Ninety-three-year-old Judith Kerr still remembers the day she knew she was destined to become a ballerina.
the main points:
- Judith Kerr has taught ballet in Hobart for over 60 years after honoring theater worldwide
- The 93-year-old ballet instructor teaches several times a week
- Students described ballet lessons as a lifeline after regaining control of their strength and balance
She went to see Peter Pan with her family as a little girl living in Edinburgh, and while watching the fairies perform on stage she decided to become a dancer.
“I never had to think about dancing, she chose me,” said Ms. Kerr.
What followed were years of hard work, and proving to others that she was worth working as a performer.
“I went to England on a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dance and was told I was completely unsuitable for a theater career,” she said.
But she didn’t let that deter her – instead, Judith Kerr continued her 10-year international career as a ballerina as she traveled across Europe and performed on hundreds of stages, including at the Arena di Verona in Italy.
Her advice to others was to “never tell you you can’t do something.”
Once she even ignored world-famous dancer Rudolf Nureyev during a ballet class in Sydney: Mrs. Kerr was doing a wild job alongside Nureyev when she complained she had no room to move and went to the other side of the class, only to then realize who he was.
“I wouldn’t have moved if I had known it was Nureyev,” Kerr laughed.
Sharing the talent of the movement
At 93, Kerr still teaches in a small but quaint hall in the Hobart suburb of Battery Point, where she has resided for six decades.
With her hair tied up in a bun and wrapped in a red ribbon, Ms. Kerr rewrapped the cassette as she told her class they would soon be dancing to the tune of “Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker”.
The class is a mix of adults who have danced before and want to work on their ballet style, to complete beginners who are keen to improve their fitness and strength.
Among them is retired Penny Parrish, who joined a ballet class in 2019 to help her regain control of her legs after undergoing Achilles tendon surgery.
“I was falling, I was having a concussion, and I was constantly losing my balance,” Ms Parrish said.
While the scars remain on her head, Ms. Parrish no longer falls and has regained control of her legs and balance.
Classes help others during the pandemic
Ms. Kerr was also a lifeline for many of her students during the pandemic when Hobart was closed.
She would call Mrs. Parish every Monday to attend a ballet class with her, not letting their lack of modern technology get in the way.
“None of us had fancy communication devices, so we taped our phones to decorate rails in our homes, and Judith spoke to me during class,” said Ms. Parrish.
Student Yabu Thompson first joined Judith’s ballet class as an adult about 30 years ago after dreaming of dancing as a child.
“Look at the inspiration Judith is 93; she never stopped and still does every day,” Thompson said.
Like others in her class, Ms. Thompson has seen the benefits of staying fit as she gets older and is incorporating walking and strength exercises into her weekly schedule.
“Ballet is good for balance and weight bearing, which is very important as you get older,” Thompson said.
While Ms. Kerr never planned to become a teacher, she said it was a natural progression after touring as a ballerina for many years.
The 93-year-old does not plan to retire anytime soon.