From Dancing in Australia as a kid, 1940's, to Masters Diving in USA in my 70's!

Royal Academy of Dance Newsletter March 2008: article by Helen Bayly, MRAD, 1951, Sydney:


"You're kidding!" everyone says, upon learning that in September 2007 I won, at age 70, the US Masters Diving Nationals gold medal for springboard diving for Women, 70-74. Of course they laugh when I tell them I was the only diver in my age-group: older women (over-60's and definitely 70's-80's) are still rarities in springboard diving today.

"How could you do that?" they ask - so I happily launch into describing how the RAD - Royal Academy of Dancing (so called world-wide in 1940's-50's) provided me with training and discipline that have lasted me my lifetime of 7-plus decades, and that now help me dive from springboards. What a surprise, though - the long-term benefit of that dance-training keeps bringing delightful surprises into my life. The RAD set me up with a lifetime of "centre-of-gravity" and "balance" skills which come into so many aspects of life, amazingly - good health, strength, longevity and more....all affecting what one does or can do as the years pass.

I write now so that todays' students and parents know that they too will reap unguessed-at rewards through their lifetimes, from their dance training today! In fact, I could wager that wonderful surprises will continue to fill any-age students' lives, because of their RAD training - and that is what has happened throughout each decade of my own life. I was able to visit London in 1954 (on an old ship - ask me later about that voyage!), when as a 17-yr-old MRAD, I took summer classes from Dame Margot Fonteyn, newly-appointed President of the RAD. Never-to-be-forgotten, those dance classes in the Academy's London premises took this 17-year-old (me!) to seventh heaven, kinda!

It's at least 62 years ago (in 1945) since I started those dance lessons in Sydney, Australia. My mother, a New Zealander/teenager when Anna Pavlova toured NZ and Australia in 1925, for years told us her kids about her thrill at seeing Pavlova dance in NZ. Since those distant years, and because I loved dancing, I became a dance teacher in upstate New York, enjoying many years of other different jobs and sports besides. For these activities, plus raising a family on a farm and shovelling snow for many winters, my youth's RAD disciplined dancing seems to have given me strength and flexibility - (which, darn it, decline faster now I'm over 70! Groan).

My Sydney-side dance teacher in those days was Lorraine Norton: she was also an RAD examiner in Australia and New Zealand, a recipient of RAD honours, and a wonderful teacher whose guidance I have never forgotten .

Miss Norton taught us little Aussie kids the RAD curriculum so that we loved dancing and music, passed our RAD exams, danced in Sydney' Eisteddfods, and kept dancing as a life-long love.

Then this past year (2007), another wonderful teacher - this time, a springboard-diving college-coach in Troy NY, offered to teach me how to dive -"because you point your toes - you must be a diver!" This after the coach, Maria Coomaraswamy, had only seen me dive from the pool-edge to swim a few laps!

Now, to take up springboard diving at age 70 had NEVER occurred to me before! I kept thinking "If I don't try this now, I'll never ever try it!".....and I also thought "This outstanding coach (Maria) will teach me the right way to do things, anyway, so I won't belly-flop - she'll keep me safe". And she did!

Well, the first thing Maria said to me was that diving is an art as well as a sport - with as much dancing through the air as being a skilled athlete!  That immediately made me eager to learn more diving from Maria (I loved hearing her bring dancing into the subject!).

So - the rest is really "history".....from last June 2007, to the Masters Diving National Championships on Long Island in September, Maria taught me how to spring from the oh-so-flexible diving-boards, how to position the board's fulcrum to help me get maximum "lift", and then how to perform at least six different dives (front, back, half-twists, somersaults, inward) for competition. Of course, friends and family laugh when I tell them that I was the only diver in my age-group: older women (especially grandmothers in their 70's!) are rarities in springboard diving, for obvious reasons.

This is what I discovered: that in every minute of diving and practices, I had to call upon my dance training from so many years before! Balance, centre-of-gravity, posture, graceful arms/body; pointed toes; "spotting" with eyes/head, for twists, was like pirouettes. Even "pike" and "tuck" positions were still reachable by this grandmother (me) because of the flexibility that my youthful dance-training/stretching still made possible!  The dry-land exercises (all those crunches and "abs" exercises my diving class did) were descendents of my RAD training....Today's "Pilates" movements are offspring of the old ballet developpes, plies, ports-de-bras etc..

In fact, to help my diving, I (and my other mentor, 52-yr-old Margaret Cheney) would do grands battements, deep plies, tendus, many different port-de-bras, entrechats (lying flat, with legs in air). Every RAD balletic move or step I'd ever learned and taught at any time in my life - everything had helped me unexpectedly bcome an OK diver at age 70 this past year!

Another surprise awaited me - to find that I could still learn complicated physical moves (dancing throught the air from springboards!) at the ripe old age of 70! No-one was more surprised than I was, to learn these new dives over several weeks - even a couple of months ! No-one was as surprised as I when the 10- and 11-year olds in my dive class would say "Mrs. B, your dives are getting better!" Many of these kids were dance- or gymnast-students when they weren't diving - they knew exactly what a challenge it was to learn to dive!

So all in all, it's been a thrill for me to (unexpectedly) learn springboard-diving this past year, and to (unexpectedly) find I could still "dance and fly" through the air - catapulting from modern springboards! Quite like those Grands Jetes I used to love as a young dancer - but which I have no hope of ever performing again (without a diving springboard, I mean!).

Today's young RAD students, their teachers and parents, might enjoy "googling" subjects such as "Physics of Ballet", "Physics of Springboard Diving" . Prepare to be fascinated by the similar background of ballet's pirouettes and diving's twists/somersaults, by interesting phrases such as " rotational mechanics", "projectile motion", "centre-of-gravity" - and of course "oscillations"!

By the way, from my dance years with Miss Norton in Sydney, I became good at French and French studies all my life! Where else could I have learned all those "pas" - de cheval, de chat, de bourree, other basic French grammar and the whole French language, in fact - but in my dance classes with Lorraine Norton's perfect French pronunciation and translations? And our classes' piano accompanists were a superb group of fine student musicians from the local little music college. These students practised all their music homework in our dance classes! And they helped me fall in love with music for ever. These additional gifts from dancing - the French and the music - have become more and more significant in my life with the passage of every year since I was a kid in Sydney.

So, dear readers, you can see that the dancing gave me much happiness during my youth - but who could ever guess, myself least of all, at the other lifelong joys that my dance training and discipline would give me? I taught and danced over many years in Upstate New York, in different places and institutions. Though decades have passed, my RAD classes and training still seem as if they were only yesterday, and they are still bringing surprises and pleasures in my activities nowadays.

Of course, I remain eternally grateful to many, many people for the dance and diving influences that continue in my life, even after 62 years of dancing - no longer on hardwood floors, but now off springboards, through the air and into deep water.

Helen Bailey Bayly (MRAD - 1951, Sydney, Australia) Written for RAD Newsletter 3/08: from Troy, NY, March 2008.

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