Mementos in Music and Dance

Remembering my mum on her birthday.

From a young age, my mum had a passion for dance. Ballet and tap had transformed her life at the age of four and by her late teens she was teaching at Stella Mann’s Dance School in Hampstead, London. Her ideal ballerina was Margot Fonteyn who was the most wonderful dancer she had ever seen. According to Mum, it was Margot’s musicality and expressiveness that made her dancing so compelling. She was always perfectly at one with the music and when dancing on ‘points’ she was elegant, appearing at times, to float across the stage. She made it seem effortless.

Aged just eight, at the beginning of the second world war, my mum was evacuated to her Aunt’s home, an old farmhouse on a hillside in Yorkshire. She was frightened and homesick being away from her parents and older sister and after eighteen long months, she was relieved to return to her home in London. Although she felt safer, she had come home to air raids and slept under a Morrison shelter, and a few years on, she lost her father to a heart attack, in 1943. Her mother was the epitome of keeping cheerful and carrying on and so they did. And Mum had music and dance to keep her going, she talked of rushing off to choir rehearsals before school and of stopping to dance in an empty shop on her way home. And she told us how they danced for joy at the end of the war, joining the street party. During her late teens and early twenties, her experience of the cultural events that were suddenly springing up in a newly optimistic postwar London, was intense and unforgettable and she admitted to being ‘star struck’. She loved music, film, theatre and poetry, with an enthusiasm that remained throughout her life.

Whenever I’m in London, I visit the Southbank Centre and think of my mum’s visits there when it was newly built for the Festival of Britain in 1951. And when I hear a particular piece of music or see a film that she loved, I think how much she enjoyed it and I appreciate it all the more.

One of the CDs Mum had asked me to get for her in her latter years was of the music by Benjamin Britten for the ballet The Prince of the Pagodas so I think she would have loved this clip from the ballet. The choreography is by Kenneth MacMillan, whose work she adored, and the wonderful dancers in this pas de deux are Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope.

Mum admired Darcey Bussell and we both enjoyed watching the programmes she made about dances from Hollywood musicals (which Mum had enjoyed in her youth). In these clips she recreates the dances from the Puttin’ on the Ritz and Singing in the Rain.

This last one is full of optimism, silliness and fun, a great way to remember the good times.

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