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Jackson’s lucky charm: Barbara Frith

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Ready for the show: Barbara Frith with eight-year-old dancers Cameron Forster, left, Annabelle Hubbard and Theodora West (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Jackson’s staff in 1976: Back row, from left, Conchita Ming, Barbara Frith, Sharon McKirdy and Anne Hines. In front, from left, Sharon Krantz, Louise Jackson and Linda Manders (Photograph supplied)
Veteran dance teacher Barbara Frith (Photograph supplied)

Barbara Frith’s encouraging words can be heard throughout the rehearsal.

In response, the students light up.

It’s a role the dance teacher at Jackson’s School of the Performing Arts has played for half a century.

“It would be safe to say I have taught thousands of children,” the 75-year-old said. “I bump into former students all the time. They say, ‘Hi, Mrs Frith’ or, ‘There’s my old ballet teacher’. It is sweet.

“I teach a tap class at the Lifelong Learning Centre at the Bermuda College. Two of the ladies in that class took an adult tap class with me at Jackson’s 20 or 30 years ago. They still remember how to do their time steps and everything.”

At the moment she’s helping to inspire students as they prepare for Wish Me Luck, the school’s first live performance since the pandemic began in 2020.

“We came up with the theme of luck, because everyone needs a lot of luck in their life coming out of the pandemic,” Ms Frith said. “All of our dances come from lucky charms from around the world. The musical theatre kids are doing a Mary Poppins medley that includes the song Chim Chim Cher-ee. It is about how chimney sweeps were considered lucky in England. I guess if your chimney was swept your house was less likely to catch fire. The kids are happy and they are having a good time with it.”

She teaches ballet, musical theatre and tap at the Burnaby Street school.

“During shelter in place we continued to teach classes online from our homes,” she said. “My daughter Jess would do online classes for physical training. I have a small living room. We would move the coffee table and the couch back. She would do her class and then we would move it back where it was. Then with my class we had to do the same thing all over again. If we didn’t move it back we would not be able to get into the kitchen.”

She was relieved when she was able to return to Jackson’s studios.

“At least there you knew where you were with the space,” she said.

Ultimately, it is her young students who keep her active at a time in life when many people have retired.

“You are doing the recital or you are teaching and hopefully you grow every year,” she said. “You get better at what you are doing and you learn new things.

“It is really nice to spend a couple of days a week seeing children find the joy of movement.”

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Ms Frith began taking ballet classes at age 5. Her mother had severe scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, and doctors thought that dancing would prevent the same from happening to Ms Frith.

When she suggested it was time to quit, her mother gave her the option of lying on the kitchen table doing a series of back-strengthening exercises for hours. She kept dancing.

At 13 she joined the Boston Ballet Company and later studied jazz at the Boston Conservatory. At the age of 18 she was teaching jazz and dancing professionally.

On a trip to Bermuda in 1969 she met her late husband Douglas Frith, then a musician at the Bermudiana Hotel, where she was staying. Before her week in Bermuda was over, he proposed and they married a short time later.

New to the island, Ms Frith looked around for a dance class and someone suggested she try Jackson’s.

After her first jazz class, Mrs Jackson, the late founder of the school, asked if she would consider teaching. Ms Frith readily agreed.

A lot of the dance schools in Bermuda were then racially divided. Jackson’s was one of the first to integrate.

“When I came Jackson’s was a predominantly black school,” Ms Frith said. “That did not make any difference to me. Mrs Jackson was always welcoming and we always had a good time. This was the place for me. I was happy and fortunate that she asked me to teach.”

In her early days of teaching, many of Ms Frith’s classes took place after 3pm.

“I would load a double-deck cassette player and two speakers into the basket of my Honda 50,” she said. “Then I would wobble off to the schools.”

Her lessons were so popular that 30 to 40 kids would sign up at a time.

“We had to split the classes into two groups,” Ms Frith remembered. “Eventually, the classes got so busy we had to do them at Jackson’s after school and on Saturdays.”

Her plan is to continue teaching as long as she’s able.

“I guess I’ll stop when I stop breathing,” she laughed. “Tap is good for that. You can always do tap and it is a lot of fun.”

Wish Me Luck takes place tomorrow, Friday and Saturday at 7pm in the Earl Cameron Theatre. Tickets, $40, are available at www.jspabermuda.com. For more information, call 599-1406

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Published June 22, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated June 23, 2022 at 8:07 am)

Jackson’s lucky charm: Barbara Frith

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