A tribute to dance teachers everywhere, especially to my Ballet Teacher, Eve Trew, on the occasion of her 80th birthday in November 2020 and celebration of over 60 years’ service to the arts in the NE.
My childhood ballet teacher, like many of the great dancers such as Ninette de Valois (Sadlers Wells, Royal Ballet), continues to teach and simply does not look her age. She has a timeless elegance about her. Among the great dames of ballet, we remember Eve Trew in our region, who gained a well-deserved MBE in 2011 for her services to the arts in the NE. Miss Trew started her school in 1957 from her mum’s front room in Gateshead, which then went from strength to strength.
The coronavirus crisis has caused political policy to cross into our lives more than usual.
Following UK government announcements that ballerinas could easily find other suitable careers (including IT) Miss Trew’s daughter Natalie, who manages the school, posted on social media that she might have to ask Miss Trew to re-train. Now Miss Trew is a very competent dress maker, with experience in preparing costumes for her many shows; I still have a gorgeous royal blue can-can costume she designed in the 80s. However, a change of direction would leave behind a huge gap in business and the personal lives of her many students, their families and the NE dance scene.
It’s not just about the dance.
Writers, peers and politicians have called-out the UK government for its devaluation of the Arts and the role our creatives have to play. So many businesses and artists face challenges; Miss Trew and her staff being just some of these during a terrible pandemic.
Barbara Bales, reader at the Holy Cross in Fenham, recently said that we are made into who we are by the network of people who come into our lives. Teachers in general make a huge impact on us. Government adverts “Go Teach” feature past pupils who describe how the right advice in childhood helps us. As a good example, the teacher who advises a pupil to split a complex problem into a series of smaller ones. We should not forget the ballet, music and sports teachers outside conventional school, nor the many hours spent by our parents/guardians who take us to their venues in the car or on the bus. My mum put in so much time and effort this way to make sure I as a child would have fun, learn something and mix with other children outside the family.
I found Miss Trew via a ballet teacher, Robert Mazuraki, who trained with her and became a professional dancer himself. He came to assist my gymnastics group in how to dance for gym floor sequences. I started to like ballet more. Mum was worried about me falling off the beam or bars. Aged eight, which is a late start for ballet, I decided to switch and joined Miss Trew’s classes.
I had danced before I could walk, as evidenced by kicking my legs around in the pram, and once I could toddle at18 months I used to dance around my parents’ lounge and kitchen.
Gymnastics and ballet were a natural progression of these urges to move; an ancestor of mine was a Scottish sword dancer, what could you expect? My aunty Joyce Royle was a professional dancer, specialising in tap and musical theatre. Aunty Joyce went to study with Madame Rodgers in Newcastle and performed on stage in pantomimes before World War 2. Grandad thought she should join in the war effort, so Joyce chose the land army in Thropton near Rothbury. After the war she returned to the stage, performing for many years on tour with The Vera Valentine Lovelies.
In dance school, we learn co-ordination and teamwork, especially when we put on a show, co-ordinating rehearsals, costumes and make up. If we were not good at school, there was ballet school to provide us with confidence, knowing we could do pirouettes and sautés successfully. I remember the excitement of going to class each week; learning new steps, and the thrill of having permission to dance en pointe.
Performing on stage was the best. Rehearsals and events on stage brought with them many laughs. Miss Trew once told us she almost fell into the orchestra pit during a show, so we had to be very aware of the stage itself. At a performance in the Little Theatre, Gateshead in the 1980s, my chorus line were wearing beautiful royal blue satin shorts in the style of the 1940s with Velcro fastenings. Right at the end, the Velcro on mine sprang open and they were about to fall. Fortunately, I was able to put a hand on my waist while we tap-danced off stage into the wings! Whatever happened, the show must go on.
Performances are something for the whole family. I particularly remember how much these were enjoyed by grandparents and aunties who all attended. Years after her retirement from the stage, my Aunty Joyce still loved to tap dance in her kitchen; she particularly delighted in performing. Aunty Joyce worked as a supervisor of the cleaning team in Fenwicks. One year, there was an office show and the cleaners asked her to teach them how to tap dance during their breaks. She did, and they performed in costume as the Rolly Pollys, bringing much joy and laughter to the Fenwicks staff. Aunty Joyce tap danced in her kitchen way into her eighties until arthritis and ill health stopped her.
Miss Trew organized performances in community centres, and many were done to raise money for charity. To date, Miss Trew’s school has raised thousands upon thousands of pounds for charities.
Even on a week to week level, parents of students also enjoy the contact with other parents in the waiting rooms where they socialize over coffee and tea.
Getting in touch with the arts via Erasmus, as former MEP, Julie Ward, discussed at a rally in Newcastle in 2018, or through other schemes can spur many people on to careers in the arts or elsewhere for they pick up important skills.
Ballet helps with physical as well as mental well-being. Some children are advised by GPs to take up ballet to improve physical strength, many a famous ballerina started this way. Just look at Miss Trew in her eighties, who is slim and very fit. There’s something to be said for dance.
Dance is said to ward off risks of dementia, as we use our brains to remember the steps and engage in physical activity. Dementia patient Marta Cinta González Saldaña, the former ballerina who passed away in 2019, could recall Swan lake steps through music in her 90s, which was heart-warming to see.
I became very serious about a dance career myself. Miss Trew is one of those special teachers mentioned in government adverts, she gave me sound advice. Firstly, I should have my school exams to enter dance school, the O and A Levels. An injury means the end of a dance career and can happen anytime. Unless someone gets to the top, the dance career itself is not a long one. Miss Trew encouraged her pupils to try teaching and allowed us to help with the younger classes once we were older and more experienced. She suggested teaching to me as the next step after dancing; students could sit their International Dance Teachers’ Association exams at the school.
This advice to me meant try harder at school. If I wanted to dance, O-levels were a must. I had never been naturally clever at school, but had somewhat of a talent for languages. Nothing came easily. Some children had a photographic memory, but I spent hours studying when I was not dancing, and the effort paid off. In the end, I was not physically perfect enough for a ballet career and while I considered theatre dancing or a dance degree, by then I had become hooked on Spanish, so decided to pursue that. Without Miss Trew’s advice, I might not have made it to university. I still love dancing, but it has to be combined with a busy work life which can drag on outside office hours, and which for me may mean travelling. A workshop at weekends is a good solution. Since then, I have tried flamenco, belly-dancing and Portuguese folk dancing. Friends have persuaded me to dance for them at birthday parties. Miss Trew runs adult ballet classes, worth bearing in mind for anyone in the North East who wishes to return to class.
I am still in touch with the girls from my dance class to this day, we’re on facebook now.
To any parents and budding dancers reading this, I can thoroughly recommend Miss Trew’s school. Don’t forget the boys either, Ballet is not for softies. It’s hard and athletic, especially the boys’ syllabus. Male dancers are very strong; they need to be to lift ballerinas in a ‘pas de deux’.
Granted, ballerinas are thin, but 45-50 kilos+ is no light weight. Ballet is superb for improving football skills. Boyz Street Dance classes are one of the schools latest additions. If ballet is not your thing, there are other forms of dance on offer, Fit Steps and Theatre Arts. As school teacher and manager, Miss Trew’s daughter Natalie Halliwell comments: “Covid has forced Eve to go a bit more technical. She’s been doing zoom classes since 5th November and has been amazing”. Prospective pupils need not wait till the coronacrisis passes to put on their dancing shoes. Natalie enables the IT facilities for livestreaming; I have attended some of Miss Trew’s adult ballet classes on Zoom, which are excellent.
Jacinda Ardren said it is time to consider what the definition of wealth really is – Well-being, both mental and physical, and the health of the environment… Dance and the arts are surely part of that; food for mind, body and importantly in these times of crisis, the soul.
We must also remember the contribution of supportive partners to the arts everywhere. In Miss Trew’s case especially commemorated with a t-shirt designed for husband, John Robins, aka Mr Trew: “Behind every successful ballet teacher is a man wearing an apron”. For Mr Robins who helped Miss Trew all these years, ballet classes often took place at conventional tea times.
Thank you, Miss Trew for the dance and everything it brought me. Long may the dance continue.