myself."

Juon was incredibly proud.

"Age has nothing to do with it, it's all about time and commitment."

- NZ Herald

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