Never too old to be a ballerina

Ballet teacher Gaye Hemsley with students Anna Gadsby, Rose Theobald and, front, Peti Tuanau. Photo: Nikki South.

Peti Tuanau, 6, calls her Nana Gaye. To 65-year-old Rose Theobald she is simply Gaye. To both she is a teacher of an artistic dance form of which age is no barrier to participating.

Katikati’s Gaye Hemsley has been teaching ballet since she was in her early teens, and has recently started an adult ballet class for “teenagers to senagers”.

About eight ladies have joined the class so far - mainly senagers.

Gaye says a few have done ballet before but most have come along to help strengthen their balance and posture.

“I keep it to what I think they are capable of doing,” she says. “They’re all so happy about it and such a lovely class to take. They’re so attentive – I wish my children’s classes had been like that.”

Gaye’s mother was a ballroom dancing teacher in Auckland, and thought nine-year-old Gaye might like to try the ballet class next door.

“She wisely took me to a professional ballet – Ballet Rambert – and I fell in love with it from the moment the curtain opened.”

Recognising she was never going to be a ballerina herself – “I had rather a stiff body, but a dancer’s mind,” – Gaye began teaching the children of her mother’s ballroom dancing students.

Gaye moved to Katikati 12 years ago with no intention of starting a dance school, but after finding there was no children’s dance teacher in town she began teaching ballet, jazz and tap.

“I’ve slowed down on the children’s classes,” says Gaye, “so my only regular class now is the adult class. I need to find more time to write my memoir.”

Anna Gadsby, an “in-betweenager”, has added Gaye’s ballet class to her regime of ballroom dancing, exercise classes and yoga.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to learn,” says Anna. “I think I went to a couple of classes as a little girl but never kept going.”

And is she enjoying it? “Yes, but you have to concentrate. Unless you’ve done it before it doesn’t come easy. It’s challenging.”

Rose Theobald took ballet classes until the age of 23, abandoning them when children and family responsibilities took precedence. But she has always loved to dance.

Hyperthyroidism in recent years has seen her lose muscle tone and she saw the ballet class as a way to help fix that and return to her first love.

“I just love to dance,” says Rose. “Once a ballerina, always a ballerina.”