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.”


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