Lifelong passion for dance reignited leads to encounter with a star
‘‘They said, ‘no leotards are required, you can come in pyjamas if you want to’.”
So now she is one of 15 older women, and a few men, who practise plies, tendus and arabesques in a Parkdale hall. They even do concerts: in August she starred as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, in a modified version of Giselle.
‘‘Once I started to remember the steps, it was so exciting,” she said. “I was a bit sore. But it’s a good sore.’’
Ms Dowling was among 25 older dancers who marked the start of the month-long Victorian Seniors Festival on Sunday by taking a masterclass helmed by former international ballet star Li Cunxin, at the Immigration Museum.
Some admitted they came for a close up glimpse of the handsome and charming Cunxin, 57, who was plucked from poverty in China to train as a dancer, defected to the United States while with the Houston Ballet and then became a principal dancer with the Australian Ballet.
His life story was told in the 2009 movie Mao’s Last Dancer. He is now the artistic director of Queensland Ballet, which just finished a week-long season of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Melbourne and will next month tour China.
Cunxin said seniors’ ballet classes were growing in popularity. Ballet was as good for your brain as a crossword puzzle but it also taught body coordination, balance and strength.
‘‘You might get a bit of muscle soreness in the beginning, but I guarantee that if you persist, you will feel much better,” he said.
He said to keep an active mind and body was ‘‘really the key to a healthy life’’.
Ms Dowling, a grandmother of four, said ballet was strengthening her bones, spine and posture and she had made friends. ‘‘You learn something every time, and it gives you a great feeling of wellbeing.’’
Margaret Green, 75, of Dromana, thanked Cunxin for ‘‘a wonderful experience’’.
She did ballet class as a child in Albury, ‘‘but even today, I remember all those positions’’.
She came to Cunxin’s class ‘‘because I just love ballet. And I’d read all about Li in the book and seen the movie.’’
She said with osteo-arthritis, ‘‘the muscles were a bit creaky’’. But she loved Cunxin’s ‘‘grace and his acceptance of everyone. ‘‘Once, he came and adjusted my fingers, and it was so gentle. It wasn’t condemnatory. I got the feeling, ‘you’re doing well, keep it up’.’’
Carolyn Webb is a reporter for The Age.
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