Elizabeth Reidy is a curator and writer living in Sydney who is also a trained classical ballet teacher with the Royal Academy of Dance, London. She is not a journalist but she does write about contemporary art.
I can’t really remember my high school art teacher all that well. I stopped doing art in year eight because I felt I wasn’t perfect at drawing. When I look at some of my drawings from then, of picture perfect rollerblades and well known cricket commentators, I roll my eyes at my early demonstration of debilitating perfectionism. They were actually rather good and very skilled. Irrespective, it was my ballet teachers that had a long lasting impact on my artistic sensibilities.
I was four years old when I started ballet. I remember what I wore to my first ballet class. A faded blue swimming costume with pinky woolly stockings and white sandals. I remember the first time I pointed my toes. I remember learning to skip. I remember learning the turning Polka and first Port de Bras. I remember learning Pas de Chat and Pas de Cheval. I remember my first ballet teacher. She taught us to lengthen our necks like swans and extend our chins up and over. As we budding little ballerinas redirected our gaze ever so softly just beyond the ends our noses she would repeat sagely advice, ‘Girls, Don’t look down. Look down at!”. I spent all of Primary school learning to lengthen my neck like a swan. It was a magical and fantastical time of creativity, imagination and strangely enough, discipline.
By the time I hit high school it was the nineties. I loved ballet but I was also a teenager. It was a contradiction in terms, until Miss Ann Marie became my ballet teacher. Miss Anne Marie had blue hair, wore purple cons and led stretch classes sound tracked with Nirvana. As well as being a ballet teacher Miss Anne Marie also did calligraphy and photography. I really looked up to Miss Anne Marie. Still, it was the nineties, so it was super important to be looking down at everything as well. Thank goodness for that magically disciplined classical training. I could simultaneously look up to Miss Anne Marie and down at everything else all in one fell poise. Ballet is quite an exceptional art form like that. Miss Anne Marie became Anne Marie not long after the annual ballet concert in 1995. The concert was set in a French Art Museum where all the paintings came to life. My role was the Principal Conissour moving through all the scenes as picture after picture came to life. I loved that role. Not long after that concert Anne Marie started taking me to Sydney Dance Company on Friday evenings. I also started attending the Halidays’ Ballet school holiday classes. The Haildays’ were foreboding twin sisters who ran an acclaimed ballet studio in Surry Hills. I was scared of them – but Anne Marie encouraged me to go because it was good to get feedback. One of the Ms Haliday’s, not sure which one, pulled me aside after a class and provided me with unexpected feedback for a ballet teacher, “Elizabeth, I think you should be a journalist.”
Anne Marie’s hair is pink and purple these days. She and I became the most excellent of friends and remain so. We subscribe to the Australian Ballet, talk about art, go to galleries and museums, camp at three-day music festivals and catch up in bars with names like The Unicorn on a semi regular basis. A few years ago Anne Marie invited Ms Hailday to our Australian Ballet subscription group. I wasn’t sure which Ms Haliday. I knew one of the sisters had passed away. I was very nervous the night she came to join us. Anne Marie walked off the mini escalator with Ms Hailday. They walked over to me together “Ms Hailday, do you remember Liz?” I froze. There stood, one of the two foreboding Ms Hailday’s, 4ft’9. Her neck lengthened like a swans as she extend her chin up and over and directed her gaze ever so softly just beyond the end her of nose in my direction. In the Queens English Ms Hailday spoke, “Elizabeth, how’s journalism? I trust you write about the arts.” “ Yes, Ms Hailday”, I responded “I only write about the arts.”