I have many memories of Bush Davies School so it is difficult, when asked to write a piece for the website, to know what would be interesting for other readers, given the fact that memories are always so personal. However, having looked through the site, I did notice a request for anyone who had actually lived in the Flat to comment. So that seemed an ideal place for me to begin!
The Flat! (Ed. Charters Part Two, page 5). What a place to live that was! During my years as a student at BDS I lived in the Flat for several terms. I had previously shared a dorm in the lovely old Barn with 3 friends Debbie Preece, Cathy Evers and Liz Smith. I was about to set off from home at the start of a new autumn term when I got a call from one of the 3 to tell me I had been made a prefect. To start with, I had never considered myself prefect material so that in itself was a huge shock. But then it got slightly worse for a while when my friend told me that I was to live in the Flat with 3 or 4 other girls!
It can only be described as a nightmare dwelling. The walls were almost always running with water (because of the lack of damp course I should think) and my bedding was often mouldy at the corners where it had touched the floor! In the winter months it was freezing cold too and I seem to remember water seeping up through the carpet once or twice! The bathroom was fairly unsavoury too. I think we had our own culture of penicillin growing practically all the time. But we were young and laughed it off. My mother was much more concerned about her daughter's living conditions than I was!
However, it wasn't all bad in the Flat. Its location was quite handy for those occasional visits that prefects made to Paul Kimm's flat above, where at least it was drier and warmer! And we were also able to listen to some rather lovely classical music as it drifted through the ceiling into our abode.
Miss Bush left a huge impression on me right from my private audition with her. She was very pleasant but reduced me to tears by the end, which, as she later told my parents, was a good sign, as she knew she would be able to work with me. I don't think I had ever worked so hard and gosh was I stiff the next day?! I will always remember her pronouncement about me later on in my training. “When you are standing at the barre I hate you, but when you start to move, that is an entirely different matter and I like you.” I am very glad her comments were that way round and I think I have carried that phrase with me when performing for real. At least I had it on good authority that I could move well!
Bush Davies taught me a lot - not just about dancing (that goes without saying!) but about learning to live with other people in a confined space. I was from a very middle class background with no siblings. I wasn't spoilt but I was used to my own space and not having to share. After a term in The Tower (a dorm on the top floor of the main house) I had a very different idea about sharing!
I also learnt to care for my clothes - both school uniform and dance kit and well remember scrubbing the feet of my pink tights which always seemed to turn black after a very short time in my ballet shoes. The washhouse was a hive of industry especially on a Sunday afternoon, with row upon row of various items of dance kit festooned about the place. It was a veritable Chinese laundry. The worst time was during the winter when it was difficult to get the kit dry in time for one's next class but somehow we managed.
Going back to my first term at Bush, this was in the summer of 1969. This meant that the term ended with the performances at the Adeline Genée Theatre. As has already been mentioned elsewhere on this website, the performances opened with Le Grand Defile. It was a very moving experience both to do and, I imagine, to watch. The whole school processed two by two through the auditorium, in two columns and onto the stage, commencing with the tallest pupils and ending with the smallest 'Junior'. In those days, the average height of young ladies was far less than it is today and I found myself, being rather tall for my age, leading the Defile from the back right entrance with a similarly heighted friend (Ann Humphries). Another pair of more senior girls led the column on the other side (I think it was Diana Palmer and Geraldine Yates). It was a great honour and an occasion that I will always remember. I think we were probably quite nervous and aware of the responsibility especially as we were both New Girls that term. The added catch was that the music which was used for this opening number was a marvellous piece composed by John Harrison. I know this has also been mentioned elsewhere in this site. However, it was not your average kind of 'ballet tune' and required very accurate counting of the bars to ensure we four leaders entered at the right time. One bar either too soon or too late would result in disaster at the end. As far as I recall, we never got it wrong! Phew!
I was fortunate in having a wonderful plethora of teachers while I was there. The ones that made the most impact, besides Miss Bush and Mr Leopold, were Lorna Neild, Joy Camden (who was so inherently musical), Clover Roope (I loved drumming for her classes while I was off with a knee injury), Pat Cannon (Whittock) and Margaret Meyer. On the musical side, there was Mrs Wakeling and John Harrison. John and I had a bit of a battle with my piano lessons, as he tried to break me of all the dreadful habits I had picked up through teaching myself to play when a youngster. Being such a brilliant technician himself, he had to have endless patience as he prepared me for my Grade 6 exam. All credit to him that I passed! After that watershed, we switched to singing lessons, which were far less stressful for both parties I should think!
Although I have devoted my career to researching, choreographing and teaching the historical aspect of dance, much of what I learnt at BDS has been of great value. My years there impressed on me the need for hard graft and for not giving up when the going got tough. I now find I am able to out-dance most of my much younger students in terms of energy levels and I am sure it is just the element of strict training we received that comes into play. The academic standard at BDS was not very high when I was doing my GCE's and in fact there was no A level course at that time. This lack of qualifications at a higher level encouraged me to study a little bit as an adult and I have managed to attach a couple of Fellowships to my name, one of which was earned by submitting a thesis on Baroque Choreography.
I also learnt about accepting responsibility. Having been made a prefect, it was not too long after that I became a deputy head girl and eventually Head Girl. The prefects had quite a lot to do with the boarding life of the school and acted like junior housemothers, especially in the evenings. Of course there was always a member of staff on duty too, but many was the time I was called upon to attend to a girl who was poorly. I seemed to get a reputation for being able to deal with most things - epileptic fits being the most dramatic! As a young person without siblings where else would I have had the opportunity to extend my knowledge of these aspects of life?!
It is hard to believe that in fact it was forty years ago this April when I entered Charters Towers for the first time as a new and rather timid new pupil. This year is the 20th anniversary of the closure of what must have been one of the finest vocational schools of its day. What a lovely idea to launch a website to commemorate BDS and to ensure its memory, and the inspiration of Miss Bush and Mr Leopold, does not disappear from view. (July 2009).
(Ed. Apart from the piano lessons I have an especially embarrassing memory of Diana. In those days I organised a lot of visits for students to the Opera House, Covent Garden. Having a special relationship with the box office we were offered either reduced, or free, seats very often with little warning. One particular visit was to a matinée of a commissioned contemporary opera (all male singers and way beyond our understanding!). I had decided to go to London early to shop for music recordings for the next summer show and had a rather bibulous lunch on route to meet the ‘gang' for the opera. Needless to say, being bored with the opera and the wine having its effect, I slipped away into the land of nod perched firmly on Diana's shoulder snoring uncompromisingly to the music! She provided the perfect pillow and didn't say a word. Thankyou!)
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