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 Now is the time for the Ballet4Lifer-of-the Month of November reveal!

The nights are drawing in, the leaves are falling down as we shift into this new darker and chillier month. We welcome Ballerina back-in -action, Katharine Vile to the stage. We are greatly moved by her touching and candid words. All of this is going on to further support and to propagate the power of dance and dancing together. It has been a joy having her in our classes and seeing and supporting her dance re-discoveries and strengths. Here's to many more classes and performances!

Thank you, Katharine. 

Weather Vane Dance at Primary School 

When did you start dancing?


When I was 2.  I have a vivid memory of sitting on the floor in a hall, next to my mother, doing “good toes, naughty toes”!  (I think this must have been my very first class if my mother was sitting next to me).


Village May Fair

What makes dancing so special to you?


Oh my goodness, where to begin?! I had knee problems in my teens I so had to give up dancing.  I did a lot of dance up til then and was going to go to White Lodge when my knees flared up and the medical at the final audition flagged this up.  It was heartbreaking because ballet was everything to me. 

Royal Ballet School audition photo ( she recalls being in a "bad mood"!)

A London Dance Competition, day before she came down with Measles

And I’ve realised that since then, throughout my life I’ve been looking for something to fill the gap ballet left:

-     Before having children I did a lot of triathlon and this came close to filling the gap, especially swimming, because of the way you move your body.

-     I did philosophy at university which, strangely enough, also came close because of the way you exercise your mind.

But not one on its own encompasses all that dance is for me because ballet for me is both body and mind.  It’s a very rare beast in this regard.  There is something which lifts you up when you love dance - and I think ultimately for me it is the self-expression, the expression and release of emotion you get when dancing to music.  Even just standing still and moving your arms out to seconde raises your chin and fills your heart.  It sounds so exaggerated and contrived to say this, but if you love to dance I’m sure you’ll feel the same!


Three years ago I had a very frightening health diagnosis which I live with and live in fear of every day.  I had big surgeries and gruelling treatment and emerged hoping these would give me as much time as possible left to live.  (I’m a very private person and, for various reasons, I’ve only ever told a few close friends and family, so this is a big step to write about it here.)  When you are faced with your own mortality as a very real and imminent possibility, you look at your life and want to make sure you are living how you want to live.  I made a list of what I wanted to have in my life and ballet was high on the list.  Covid-19 then swept through and so I found ballet online and I’m so happy to have it back in my life.


When did you start with Ballet4Life?


In 2021, during lock down.  I was actually doing online classes somewhere else and loved them so I googled to find any others, and that brought me to Ballet4Life.


What makes B4l so special for you?


It has brought ballet centre stage for me again in my life.  And that feels priceless.  I have also made lovely friends with classmates from all walks of life - it is very friendly.  We are all there because we love dancing.  The Showcase this year was also particularly special.  I haven’t been on stage for more years than I care to count and the whole experience was fantastic: from rehearsing, putting on costumes and make-up, dealing with excitement and nerves backstage and those silent, trembling few seconds in the wings before your music starts, to the joy of curtain calls together. 


I remember earlier this year Jo suggesting someone could do the Odette Variation as a solo and I didn’t for a second consider it.  But then one day at the end of a class, again mooting finding a soloist and seeing if any of us might take the plunge, I heard her mention my name.  I thought it was a joke at first and it made me laugh!  I went home and told my daughters the joke!  And they just couldn’t compute that I would say no to this.  My eldest said, “Mummy, this is a huge opportunity.  I bet Anna Rose never turned down an opportunity!”  I burst out laughing!  But then I thought, when else would someone like me, over 50 and not professional, get this incredible opportunity.  So I took the plunge and said yes!  And it was a fantastic experience.  I am still gutted I felt so bad on the day and the lead up recovering from Covid, but I gave it my best shot, which was just about ok.  But I particularly loved doing the performance a couple of weeks later at the Bedford Park Festival.  So, in a short period of time back dancing I think it’s clear why Ballet4Life has been so special for me and it has reignited my desire to perform!


Dress Rehearsal for the May Showcase

In performance at the Bedford Park Festival 2022

Do you get to see dance performances regularly? If yes, any favourite companies, dancers, performances you have seen recently?


Sadly, with 2 young children and a partner who is away a lot, I rarely get to see performances.  It’s a huge treat when I do.  We saw The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House last Christmas which was stunning.  It was Anna Rose O’Sullivan’s debut at the Sugar Plum Fairy and we met her at the Stage Door afterwards.  My little girls do ballet and were lucky enough to do a Zoom Q&A with Anna Rose during lock down and she has been wonderfully supportive of their ballet school ever since.  So it was extremely exciting for them (and me too!) to meet her.  So she is a family favourite ballerina!  I also absolutely adore Marianela Nunez and hope to see her dance this year.


What do your ballet classes do for you?


They keep my body limber, have built up strength and keep my mind alert.  This is something you wouldn’t necessarily think of with ballet, but it’s a huge part of it.  When I’ve had a few weeks off I notice a big difference in my ability to remember exercises.


Do you have a favourite Ballet4Life class?


Progressing Ballet Technique® Class with Jo at Arts Ed

I don’t, I love all the ones I do!  I enjoy Chris’ classes because they help me focus on technique.  I love Jo’s classes because her barre exercises really make me switch on my brain!  I also really enjoy her Repertory classes and the new Progressing Ballet Technique®class.   Beatrice’s Saturday classes are just wonderful.  And Jo and Beatrice’s Pointe classes are fantastic and I really hope to get stronger and make progress on Pointe this year. If I had to choose I’d go for the Saturday class because I do struggle a bit with classes after a long day working and mumming and run out of energy after barre!


Pointe Class with Jo at Arts Ed

Is there any dance style you wish to study but we do not offer presently?


Not a style, but something I’ve always wanted to do is dance pas de deux.  An absolute bucket-list dream of mine.


What do/did you do for your day job?” and/or what were you educated/trained to do as a profession?


Before I had my two girls I worked for years as a Film & TV Agent at United Agents in London, with a client list of film & tv writers and directors.  I loved it.  It was hard work but I would sit at screenings as the lights went down and think, I can’t believe this is my job!  But it involved evenings and weekends and I’d waited a long time to have children and I wanted to be with them, particularly in their early years.  And back then Working From Home wasn’t a thing and so I gave up my job.  Obviously lock down has changed things now.  And lock down gave rise to the funny job I find myself doing now… last year I made some biscuits which I iced, in the shape of flowers. I posted a photo on my Facebook page and a couple of friends asked if I could make some for them.  Then a few more asked, and a few more… and I had a business staring me in the face!  So Biscuit Fantastic was born (my then 5 yesr- old came up with the name!), I now make iced biscuits, have a stream of orders and can’t quite get over how random it is!

(Donna says: and they are as tasty as they look!)

A  beautifully detailed example of her products in honour of World Ballet Day 

Do you have any tips for someone wishing to start dance training as an adult?


Just do it!  Don’t overthink it.  If you’re new to ballet you will no doubt fear you have to wear a leotard and ballet shoes and that everyone will be doing the splits.  And this can be so off-putting you might dismiss ballet or dance as a possibility.  But none of this is true.  You can wear leggings and a t-shirt, ballet shoes are useful but they’re easy to get and are comfy, and you will be welcomed in and will see a wide range of people of different ages and abilities.  I had danced as a child and teen, but then had a break of over 30 years with no dancing.  And very quickly you feel part of the community.  And there are now lots of online classes you can take - either live or recorded - which are a really nice way in to find your feet before you brave a live studio class.

Katharine in our Saturday Pointe Work classes


Do you have a favourite part of class/ ballet step you love?


I love barre.  As I get older I feel stiff and achy a lot of the time.  So I creak into class and love how my body warms up and softens as the barre exercises progress.  And I enjoy bringing expression to simple, individual movements.  I also really enjoy petit and grand allegro.  Which leaves adagio…and the least said about that the better!


How has Covid-19 changed the way you have dance in your life?


Covid-19 brought dance back into my life.  I know lots of people didn’t enjoy online classes so didn’t dance much in lock down.  But I am the opposite.  Were it not for lock down I might not be dancing today, so I am eternally grateful to the world wide web and Zoom!

Solo to Debussy’s La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin!  Katharine " loved that music and the dress!"

Anything else you would like to add, please feel free to do so.

Just a thank you to Ballet4Life.  A thank you to the inspiring teachers and the friends I have made.

We thank you Katharine! Your performances at Watermans Theatre and at the BPF were beautiful.

All photos are copyright either Ballet4Life or Katharine. Please ask permission to copy.


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