Outstanding senior: I was born loving ballet
Patricia Deane-Gray isn’t the type to suffer fools gladly.
If you’re coming for a visit you better be able to talk ballet; it’s her passion. The 82-year-old has been teaching dance for 62 years.
“I’ve taught thousands of students over the years,” she said. “I still have all my students’ file cards and registers in my basement.
“People come up to me in the street and say I taught them.”
She’s been officially retired for 20 years, but still tutors a select group.
“I was teaching two young ladies for four hours yesterday,” she said. “I think that’s what keeps me in such good shape.”
She grew up at Sherwood Manor Hotel in Fairylands. Her father George Sherwood ran the hotel, and her mother Mabel ran two beauty salons for wartime censorettes. Mrs Deane-Gray was dancing almost as soon as she could walk.
“I was born loving ballet,” she said.
She started dance lessons at two and made her debut at four.
“It was in Dockyard,” she said. “There were five of us. The other girls had stage fright so I went out and did my first solo.”
A cousin, Stanley Evans, introduced her to her future husband Donald Deane-Gray.
“Stanley wanted to date Donald’s sister, Elizabeth,” said Mrs Deane-Gray.
But when Mr Evans went to take Miss Deane-Gray out, her mother insisted they take her younger brother Donald.
“Stanley deposited Donald at Sherwood Manor,” said Mrs Deane-Gray.
She and Mr Deane-Gray became instant friends.
“My mother liked to say Donald moved in and never left,” laughed Mrs Deane-Gray. “I was 14 and he was 16. “Every morning he would pedal from Warwick to Fairylands.
“Then we’d bicycle to school, me to the Bermuda High School and he to Saltus.”
At 15, she entered the Legat School of Ballet in London, founded by Russian dancer Nicholas Legat. Her teacher was Croatian dancer Ana Roje.
Mrs Deane-Gray had to start, almost from scratch.
“I didn’t have a clue,” she said. “World standards are a whole different ballgame. They were training us to be athletes.”
But she did well.
After two years Ms Roje formed the International Ballet School in Split, Croatia.
“In 1952, I was one of the school’s first five students,” said Mrs Deane-Gray proudly.
She loved living in Croatia and became a soloist with the National Theatre of Yugoslavia.
The problem was her loved ones in Bermuda missed her.
“My mother really wanted me to come back,” she said.
Mr Deane-Gray was also clamouring for her return.
So in 1954, she returned to Bermuda intending to stay only for Christmas.
The world, however, conspired against her. First the shipping company lost her booking to leave, and then Mr Deane-Gray gave her an ultimatum.
“He said if you go back I’ll never see you again,” she said. “I thought, at the end of the day, when your career is over they send you home with a bunch of flowers. What is there left?”
She and Mr Deane-Gray married in 1955. She set up her dance school that year, and also taught dance in schools.
“I thought teaching in the school system was the only way I’d be able to leave the island regularly to teach overseas,” she said. “It gave me summers off.
“Then I got a call saying the physical education teachers needed my teaching periods.
“Inter-school sports was coming and they needed time to practise netball and running. I said they will do better in sports having done a ballet class, but I didn’t win.”
In 1972 she founded the Bermuda Civic Ballet and directed it until 2002.
“I can’t believe it when people say to me: ‘What’s the Bermuda Civic Ballet,” she said. “The island is so small. How could you miss it?”
In 1991, she lost her husband, her mother, her mother-in-law Dorothy and her old teacher, Ana Roje.
“That was a difficult year,” she said. “The whole structure of my life disappeared.”
After that loss she devoted herself to promoting the legacy and teaching methods of Legat.
She then became the international co-ordinator of the Legat Foundation, helping with a travelling exhibition about his life.
She is particularly proud to have brought it to Bermuda in 2002. Last month she attended a Legat reunion in London, in the exact place where he once held his studio.
“There were over 150 former students and teachers there,” she said. She was particularly pleased that the meeting forced a connection between the foundation and the Vaganova School in Russia. She is just finishing up a book, The Legacy of Legat, which she plans to launch in May in London.
She is hoping it won’t just keep Legat’s memory alive, but promote his teaching methods.
Mrs Deane-Gray has received both the Performing Arts Founders Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bermuda Arts Council. She was also made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1984.
“I am proud of everything I’ve done,” she said. “There is nothing that stands out.”
She has two children, Robin and Tatiana, and one granddaughter.
•Lifestyle profiles outstanding senior citizens every Tuesday. If you wish to suggest an outstanding senior contact Jessie Moniz Hardy: 278-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please have at hand the senior’s full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them