Dance Stories: Carol Green and the Dying Swan
As Carol Green arrives at the Energetiks Head Office, it's like a breath of fresh air has entered the building. She is petite but full of energy, and a natural storyteller, the kind of person you just can't help but want to get to know.
Dance has been a part of her life since she was just 5, and now at 61, she is still dancing en pointe, having recently performed the beautiful Dying Swan solo with the studio she trains at weekly, the City Dance Centre in Melbourne. We sat down to chat with Carol about her inspiring dance life and why she believes dance is an art form for people of all ages.
"I started at the age of 5," she begins, "my mother took me to a dance class and I really enjoyed it. I did tap and a little bit of ballet and I got to appear on TV. Then when I was 9, Kathleen Gorham retired from the Australian Ballet - my mother heard about it on the radio, so she took me to her lessons, and that’s really where it all started." She smiles as she talks about her TV appearances - like on Young Talent Time - "Kathleen put me in that and I was the first winner at 14. Then she put me on as Odette, the second act, for Channel O." But did she find dancing on TV challenging at her age? "I remember being on TV at 5, I actually found it very interesting; I wasn't thinking about what I was doing, I was looking at the cameras and the people, that sort of thing. My costume was very much a Shirley Temple theme, lots of curls! Talent Time when I was a bit older was over a period of about 10 months and you had to get through 4 rounds. The grand final was filmed after midnight and I had to do fouettés and things. So it was late – past my bedtime!" she laughs.
Of course as she got older, dancing became more serious. She trained in the RAD syllabus and completed every level up to her Solo Seal. "When I was 16 I joined the Australian Ballet school and I was there for two years before graduating into the Australian Ballet Company. I danced with them for a few years before I joined a small company in Paris, just behind Notre Dame." We interrupt to ask her how she found life in Paris; "It was very cold. The first cold winter I’d ever experienced!" From there, she came back to the Australian Ballet company for a while, before another big move back across the globe to London. "I studied the Vaganova method there for 16 years. And I started teaching for Sylvia Young Theatre School and Arts Educational in Turnham Green." Then after many years of dancing overseas, Carol returned back to Australia.
It was after this chapter of Carol's life that things changed considerably. "I had about an 18 year break from dancing, where I looked after my brother as a carer. And when he passed away sadly, I didn’t know what to do with myself," she admits. "I started going for walks but I found it was a bit dangerous at times, walking late at night. I saw people going into this place when I was walking and I investigated and they were doing Zumba!" she giggles. "So I started Zumba and that was fun for about a year but I decided I just needed more, and someone suggested adult ballet classes. That was about four and a half years ago," she smiles, her face lighting up again.
We ask Carol about where she trains. "My first place was City Dance Centre with Sakura Shimizu, and I did the basic beginners, I had no shoes, no ballet gear at all. I went once a week and after the third week I thought I’d better get some ballet gear," she laughs. And now? "I still do classes there but I also dance at Melbourne School of Classical Dance, adult classes." Of course it was with City Dance Centre that Carol had the opportunity to perform the Dying Swan (a solo piece made famous by the great Anna Pavlova) last year as part of an annual festival with the City of Stonnington. One might think you needed plenty of rehearsal time for such a performance - especially en pointe - but not Carol. "I had about 3 weeks, practicing once a week, so not long. But we did it, with some help from close friends." And was she happy with her performance? "The performance went well considering. You always think you can do better, but maybe I couldn’t," she bursts out laughing, "it might have gone worse! So I was happy with how it turned out!" Several of Carol's friends from her time at the Australian Ballet came along to support her. We wonder if she still gets to do class with any of them, but she is firm in her response; "No they’ve all stopped! I’m the only one still going. They all think I’m crazy!" and with that she descends into giggles.
We are amazed though, at Carol's strength and balance en pointe, not only in her ability to perform the Dying Swan, but throughout our photoshoot with her. When we ask her about the potential challenges of being en pointe as a mature dancer, she brushes it aside. "I love being en pointe! I'm much happier en pointe than in a flat shoe. I love my heels too," she smiles. "It's the best way to strengthen your legs." And her preparation is simple: "I soften them up and do the warm up that Svetlana Beriosova taught me in London. She taught me that if you want to get your legs strong you put your pointe shoes on first. So my strong legs are thanks to her!" We assume that when Carol returned to dance after an 18 year break she didn't jump straight back into pointe work in her first lesson; "No, no, it was a few weeks later," she jokes, and seeing how comfortable she is on her pointe shoes, we're sure it didn't take her long. Despite this, her advice to older dancers returning to ballet is to "take it slow, go back into basic beginners and don't look too far ahead. Just little by little."
Sound advice, especially coming from a dancer who unusually has never had an injury, something almost every ballet dancer has to deal with at some stage. She credits this to her training with Kathleen Gorham, the Vaganova method and Svetlana’s exercises. "It's the whole combination," she nods. And happily, Carol is able to pass on her wisdom to the younger generation of ballet dancers, as she teaches part time at a girls school through the week. "I really enjoy teaching them all. It's a real privilege, to pass on what has been passed on to me," she says, "I find myself saying a lot of what my teachers used to say to me: The floor is your best friend, all that sort of thing."
Her final words of advice for aspiring dancers? "Just get yourself to class, enjoy and listen to your teacher. Don’t worry if you start young or start old, I know people older than myself doing ballet. There is no reason to stop." We ask her what she thinks about the perception of ballet class as elitist or unfriendly. "It's not like that," she insists, "people are so welcoming and warm when you come in. One of the best decisions I’ve made is coming back to ballet. It’s my happy place. I love the music. I love the port de bras. The whole atmosphere in there." So does she see it is an escape? "Yes. It’s an escape from the hustle and bustle of outside, the traffic and everything. It’s a bit like being in a church," she smiles, "everything is beautiful at the ballet."
Interview & Article by Emily Newton-Smith