4 March 2024

For 30 years Goulburn ballet principal kept children on their toes

| John Thistleton
Start the conversation
child dancers on a parade float in 1950s

In ringlets, ribbons and crisp white tutus, pupils of Olga Reardon on a large float in Auburn Street, Goulburn, during Lilac Time 1953, a great opportunity for Olga to promote her dancing school. Photo: Gordon (Bob) Mote.

In the spotlight of Goulburn’s cultural life for three decades, Olga Reardon educated generations of children with strictly disciplined, sometimes painful yet keenly sought-after dance lessons.

Her star pupils shone at Christmas pantomimes, all-Irish concerts, eisteddfods, Lilac Time festival processions, and Gilbert and Sullivan and Lieder Theatre productions.

She travelled throughout Australia as an adjudicator, engaged examiners from London for her pupils, and collaborated with musical and theatre groups to entertain thousands of Goulburn people in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

Now in her 80s, author Jenny MacDougall (nee Hume) was her pupil for eight years: “Olga told her students that the famous English dancer and teacher Dame Peggy van Praagh once said to her, ‘When ballet gets into your blood, it never leaves you’ and how true that is. She was a member and qualified teacher of the UK Royal Academy of Dancing.”

Raised as an only child in Cootamundra, where she returned to help raise money with her principal dancers, Olga established her school at the Railway Institute behind Knowlman’s store.

READ ALSO From fires to festivals, Goulburn’s small hall has a big history

Presbyterian Ladies College music master and violinist August Oberg formed a small band to accompany Olga’s dancing lessons and public performances for the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, Liedertafel Theatre concerts and at the Odeon Theatre. With an audience of starry-eyed parents, 160 children at the Odeon in 1951 danced and tapped away to Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy and Pretty Baby.

For years, Olga’s principal dancers were Ailsa Lee and Peter Pidoux. When he was a state finalist at age 14, Peter said he hoped to follow in the footsteps of Robert Helpmann and become famous.

Olga wrote a special ballet to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata for the talented pair. Single-handedly she did the choreography, arranging and teaching – normally three separate spheres – for a variety program for the Odeon Theatre.

girl dressed in Highland dance gear sitting on a park bench

Jenny Hume in her Highland dancing outfit in 1958 in the gardens of Garroorigang homestead. Photo: Jim Thwaite.

Peter’s mother said that although he loved being on the stage to dance, her son hated to practise and acknowledged Olga for his success. Women to this day recall being smacked on the bottom when they were girls for misbehaving at Olga’s classes.

Jenny danced a leading role in the Odeon Theatre and at Canberra’s Albert Hall.

“The beautiful Odeon Theatre was a magnificent setting for her productions and could house a very large audience,” she said.

“She mainly taught ballet, tap, Irish and Scottish dancing. She also provided the dance routines with her dancers for the Liedertafel Theatre productions. Carl Millard played the pipes for the Scottish dancing classes.

“Olga’s classes consisted of warm-ups first, cartwheels, splits and lying on the floor with knees drawn up, feet together as she pushed the knees to the floor – it was quite painful.

“Then you had to lie on your stomach and bend your feet up to touch the back of your head.”

READ ALSO Friends investigate two babies who went to early graves

Pupils would begin their barre work with plies, grand battement, side mounts and assorted exercises before they tried various dance routines, pirouettes, arabesque and dance-step sequences called enchainements. Olga produced a little booklet with the French terms for the various movements.

“Olga was very strict, she stood no nonsense in her classes and everyone respected her,” Jenny said. “She had students from tiny tots to young adults and included them all in her productions. I remember girls from St Joseph’s Orphanage coming for classes in little blue dresses.

“Olga gave me a love of ballet and dance that has stayed with me all my life.”

Many other women from this pre-television, pro-dancing era would agree.

Original Article published by John Thistleton on About Regional.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.