Dance teacher showing no signs of slowing down after 50 years on the floor

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Every little bit of Peta Spooner’s heart is invested in dance, something that has seen her teach it for 50 years and counting.

She can’t say how many students she has taught throughout the years, but at an average of 250 students a year, the number is in the thousands.

Spooner started her teaching career when she was just 15 years old in Hawera in Taranaki.

Peta Spooner has taught thousands of students in her 50 years as a dance teacher.
Peta Spooner has taught thousands of students in her 50 years as a dance teacher.

“The idea of $5 a student per term lured me to it, I had 40 children learning.

“I could teach on Saturday and earn more money than everyone else for the school term, that was a lot of money in those days.”

Spooner has been teaching in Nelson for the past 35 years and the Peta Spooner Academy of Dance is a fixture of the city’s dance scene.

She specialises in classical ballet, but also teaches modern jazz.

“I’m just a very privileged person, who’s lucky enough to be able to do what I love, and I don’t have to argue with the boss.”

She said she’s passed on teaching pre-school children to a younger teacher, but retiring will never be an option.

“I have a commitment to the senior students in the studio.”

Spooner said she still wakes up at 3am sometimes because she’s thought of a dance move to incorporate in the next day’s class.

“I’ll never get tired of it.”

She said she doesn’t dance herself anymore and she teaches her students by description.

“I don’t do any of the jumping anymore.

“As a diabetic I have no feeling in both legs, I can’t run the risk, I’d be stuffed.”

Spooner said she started dancing as a 3-year-old when her mother took her to watch her sister dance – who didn’t like it.

“I just used to practice up the back.

“Probably to the annoyance of the very patient teacher.”

She said when she was young she wanted to be a modern dancer instead of a classical ballet dancer, but she “lacked the discipline and focus to work that hard”.

“In my era, modern dance was new and so there was no formal training in New Zealand.”

Instead she was trained in classical ballet in Hawera, where her life consisted of ballet, exams and competitions.

“It was great, from the age of eight I did one week of every school holiday competition dancing, loved it.

“I loved to win, but I didn’t really care if I didn’t. I wasn’t competitive in that sense, I just liked doing it.”

Spooner said at the time there was no training available in New Zealand to become a dance teacher.

“So my first teaching exam was in 1985, I had to go to London.”

She said she loves seeing her students progress, it’s what makes her tick.

“Watching every child that comes through progress with a passion to love what they’re doing, or they decide that it’s not what they want to do.

“It’s a very clear path. Parents often don’t listen when a kid says ‘I don’t want to do that, I don’t like it’.”

Spooner said nothing annoys her more than a mother who says “I’ve always wanted to be a ballerina”.

“Those are the people you avoid like the plague.

“The thing that will drive me insane is [someone saying] ‘my daughter is really talented’.

“The moment someone says that I say, ‘I know just the teacher, her phone number is such and such and I’m sure you’ll do really well there but I don’t do talent’.”

Spooner says she found it more important to teach her students to be “well rounded, decent, caring and kind” than to get them to dance at top level.

Her studio doesn’t do solos, favourites or talent, yet some have gone off to dance with or teach at national or international dance organisations.

“It just saves yourself a lot of heartaches and headaches because those people get in at you and I’m way too old for that.”


High on dance

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Ninety students are about to hit the stage and share their sheer love of dancing, reports Judith Ritchie.

A group of dancers aged from tiny tots of four to senior students of 18 aim to share the complete delight the dancers feel when on stage at the Theatre Royal.

Dance is Contagious, led by Wakatu Dance Theatre’s director, Peta Spooner, celebrates dance in all it’s forms and allows each student to shine on stage.

“There is always an energetic, fun and friendly atmosphere on stage, while maintaining the highest levels of professionalism and we love to dance and it’s contagious.” says Spooner.

The music has been chosen by the group to reflect their favourite tunes, while dancers will mix ages with some senior students leading and assisting the younger ones.

“Music and dance goes side by side to move us and entertain us and most importantly for everyone to enjoy,” says Spooner. “If it inspires people, great. We hope it will give the audience an insight to our philosophy and sense of community.”

Costumes are set to delight the audience while the Theatre Royal will provide the perfect venue for students to dance in a professional theatre setting while performing on stage for an audience.

Jessica Tuhua, age 9, who has been dancing in the studio for six years, is really looking forward to dancing on the Theatre Royal stage.

Junior dancers from the Wakatu Dance Theatre will perform in Dance is Contagious, opening at the Theatre Royal next Thursday evening
Junior dancers from the Wakatu Dance Theatre will perform in Dance is Contagious, opening at the Theatre Royal next Thursday evening

“I get really excited as the show is coming up, because I like being in front of large audiences,” says Jessica. “The show helps you get better because you know that your dancing is going to be presented in front of heaps of people.”

She says the opportunity also encourages students to perfect their moves, while basking on a stage aglow with lights.

“You just dance to the music, letting it flow through your body. It’s loveliness above all loveliness, and magic to be part of something so big.”

Dance is Contagious, Wakatu Dance Theatre, Theatre Royal, Rutherford St, Nelson. Thursday September 8, 7pm, Friday, 7pm, Saturday, 1.30pm & 7pm. Tickets from theatre phone: 03 548 3840, or online: TicketDirect, adult $20, senior $16, student $12

Source: The Nelson Mail

Dancers take to the stage for Garin College arts festival

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The creative talents of Garin College students burst into action as the school was turned into a stage for its annual arts festival.

Drama, singing, music and dance featured heavily in the two-day festival while cupcake decorating, flax weaving, hot air balloon making and clay animation were amongst some of the workshop activities on offer.

Students gave plenty of vocal support for performers who choreographed their own dances. The artistic endeavours also had a competitive side, with students competing for points for their school houses.

“The whole festival is a house competition and it’s all about getting points,” said Garin College arts coordinator Lindsey Furlong-Taylor. “[Students] get individual points as well as house points and there is an individual winner and a house winner.”

Students had to enter in at least two items so the workshops provided alternatives for those who weren’t performers, she said.

Garin College arts captains Jess Brooks and Nick Erasmuson had been planning for the event since October last year.

Brooks had wanted to be an arts captain since she first participated in the festival as a year 9 student.

“Being a part of it, getting to organise it and seeing it all come together has been amazing,” she said.

One of the things they had really wanted to do was black out the gymnasium for the festival and string fairy lights across the ceiling.

Brooks said she was sad it was coming to an end but was happy to have the end of term showcase concert to look forward to.

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“The school just has fun with it, its the biggest event of the year and to see everyone having fun is amazing,” said Brooks.

Nelson dance teacher Peta Spooner, who judged the competition, told the students it was “lovely to see so many people dancing and doing so well. I have enjoyed so much being here and seeing your happy faces.”

Furlong-Taylor said the festival kept getting bigger: “This year [students] said it was the best they have ever seen.”

The best performances would be showcased for family and friends at the Mahi Toi concert at the Hope Community Church, July 1 and 2 at 7pm.

Delightful dancing with the stars

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Catch a Falling Star Wakatu Dance Theatre, Theatre Royal, July 31,

REVIEW: Imagine organising quick changes of costume for all different styles of dance – from classical tutus to jazzy off-the-shoulder to glittering starlets – for more than 100 youngsters, ranging in age from 5 years to late teens. Let alone teaching them to move acrobatically and gracefully, and be ready to perform at any moment in perfect time, to carousel and pirouette and levitate from the floor, and truly express themselves.

This show was a delightful inspiration and a credit to Peta Spooner and her team of helpers, dedicated to presenting a show that every young participant would enjoy. That was the lasting impression – that everyone truly loved the performance and did it with confident pride.

There were special moments when some of the youngest dancers were reluctant to leave the stage, and lingered happily until an older person pulled them into the wings.

I marvelled at the simple backdrop of stars and the effective coloured stage lighting to highlight the action.

There were so many songs with the theme of night sky and stars, and each stirred the imagination and provided lyrics that will be memorised forever.

The choreography was inventively different throughout. There were some pieces of classical ballet – a young group of swans dancing to Tchaikovsky, items cleverly choreographed to Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik and Berlioz’s March to the Stars. Even Star Wars was used with two groups in black and white tutus. There were effective pieces of jazz ballet and modern dance too.

The 100-plus cast included two boys. It was remarkable that ginger-haired Seth had a conspicuous role in 70 per cent of the show. Peta’s explanation was that this 13-year-old from Westport was living at her house and had to be part of every rehearsal.

Such energy, commitment and co-ordination, and she has been teaching dance in Nelson for over 30 years.

It was a night to remember and every young person involved was truly a star. The show will be repeated tonight and tomorrow at 7pm.

Tutu-clad dads ‘beautiful’

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Dazzling dads prepare for ballet debut

FOCUSED ON MOVES: Fathers of Wakatu Dance Theatre dancers rehearse in their custom-made tutus, for the Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker Suite in the Kaleidoscope of Colour show at the Theatre Royal.
FOCUSED ON MOVES: Fathers of Wakatu Dance Theatre dancers rehearse in their custom-made tutus, for the Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker Suite in the Kaleidoscope of Colour show at the Theatre Royal.

Dads in tights, tutus and dyed undies are to come under the spotlight in an upcoming show at the Theatre Royal.

Kaleidoscope of Colour by Wakatu Dance Theatre will showcase classical ballet, modern jazz and contemporary dance in a choreographed and brightly-costumed show.

It will feature 130 students, from under-10s to the school’s more senior dancers, and some of their fathers – in tutus.

About a dozen dads will perform the Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker Suite in custom-made outfits.

Peta Spooner, who choreographed the three-minute piece, said including the men was a tradition of the school that started in 1987.

They performed either the Nutcracker piece or one from Swan Lake. It was a way of having “total involvement”, rather than just leaving them to pay the bills.

One of the male dancers in this year’s show is a student’s grandfather, an original “swan” from more than 20 years ago.

The men appeared in costume for a dress rehearsal at the Theatre Royal last night after only three prior practices.

Ms Spooner said she was looking for cohesiveness, rather than perfection.

It was difficult to get leotards for men, so they wore tights and colourful dyed singlets and undies under their tutus instead.

“They look quite beautiful really,” she said.

Wakatu Dance Theatre committee member Christie Vining, who helped design the costumes, said they were a “brave bunch of guys”.

“They have picked up the whole dance routine in a very short space of time. They’re very co-ordinated and they’re taking it very seriously. Their headgear is the highlight – they’re made up of flowers. They look wonderful,” she said.

Lindsay Malpas, who works in the construction industry and whose 14-year old daughter, Hannah, goes to Wakatu Dance Theatre, is one of the swans.

It is old hat for him though, because he did it last year.

“It’s completely by choice. It’s a lot of fun. I suppose we take it a little bit seriously. We don’t want to muck up too much. We’re not going to be perfect and synchronised and all the rest of it, but it will be great and the audience have a good laugh. We’re laughing on the inside, but we have to put on a serious face. Most of us are concentrating on what we’re doing,” he said.


  • Kaleidoscope of Colour, Wakatu Dance Theatre, Theatre Royal, 7pm tomorrow to Saturday with a 1.30pm matinee on Saturday.

Source: Nelson Mail

Tutus for all – dads, too

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Kaleidoscope of Colour is a family affair

SPLASH OF COLOUR: Alex Wilson, 17, left, Cherry Moore, 7, and Georgie Marriott, 12.

Nearly everyone from the Wakatu Dance Theatre is involved in the school’s latest show, even the dancers’ fathers – in tutus.

Kaleidoscope of Colour, directed by Peta Spooner, is the dance school’s annual showcase.

The soundtrack includes suitably-named songs like Green Door, Purple Rain, White Wedding, Yellow and Black Box.

Kaleidoscope of Colour will showcase classical ballet, modern jazz and contemporary dance styles in a choreographed and brightly-costumed show.

It will feature 130 students, from the “cute” under-10s to the school’s more senior dancers.

Spooner says that while everyone’s role is important, the senior students are the “glue” that hold the show together.

There’s a gender imbalance, with only two junior boys and one senior, but the dancers’ fathers will shift the gender scales slightly.

More than 12 of them are training to perform the Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker Suite in custom-made tutus.

Spooner says including the men is a tradition of the school that goes back more than 20 years.

They perform to either the Nutcracker piece or a piece from Swan Lake as a way of participating in something that’s usually mainly women-orientated.

“It’s really nice, because it’s total involvement. Normally dads just pay the bills,” she says.

There was a 10-year hiatus at one stage, but “we have brought it back because we have got a new round of men to pick on”.

One of the male dancers is a student’s grandfather, an original “swan” from more than 20 years ago.

  • Kaleidoscope of Colour, The Peta Spooner Academy of Dance, Theatre Royal, 7pm July 19 to 21 with a 1.30pm matinee on July 21.

Source Nelson Mail:

Dancers meet health challenge

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A group of dancers from Peta Spooner Dance Academy are raising awareness of asthma through steps and movement.

It was all song and dance at Fashion Island yesterday.

Dance for Asthma is the theme for this year’s Asthma Awareness Week, and a group of dancers from Peta Spooner Dance Academy put on a show for bystanders yesterday to raise awareness.

Nelson Asthma Society manager Hilary Croft said there were about 3800 under-15-year-olds in the Nelson region and that one in four children in New Zealand struggled to blow up a balloon because of their asthma.

Dance academy owner Peta Spooner said she was happy to have her dancers involved in supporting such a good cause.

“Heart, asthma, cancer, anything to do with health and promoting awareness for the kids who are healthy, we always support it,” she said.

One of the dancers, 16-year-old Hamish McIntosh, said he sometimes suffered from asthma.

Luckily, it didn’t affect his dancing very often, he said.

Keeping it under control so he could continue dancing was important.

Ms Spooner agreed, and said that asthma should not deter anyone from dancing.

“It’s like anything, nothing stops you from doing what you love.”

As part of Asthma Awareness Week, information tables have been set up around the region each day. A table will be set up outside the Farmers store in Nelson on Friday.

Ms Croft said the tables had resources and brochures about how to keep asthma under control.

She encourages those with asthma to work with their health professionals, have an asthma management plan, use their preventers regularly and to get their free flu vaccinations.

“Having asthma shouldn’t stop you from doing anything,” she said.

Ms Croft also launched the first of the Richmond Better Breathing Classes yesterday.

“They are designed to help you breathe better and enhance your quality of life.”

Lasting passion finds fulfilment on stage

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DEDICATED AND DRIVEN: Alice Macann first started dancing at the age of 3 and has now joined Footnote Dance as a company dancer.

Alice Macann remembers watching company members from Footnote Dance as a child and wishing she could join them.

She had a bit of growing to do first, but her dream came true this year.

Macann has joined Footnote Dance as a company dancer, after three years at the New Zealand Schhol of Dance.

“It was the most amazing three years of my life. I gained so much. It was definitely challenging, but it was a dream come true, or the beginning of my dream,” she said from Wellington before Easter, after being let off an afternoon rehearsal.

The 20-year-old will be in Nelson next week, for the premier of Made in New Zealand with Footnote Dance at the Suter Theatre on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of Heritage Week.

Macann will then fly back to Wellington the following Thursday for the opening of another show a day later.

“It’s go, go, go,” she said.

Made in New Zealand features four choreographed dance pieces by four New Zealanders set to music also composed by Kiwis.

Sarah Foster’s piece, Trance Like Happiness, is influenced by a trip to Israel and Southern Cross, by Clare O’Neil, is about coming back to New Zealand after a decade abroad.

Macann, who performs in three of the four pieces, said (SEX) by Ross McCormack focused on flesh, physicality and the feelings created around sex. Malia Johnson’s In Pieces was about the body falling apart and putting it back together.

“Each work is about something different, but I think they all complement each other well,” she said.

Sitting in the audience at the Suter Theatre next week, bursting with pride, will be Peta Spooner, of the Peta Spooner School of Dance.

Ms Spooner saw Macann graduate from the New Zealand School of Dance alongside Nelson’s Kimiora Grey at the end of last year and said it was like seeing one’s own children graduate from university.

“It was incredibly moving. I felt absolutely so proud,” she said.

Macann started ballet when she was 3 and moved on to modern dance, working with Ms Spooner for eight years.

Ms Spooner said Macann, who moved to Nelson from Wellington when she was 9, was driven, dedicated and passionate about dance.

“Alice is a worker. She loves a challenge. Really, all I did was nurture her development,” she said.

Ms Spooner said Macann was a girl when she left Nelson, at 17, to join the New Zealand School of Dance, but she was now grown up.

“She’s beautiful. She’s a gorgeous-looking girl. The studio and the teachers who have been part of her life are very proud. It’s hard to get into anything these days. We’re just absolutely over the moon,” she said.

Macann said she always made sure to visit Ms Spooner when she was back in Nelson.

“She sparked my passion for dance. She’s an amazing person and creates a really great environment to learn,” she said.

Graduating from the New Zealand School of Dance last year was the end of an era, but it was also exciting to go on to bigger and better things.

“I remember when Footnote used to come to Nelson when I was little. I used to watch them and wish that I could be in the company, so it’s amazing that I’m here now,” she said.

  • Footnote Dance presents Made in New Zealand at the Suter Theatre, 7.30pm Tuesday and Wednesday. Tickets from Everyman Records in Hardy St.

Ballet programme moves to Nelson

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A strand of the Canterbury Ballet School is moving to Nelson in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes, which have robbed the school of its original central city premises and destroyed the confidence of prospective dance students unwilling to chance it in the still shaky city.

The school’s principal, Taisia Missevich, said she planned to shift a foundation course to Nelson and begin a new fulltime accredited dance trainee programme, to operate from the Peta Spooner Academy of Dance.

She had applied for the dance trainee programme to be accredited through the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, with the aim of attracting stronger interest in what was typically a two-year course.

The Canterbury Ballet School has launched the international careers of a number of young dancers over the 30 years it has been operating, including that of Christine Owen, who danced with the San Diego Ballet, and recent graduate Lily Cartwright, who is now with the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

Canterbury Ballet also runs a youth dance company, and has plans for a new bridging company, which Ms Missevich would also like to shift to Nelson.

The bridging company would do performances for schools, using local dancers. Ms Missevich said she had already checked out venues, and Nelson’s Theatre Royal was entirely suitable.

She said she was not turning her back on Christchurch. Like many in the city, she had become used to the earthquakes, but she understood why the city would not appeal to new students.

“If you’ve not been through what we’ve been through, it’s hard to understand, but if you’re the mother of a 17-year-old, I can see why you wouldn’t want to send your daughter here.”

Ms Missevich said students came to the academy from around the country and occasionally from overseas.

After last February’s quake, several “terrified” students who had planned to start a month later pulled out.

Canterbury Ballet was closed for three months last year after its Montreal St studios were a writeoff because of the quake. It shifted to new premises in Middleton.

Ms Missevich said the aim now was to start operating aspects of the school from Nelson by the middle of this year. She sent the school’s fulltime dancers to the New Zealand School of Dance in Wellington after the quake so they could keep up their training for the New Prague Dance Festival and Competition, which they attended a few months ago.

She said the plan was to use dance tutors in Nelson and the ballet school’s usual visiting tutors for faculty programmes.

Ms Missevich said she had known Ms Spooner for about 25 years, and the idea to move some of the school’s programmes to Nelson came about after a recent get-together. “I came to visit Peta and we started talking and started looking into the future.”

Nutcracker delight for kids

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IN REHEARSAL: Nutcracker dancers, from left, Lily Warner, Ellie Edwy, Lauren Hammond and Fiona Saunders.

The Nelson Symphony Orchestra is to visit the Land of Sweets this Saturday, with a set of three children’s shows.

Children will be invited to “meet the instruments” before a combined show with Peta Spooner Academy of Dance dancers, performing a mix of traditional ballet and expressive modern dance.

The orchestra – playing Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite – and dancers will paint a story adapted from The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, narrated by Hugh Neill.

The show follows Clara – portrayed by Lily Warner – in her quest for the Nutcracker her uncle gave her, which was stolen by the Rat King.

The Sugar Plum Fairy sends Clara on a journey to the Land of Sweets and a prince comes to Clara’s aid and the Nutcracker’s rescue.

Nelson Symphony Orchestra oboe player Frances Rae said the show was a great way to expose young dancers and children in the audience to live orchestral music.

  • The Nutcracker, Nelson School of Music, this Saturday at 10.30am, 1pm and 3pm. Tickets $10 from