Ballet classes

When I was seven I was taken to see a film of the Bolshoi Ballet’s production of Swan Lake starring Galina Ulanova. I was enchanted. I knew that I had to learn how to dance so that I could join that magical world. Luckily, help was just around the corner - literally. Miss Mellor-Jones held her ballet classes in the top floor of a terraced house on Cheadle Road, so close that I could walk there by myself.

Every Tuesday at 5pm, when the people in the downstairs flat opened the front door, we ballet girls ran up the stairs, hung up our coats and changed out of our school uniform in the narrow corridor outside the studio. Ballet classes required different clothes and hairstyles which would allow us the freedom to move as we danced. Our hair was pulled back from our faces by a soft pink stretch hairband that matched the pink ribbon ties around the waists of our white tunics. My mother had made mine with her recently acquired sewing machine. She had knitted me a pink crossover top too, but it was rarely worn because the room where we danced was so warm.

Two of the terrace’s bedrooms had been knocked together to create the long room we used. It had been fitted with a sprung floor, full length mirrors on every wall and barres. When she was ready, Miss Mellor-Jones would open her studio door and we would walk into a world where our exercises had French names; where no matter how much our muscles ached our backs must always be straight and our movements graceful.

Dora Mellor-Jones looked like Queen Victoria and wore her hair in a similar style to the late queen – a plait wound around the head like a laurel crown. She was tiny and round but her back was as straight as a sergeant-major’s and she was very strict. I was in her class because I wanted to dance but I was amazed to find that not everybody felt the same way. Gillian had recently undergone surgery on her lungs and ballet classes were recommended by her doctor. Janet was sent by her mother who hoped dance classes would give her confidence. My friend Denise was there because her mother thought this was a ladylike activity for girls. Denise was really there because she and I had fun together. Our exercises were accompanied by a lovely round lady called Mrs Booth who wore very bright red lipstick and tucked her hair into victory rolls. In fact Mrs Booth’s whole ample person appeared to be arranged as a series of rolls. Her piano stool seemed to disappear under the lowest of these whilst she played, swaying to and fro in time to Chopin nocturnes.

After my first lesson Miss Mellor Jones rang my parents to say that I had ‘ taken to ballet like a duck to water’ - perhaps an unfortunate metaphor. My parents were pleased that their weekly outlay for lessons would not be a waste but attached little importance to it. I think they expected that ballet would be a passing phase in my life, but unfortunately my aspirations grew. I wanted to join those magical swans. I wanted to be a ballet dancer.

My father always promised that whatever the career I chose he would support me in any way he could. Ballet would never have been his choice but he stuck to his word. He found out how and when to apply to the Royal Ballet School in London. He wrote off for the forms, borrowed a camera from work and took the necessary full-length photograph of me and returned everything in plenty of time. I was wild with excitement when I knew that I had an audition. My mother and I travelled down to London and joined the dozens of others who were auditioning that day. The room where we changed had a row of practice tutus hanging up on one wall; I was at the very heart of the world I wanted to join. In front of a panel of adults we hopefuls stood, walked, exercised and danced and arrived home exhausted. A week or so later, I got the rejection letter. I can't even say that I was disappointed and I'm absolutely certain that my parents were hugely relieved.

I still loved dancing and for six more years I carried on with my classes. Several times each week a dwindling number of us worked with Miss Mellor Jones, but at fourteen I began to develop problems with my joints. It started when I woke one morning and couldn’t raise my arms above my shoulders because of the sharp pain the movement caused. O levels were looming too. It was time to move on. I would really miss being part of that very special group of people. In our last year together as dancers

Denise and I devised a short ballet for the annual show with an underwater theme. I wish someone had taken pictures of the costumes. We worked with Miss Mellor Jones and Mrs Booth to combine the steps and the music and we even helped to create the costumes. I wish someone had taken pictures. Two of the girls shared a costume to become an octopus - a bit like an upright pantomime horse! Our masterpiece was performed for the dancers’ families at the church hall in Swann Lane. Like most ballets ours had a flimsy storyline but the parents loved it and it was a happy note on which to end that phase of my life.