Outstanding Teachers - Bronwyn Bennett, Chilton Ballet Academy Director
Can you give us some background on your ballet teaching career? How did you begin, and what made you decide to become a teacher?
As a dance student I would often help out in classes so I guess you could say my first taste of teaching was when I was 14. I would help after school and in the weekends when I wasn’t in class myself. Initially I didn’t imagine I would teach as a career so when the opportunity came to teach junior students in a permanent teaching position I said I would give it a go for one year - that was 40 years ago!!
Were there enlightening moments or inspirational people to set you on your way to a career in ballet education?
There have been many inspirational people along the way but it is my teachers Joye Lowe, Carole Speirs, Valerie Bayley and in particular Lynne Harrison who gave me the tools to teach. There are still moments in my teaching that I am strongly influenced by what they taught me and instilled in me as a student.
Can you tell us a bit about the Chilton Ballet Academy – how it came about, how long it has existed, and what it offers to aspiring young ballet dancers?
Chilton Ballet Academy is in its second year. The idea of a programme for secondary school students offering both Ballet and Academics has long been a dream of mine but I could not find the person with the same vision until Kathy Lloyd-Parker arrived here at Chilton Saint James School as Principal. Like myself, Kathy thought this was a wonderful opportunity for young talented dancers and something quite unique for New Zealand. This programme allows young teenagers in Year 10 and 11 to continue in a school environment while spending half of their day in academic classes and half of the day in ballet related classes.
In preparation for full time dance training it is necessary for students to increase the number of hours that they are spending in the dance studio, however it is also important that their academic studies are not neglected. Being able to provide a programme that facilitates dedicated dance classes alongside academic classes within a school environment is something that is fairly common internationally but hasn’t been available to New Zealand students up until this point.
Can you share a bit about your students’ recent success in dance competitions?
In the first year of the Academy, one of our students successfully auditioned for full time training at the English National Ballet School. Caitlin Hickey had been a student at the Chilton Dance Centre and was one of our foundation students so it was very exciting to celebrate this wonderful achievement with her.
Current student Macy Cook attended the Youth America Grand Prix Final in New York City in April after receiving this as part of her award for winning the Alana Haines Australasian Awards in 2017. Macy has also had the wonderful opportunity to attend the San Francisco Ballet School Summer Intensive recently where she attended classes with world renowned teachers.
Mason King, our first male student, was awarded a scholarship to attend the American Ballet Theatre Summer Intensive in New York. Mason has just returned from five weeks of amazing training and an unforgettable experience.
Cba graduate Samantha Ead successfully auditioned for a number of schools and is currently training at the Queensland National Ballet in Brisbane.
Photo credit: Amber Griffin Photography
How would you describe your teaching style?
It is important to me that while training each student to fulfil their potential, I also foster in them a love of dance. I want students to enjoy coming to class, although I still expect them to put 100% into everything that they do. I have a large focus on the artistry of the dancer, the feeling that they put into their dancing, whether it be class work or a performance. It is also important to me that students learn to think for themselves, that they are able to take direction or correction and apply it, and identify why something is not working in order to be their own teacher.
How long have you been in your role at Chilton Saint James?
I have been at Chilton Saint James School for 15 years. In this time I have been Director of the Chilton Dance Centre for 13 years and Director of Chilton Ballet Academy for 18 months.
What attracted you to the school?
I was invited to join the dance staff by a fellow dance teacher who I had known for a number of years. I was employed as a senior teacher of dance which involved me teaching dance in the school curriculum as well as teaching ballet in the Chilton Dance Centre After School programme.
After two years I was invited to be the Director of the Dance Centre which I delightedly accepted, and began a development of the Dance Centre which included offering a wider range of dance classes to students taught by dance teachers who would teach their specialised dance genre.
While at the time it was a difficult decision to close my own dance school, the prospect of becoming part of a team with a collective goal of providing students in the region with high quality dance tutoring was very attractive, and led me in a wonderful direction
What do you enjoy most about being a ballet teacher?
Dance is something that I am extremely passionate about, and to be able to pass this passion on to my students is a wonderful feeling. Being a part of a young dancer’s journey as they chase their dreams and fulfil their potential, guiding them through the ups and downs of what can be a very hard journey, is so fulfilling.
What do you see as the benefits of working at an independent school?
The Academy is the perfect example of the benefits of working in an Independent School, when the best opportunity for the student is the focus. While academics is of course vital, if a student has a special talent and direction that requires a different approach in order for them to reach their potential, an independent school makes this possible.
In your role as a teacher, what do you most want for your students?
I want my students to have the opportunity to follow their dream like I have been able to. I want to provide them with the platform from which they can take their next step into the world of dance and full time training if that is what they want. I want to offer them not only dance expertise but also the help and support that young students need as they take that next step, and to help them develop the self-confidence to pursue what they truly want.
Photo credit: Amber Griffin Photography