Dance teacher bows out after 67 years

PAT VELTKAMP SMITH
Last updated 05:00 07/04/2014
valmai robertson
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ
CALLING IT A DAY: Dance queen Valmai Robertson.

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Southland's doyenne of dance, Valmai Robertson, QSM, is calling it a day.

In her 67th year of teaching, she in the throes of rehearsal for her 41st successive ballet production at Centre Stage in Invercargill on May 17 and 18.

The curtain will come down on the Robertson School of Dance after the exams conclude in September.

About 130 dancers, from tots to teens will take the stage to perform A Visit to the Big Top and La Sylphide, with both shows calling for lavish costumes.

During 50 years, the school has accumulated a vast wardrobe of dance costumes, and the wardrobe mistress has acquired great skill in redesigning, recycling and rejigging.

When the Robertson School of Dance marked its half century, the founder was honoured with a Queen's service medal, the QSM, in recognition of her work with ballet teachers in the south.

And Southland District Council established a scholarship in her name so that the good work might continue.

Leaving school at 15, Valmai Hamilton began teaching in Invercargill, travelling to Dunedin at weekends to further her own study.

In 1955 she married Gray Robertson of Blackmount Station in Western Southland and the Robertson School of Dance was formed, with classes held in Te Anau and Otautau, each place an hour's drive from Blackmount Station.

Better roads have brought that down but it is still a 45-minute drive from home to the studio in Otautau, a journey made five days a week for classes running from 3.30pm until 8.30pm.

In recent years grand-daughter Gemma Robertson has taken the Invercargill and Winton classes. It was Gemma's wish to do her own thing, perhaps travel, enjoy an OE, that helped her grandmother to make her decision.

"It is just time. There has to be something to make you stop, or why would you?"

The "something", Gemma's wish to move on, is what her grandmother accepts, respects.

So, come September, what then?

Plenty - the Robertsons diamond-wedding anniversary next year with 60 years of memories to be collated, family film on DVD to be edited for their sons Bruce and Neil and daughter Sharyn Hensman and their families.

"I'll enjoy it. There's not a minute of my life I haven't enjoyed.

"Dance does that for you."

 

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