Wednesday, October 29, 2014

June Roper, Teacher

A pupil attending one of June Roper's advanced classes had to be prepared to work hard. Class started with a short barre based on the syllabus Ernest Belcher had created derived from his own training in Cecchetti methodology. Usually, it lasted no more than twenty minutes, involving a series of fixed exercises.

The centre work was strenuous. Sometimes, June would introduce a new combination. It could be one of her own invention or inspired by a recent exposure to a dance outside of the studio or one taken from memory from something she had seen before.

June's classes were tough and professional. Not for the faint of heart.

The competition in the studios among the ballet hopefuls was intense. But June encouraged people to compete with themselves, not others. If one dancer couldn't perfect a move that her peer had, she was encouraged to observe and ask how they did it.

June never appeared in a ballet company, she had only seen limited performances of a professional troupe and that could account for gaps in her training.  She groomed her prize students for star assignments, not taking into account those fortunate enough to be accepted into the companies would have a long apprenticeship in the corps de ballet before they even got a small solo role.

However, because June taught her students that stardom was a tangible goal, her pupils were constantly encouraged to be unique in realizing their personal dreams. Ian Gibson and Rosemary Deveson - both former students of Miss Roper's - were frustrated in their corps de ballet assignments. They felt the stress on personal artistic achievement was wasted since they were in roles requiring anonymity. Fortunately, when June's students joined a ballet company, they were performing solos within a year so stardom was still in their sights.

June's was great as a teacher because of her ability to motivate her students to achieve technical prowess and convince them hard work would ensure their success as artists. She ruled her domain firmly yet was never autocratic, unkind or hurtful. She had a loving spirit and her students worked hard to please her as much as themselves. They worked to win her praise and appreciation.

Her advanced dancers went with June on trips to schools in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. There they received additional coaching from experts in ballet training and alternative theatrical forms. When the students returned to Vancouver, they were encouraged to share their new found knowledge with other classmates.

What a wonderful, creative place 887 Seymour Street must have been at that time! June Roper's B.C. School of Dancing sounds like it was a place of sharing, collaboration and creativity. And lots of love of course. I hope those feelings remain. The studios were there for many decades but, when the Orpheum Theatre was renovated in the seventies, it took over that spot. Now the foyer space to the concert hall occupies that area.

Thanks to Leland Windreich and his book, June Roper Ballet Starmaker for the information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Monday, October 27, 2014

June Roper's B.C. School of Dancing

June Roper fulfilled her commitment to Yvonne Firkins and Vivien Ramsay but she didn't go back to Los Angeles. Instead, she joined with a twenty-three-year-old woman, Hope Brealey, who had an aptitude for bookkeeping to open June Roper's B.C. School of Dancing. Brealey was working in clerical position, which although secure, wasn't that challenging. She and June agreed Hope would earn sixty dollars a month and a ten percent share of the school's take.

The two rented a suite at 887 Seymour Street - adjacent to the Orpheum Theatre. The space was suitable for two studios. A student later recalled the area to be surprisingly spacious. The school contained a reception room, a sewing room, a business office and a studio large enough to accommodate thirty dancers. The studio had an excellent wooden floor, strong barres of two heights and one fully mirrored wall. There was a smaller studio and an airless, crowded dressing room without showers, which occupied the remaining area. 

June was able to direct the school with minimum assistance for the next five years. Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes appeared three times in Vancouver during that time and June continued to be inspired as a teacher and a choreographer by those shows. The young Canadians who came to her studios had innate talents, strong bodies and the kind of dedication she demanded.

The school was open Monday through Friday from early morning until nightfall. The late afternoon classes were for the young beginners and the advanced ballet class was held at 10:00 am for ninety minutes. Early afternoons were devoted to rehearsals for upcoming shows and recitals. Some pupils would choose to spend a full day at the studio and they paid a monthly rate of thirty-five dollars. That fee included morning class and a half-hour of private instruction each week with June. These students were the ones interested in a career in the ballet.

June taught the beginning and advanced classes. She called upon associates and experienced students for special teaching assignments. Most of her advanced students took part in teaching the younger children. Ted Cawker, a local performer, offered classes in tap dancing. Vancouver athletes shared their skills in acrobatics for performance training.

When she taught her private lessons, June gave personal attention to a dancer's special needs. She would often provide programmes of intensive correction. For example, Robert Lindgren was given a series of exercises to elevate his arches.

Usually an advanced class drew twelve to fifteen pupils. Each day of the week was assigned a different ballet activity. Mondays were leaps and jumps; Tuesdays, turns; Wednesday, combinations; Thursday, adagio and Fridays, character class.

Thanks goes to the book June Roper Ballet Starmaker and its author, Leland Windreich for the information. Wednesday, I will tell you more about June's school.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Friday, October 24, 2014

B.C. School of the Theatre

June Roper took a cue from Ernest Belcher's expertise when training her students. She gave each student a vehicle designed to reveal that student's potential. This way each dancer was able to achieve a unique stage presence, which accentuated their individual charms.

For example, June recognized early on the ballet capabilities of the Meyers girls, Rosemary Deveson and Jean Hunt. They were given assignments in two of the ballet numbers. A tall girl, Rosemary Sankey, who would later go on to become a New York model, was cast as a dragonfly. Joy Darwin seemed more appropriate for an ensemble interpretation of Bolero.

In early 1935, Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes had visited Vancouver and June Roper was in attendance. She was awed by the vitality and glamour of the stars and by the diversity of their repertoire. However, she was also shocked by the ragged ensembles. She was determined, and stated it clearly, that she was not interested in training dancers for assignments in the corps de ballet. She had more elevated goals for her pupils.

June realized it was possible for a dedicated student to equal and even surpass the technical prowess of the exceptional soloists seen in the Ballet Russe. "Russian ballet" became the speciality of her teaching.

June had now spent a year as dance mistress with the B.C. School of the Theatre and it was a good year for her. Her health was restored, her energies and ambitions renewed. She decided it was time of independence.

Her mother, Elizabeth Roper, returned to Los Angeles and June found herself an apartment in Vancouver's West end. She decided to devote her time to the training of dancers.

However, she was faithful to teaching in the Sunday school classes at Vancouver's First Baptist Church on Burrard Street. She was quietly devout and didn't flaunt her religious beliefs.

As usual, thanks goes to the book June Roper Ballet Starmaker by Leland Windreich for the information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.