Fifty years of fancy footwork

By Laurel Stowell


FIFTY years of teaching dance, and Wanganui's Shirley McDouall isn't the slightest bit tired of it.
"I'm so lucky. I see a beautiful side of life, with dear little people," she said.
She teaches juniors aged from around four to 10, and also does some work with seniors. This year she will, as usual, be helped by an assistant from England.
She said her Shirley McDouall School of Dance had 180 pupils. There was only one boy among them, and one of the boys who learned dance last year had quit because he got teased.
At the top end of the school were about 25 "majors", girls with the right bodies, the self-discipline and the will to take dancing further.
There was one year when each of the female duxes from Wanganui schools was a pupil of Mrs McDouall.
"The girls who dance at that level are very motivated. Doreen Ng, who has gone to Otago University to study medicine, was one of those."
Some had been able to follow the dream of ballerina-hood to reality. Rain Francis was now touring with Dublin-based Ballet Ireland, Elizabeth Martin was dancing with the London-based Vienna Ballet Company and Melissa Tate danced with New Zealand's contemporary Footnote Dance Company.
There were other memorable pupils too: "Goodness, I could write a book about them". One of these was Ruth Richardson, who later became the National Party's finance minister.
"She was a woman who knew where she was going."
An appreciative presence in the studio was the young Robert Tripe, now an actor. Aged four, he used to sit quietly and watch his sister dance.
Praised for his good behaviour, he said: "I just love the music".
Mrs McDouall said learning dance helped girls even if they didn't become ballerinas.

They acquired discipline, confidence, deportment, stage experience, music appreciation, "real, meaningful" exercise ? and they had fun.
She had a scholarship fund for pupils if their families had fallen on hard times.
She said children these days tended to be less polite and obedient, but she never gave up on them.
"I'm determined that every child that goes out the door has learned something that day, even if it's only standing still, or saying sorry if they're late."
PICTURED: Dance teacher Shirley McDouall admires three generations of her pupils. They are Sarah Devine (mirrored left) and her mother Tess Bowling. At front is Gabrielle Devine, the latest aspiring ballerina of the family, who's nearly four.

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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