Dance teacher Barbara Peters has realised a long-standing ambition – passing a testing ballet exam at the age of 80.
Now the Greetland great-grandmother is setting her sights on even bigger things.
Barbara, who ran a dance school in Huddersfield for many years, has passed the Royal Academy of Dance grade seven exam with merit – 58 years after her last ballet exam.
And this summer she plans to take the grade eight exam.
“I am setting myself up to do grade eight,” she said. “I want to do it and I am going to try to do it, but I have to stay well and fit. It is quite a bit more difficult than grade seven, but I taught grade eight for many years so I know what’s required.”
Barbara began dancing when she was two years old – and has never stopped. She set up her own dance school in 1961 in Market Walk in Huddersfield town centre. She only closed the school four years ago – having taught thousands of pupils from toddlers to teenagers and organised shows at venues including the Lawrence Batley Theatre.
She gained a place at the Royal Academy of Dance in 1957. She graduated in 1959 before opening the dance school. Barbara also worked as an examiner for the academy for many years and came into contact with famous dancers including Dame Margot Fonteyn and Dame Darcey Bussell.
Barbara still teaches part-time at daughter Claire Connor’s baby ballet classes in Halifax. “It’s a part of me,” said Barbara. I’ve always done it because I wanted to – which is a very great privilege. I am grateful that I have stayed fit to do what I do.”
Barbara decided to resume taking dance exams after Claire’s appearance on the TV show Big Ballet three years ago. “I had been teaching grade seven for many years, but no I was doing it as a pupil,” she said. “I really surprised myself. I did better than I’d expected. It was fun because it gave me a new lease of life.
“When you get older, you put all your energies into your kids and grandchildren and you pale into insignificance – but this has given me a bit of credibility in my own right.”
To pass grade seven, Barbara had to complete a 55-minute practical test in three sections – classical, free movement and character. Barbara’s pirouettes and barre exercises earned her a mark of 67% – well above the 55% needed for a merit.
“Grade eight is more of a performance exam,” she said. “You have to learn four solo dances. The execution is no more difficult, there’s more emphasis on presentation.”
Barbara, who has three children, eight grandchildren, three step grandchildren and a great-grandchild, said Claire had accompanied her to the grade seven exam. “Claire is very proud,” she said. “I have taken her for ballet exams and felt nervous for her. It felt like something of a role reversal because she was nervous for her mum!”