Dannevirke remembers inspirational dance teacher

By Christine McKay

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Miss Joan Irvine.
Miss Joan Irvine.

Despite having travelled to exotic destinations, Joan Phyllis Irvine was happy to live and work in Dannevirke. She believed Dannevirke had more going for it than a lot of big cities.
It was here her career began with just 12 pupils. But in 1990, at the 50th anniversary of her career, 500 former pupils attended the celebrations.

Dannevirke and its surrounding districts was the richer for her talent and although she was simply Miss Irvine here, throughout the world she was famous and acknowledged as simply the best.

She was always credited as being ahead of her time in the world of dance, with a single-minded focus and as a trailblazer.

Dannevirke was lucky to have Miss Irvine, she put us on the ballet map and our town was often known as ballet city, thanks to her reputation.

At Miss Irvine's funeral, Janet Taylor, then national administrator at the Royal Academy of Dance, said Miss Irvine was an icon, an inspiration and her passing was the end of an era in dance.

She was the first-ever recipient in the world of the President's Award and the world of dance had lost someone special with her passing.

Miss Irvine's passion for dance was kindled at 9. Her parents sent her for lessons when the family was living in Taradale in Hawke's Bay. Aged 18, living with her family in Dannevirke and just out of school, Miss Irvine was accompanied by her father to the bank to take out a loan to open her own school of dance. In those days, it wasn't done for a single women to approach a bank for money.

In those early years, World War II was raging across Europe.

Her life became even more hectic in 1960 when she was appointed an examiner by the Royal Academy of Dance in London. National and international travel became her everyday life. From watching Spanish dancing in Seville and teaching in Tel Aviv the next day, Miss Irvine became a world-renowned figure in dance and she had more than her fair share of tales to tell about experiences abroad too.

There was the time she arrived at an Israeli airport just after a bomb had been lobbed through the airport lounge. On another occasion she was woken at 4am in a five-star Bangkok hotel after water and a chandelier fell on her bed.

"The man in the room above me was drunk and had run a bath. But he forgot about it and went to sleep so the water leaked through the floorboards," she told the Dannevirke News.

"This beautiful chandelier came crashing down from the ceiling and gave me a big fright."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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