BALLET4LIFER OF THE MONTH- DECEMBER 2020 - Catherine Barlen
(please scroll down for more images)
For this festive month we invited musician, mother, mover, and shaker Catherine to tell us her story. We, at Ballet4Life, have so enjoyed our collaborative creative work and experiences with Catherine and
When did you start dancing?
I started dancing (but not ballet) when I was about 3 years old but sadly this initial
experience did not end well. My mother recalls that I was not very inspired by my dance teacher and, as the classes
involved quite a long drive from our home, I stopped the lessons and started the piano instead.
What makes dancing so special to you?
Dancing is a beautiful means of expression. I love the opportunity to move
in response to different forms of music and to watch others doing so - with much more power and grace!
When did you start with Ballet4life?
I believe it was in 2013. I had met Donna Schoenherr previously, when our
children attended Southfield Primary School and we were both involved with the school PSA. My young daughters
had started ballet, about which I knew very little, at Chiswick Theatre Arts. After Donna’s son left the school, she
regularly donated dance class vouchers for the PSA to auction, and I purchased one to see if adult ballet would suit
me. At that time Ballet4Life was operating some of their classes from under the railway arches near Stamford Brook tube station, but
shortly after that Donna moved those classes to the Chiswick venues.
What makes B4l so special for you?
I really enjoy the opportunity to learn ballet as an adult beginner among good
friends, some of whom I knew previously but most of whom I have met during the classes. It has been a privilege to
learn ballet with Donna and her talented teachers.
Do you get to see dance performances regularly?
If yes, any favourite companies, dancers,
performances you have seen recently?
Recently I have not been such a regular attender
at dance performances, but I have enjoyed the
streamed performances from Covent Garden, in
particular the new ballet The Cellist about
Jacqueline du Pré. In the past I have enjoyed
watching classics such as The Nutcracker, Swan
Lake and Romeo and Juliet from the upper tiers of
the Royal Opera House and also on DVD.
I had the great privilege of working with Donna as
both musician and produc7on assistant in
Donna’s new 2018 choreography of part of
Stravinsky’s Apollon musagète, which featured
four of Ballet4life’s teachers in the roles of Apollo
and three Muses, accompanied by the Nonesuch
Orchestra. This was performed as part of the
Bedford Park Festival with dancers from several
local schools and also at St Peter’s Church,
Southfield Road. It was wonderful to see the
dancers working together in rehearsal and
Here are some short promotional films which we made in rehearsal at the time:
What do your ballet classes do for you?
Learning ballet has taken me into a whole new world. My
classes enable me to exercise to beautiful music while
continuing to learn more about the mysterious world of
ballet, with its French technical terms and classical
traditions. I have also learned about muscles which I
never knew I had!
Do you have a favourite Ballet4Life class?
Is there any dance style you wish to study but we do
not offer presently?
No, there are many offered which I
would love to try, if I had more free time.
What do/did you do for your “day job?” and/or what
were you educated/trained to do as a profession?
I work in both music and education, primarily as Schools
Liaison Officer for the Nonesuch Orchestra, (website
http://nonesuchorcestra.org.uk), in which I play
the viola. In a normal year the Nonesuch Orchestra
would put on six concerts in primary schools and in the
last couple of years we have added our secondary school
composition project ( see https://www.nonesuchorchestra.org.uk/news/from-page-to-performance-performing-the-students-compositions)
As well as the collaboration on Apollon musagète in
2018, Donna and I also worked together to bring
dance with live music to Belmont School (see photos below
credit: Donna. Sadly, such events are impossible at
the present time due to Covid, but we hope to restart
them soon. I also work as a school Governors’ Clerk,
which enables me to use some of the skills from my
first career as a lawyer.
Do you have any tips for someone wishing to start
dance training as an adult?
Look at the Ballet4life
website, for details of both in person and online
Do you have a favourite part of class/ ballet step you
My favourite part is dancing in pairs, trios or
quartets with others, especially when we succeed in
moving in time together, and my favourite step is the
How has Covid-19 changed the way you have dance
in your life?
During the two Covid lockdowns, Donna
and her teachers have held classes online, which has
posed some technical challenges but at least enabled
us to continue to dance, provided we can find enough space at home.