A brief and biased history of Dance and Calisthenics in Ballarat in recent times, and its relationship with the RSSS Competitions.

A. M. Cole, as at February 2000

And so it was, that early in the 1900’s, Terpsichore the Muse of Dance looked down upon the land and saw that it was ruled by false prophets. Kiora Calisthenics Club run by Mrs Mather was teaching physical culture and fancy dancing.

Mrs Zilles (wife to Lew Zilles) was teaching Highland dancing.

And so it was, in the 24th year of the 20th century, that Terpsichore sent her hand-maiden Adeline to bring light and truth to the great city of gold, commerce, industry and agriculture —

Adeline Close opened a Ballet school in the Friendly Society’s Hall, Grenville street, then atop the Regent theatre when it opened in 1928. One of her early students was Nancy Waldron (now Mrs Oliver, mother to Carole Oliver). Father Herbert Waldron sang at South Street 115 years ago. Nancy recalls her mother was at South Street watching the sisters perform, the night before she was born! Nancy spent a long time in dance, was heavily involved in South Street, and danced in the Coliseum and Alfred halls. One year the school won 13 firsts in solos and groups at South Street. Nancy can still sing their winning song&dance group song “Dinah. Mrs Oliver still comes to watch, and you may see her occasionally backstage.

Merle Heath (now Widmer, of Picot & Widmer) studied with Adeline and later with Mellah. She won the open classical solo (now Courier Solo), the Pas de Deux with Mick O’Neil, and the Victorian Championship Classical Solo (Sun Cup, Melbourne) in 1938. The advent of world war 2 prevented Merle going further with her career.

The school was taken over by Mellah Frizelle about 1934. The studio was at the Vegas/Mechanics Institute. She taught pure classical, and also ballroom dance for debutants. Mellah was a brilliant teacher, and the school did very well as South Street. Nancy Oliver continued dancing with Mellah, and even entered Kiora Calisthenic’s Graceful Girl competition with distinction.

One of Mellah’s students, Adrienne Opie went on to dance with the Borovansky, and Australian Ballet in the 60’s. She used the stage name Adrienne Orsay, and her career drew great interest in Ballarat. Later she was a HSV TV 7 dancer, became Mrs Leitch, worked for BLOC in ‘63-4, and set up her Dancing Academy in Benalla. Her influence in Benalla ultimately led to Terpsichore Dance Academy who have come to South Street recently.

Mick O’Neil was also a Frizelle student. Amongst his many amazing adventures in life, he partnered Merle Heath and won the championship duo at South Street. Mick is currently a sponsor of the Pas de Deux section at the comps.

In the audiences at the Frizelle concerts was a young Jean Trenfield, fascinated and captivated by the classical charm. Jean was not allowed to dance as a child, learning piano was considered more correct. She carried the flame of dance all her life, was an immense help to many generations of students and teachers both in Ballarat and Melbourne. Jean will be often seen at the comps. In time to come, one of her daughters will be Carol Trenfield.

In the late 30’s, there were also other teachers – Mrs. Bryan, Mrs. Allisey, and Mrs. Trainor, about whom we know little.

A student at Kiora Cal club, one Wavie Gilbert, became enthused by theatre, and formed her own Bongre Calisthenics club. Emily Eeles (Angus Eeles Plumbing) and Gladys Beames were students at Bongre. Em Eeles left and started her own dance school in Wonthaggi, we’ll meet her later.

From 1937 to 39. Gladys Beames took over the junior teams and renamed them “The Sunbeams”. Her under-12 group won at South Street comps. She then joined the army.

During the 40’s, World War II. It was a difficult time, both turmoil and resourceful people abounded, and local entertainment grew.

Wavie Gilbert became Mrs. Williams and specialised in theatrical productions. And so in 1940 began the era of those amazing Wavie Williams Pantomimes that even today, dominate the history and magic of Ballarat’s theatre life. Starry eyed artists flocked to perform in the shows, and amongst them were Daphne McMillan, Gladys Beames, Fred Fargher, Carole Oliver, Pam Waller, and Carol Trenfield.

Mrs. Eva Harrington played the piano, her elder children performed, and running amok in the background was one young Ron Harrington.

The panto’s continued for 13 years, enthralling and inspiring an epoch of theatrical aficionados. It closed in ‘53 with Wavie’s failing health. A generation of young dancers were shocked and dumbfounded, but soon moved onto the Sunbeams and other worthy avenues.

Marjorie Morcom established a ballroom dance school above 3BA in Sturt Street, in 1948, and later shifted above what is now Autobarn at 12 Armstrong St Nth.

She sold to Jim Welsh in 1960.

Merle Widmer conducted her own school, 1945 to 49 in the Friendly Society hall opposite the Coliseum, (where Adeline started in 1924 before moving to the Regent!)

Emily Eeles returned from Wonthaggi, spent a few years in the panto’s, and set up her own Sunbeam Revue Co. in 1949. She presented a song and dance/tap /comedy type show which ran till1959. Emily’s shows had up to 150 performers, performed 4 times a year, and filled Her Majesty’s Theatre every time. Marlene Lee was one of the “Sunbeam Girls”. Emily went on to teach debutantes for the next 9 years.

Mrs. Eeles gave tremendously of her heart and her time to dance, including valuable work with dance schools and two ballet guilds. If you drive up Eureka street, her house has the fence made of dancing girls. Son Rodney carries on the family plumbing business.

Val Selmon took over the Frizelle School in the late 40’s, taught classical ballet, and had a major influence on the direction of dance today. With the demise of the Panto’s, Carole Oliver and Pam Waller studied with Val for many years. Eventually the Selmon school (known as the “Ballet Theatre”) passed on to one of her dance students, Neil Case (whom we all know!), who drifted into Ballarat Light Opera productions, and the school closed in the late 50’s.

Carol Trenfield meantime, went to one of Wavie’s teachers, Pat Elliott, who had established her own separate dance school in Ballarat.

Carole, Carol & Pam determined to be teachers, and had to take considerable additional study in Melbourne. Some of their tutors over the following years – Carole to Marjorie Clarke, Pam to Lucy Saranova, and Carol to Borovansky and Coral Brown. The road was no highway then, I remember coming to Ballarat as a student, and having to reverse up the Pentland Hills in my ancient Morris! Trains were better. Full marks to the steadfast support given by the Oliver and Trenfield family.

So in the early 50’s we had teachers Val Selmon, and Pat Elliott, holding the budding flowers of the next generation; a Paul Fibigs teaching Russian style Ballet, Sunbeam Revue Co. going strongly, the Morcom ballroom school in full swing, and Miss Ruby Looney conducting Glenola Calisthenic Club.

Meantime on the far side of the world, the pall of evil hung heavily on the Baltic state of Latvia. About world war 2, the country was invaded by Russians, then Germans, and finally absorbed into the Soviet Republic. The country was stripped of its money, its treasures, and its dignity. Lija Svalbe, a young dancer with the Riga National Ballet was caught in this turmoil. The Germans at least liked culture, and sent the ballet company on tours for the troupes. They had to do opera as well, and the dancers would sing off key, or sing derogatory songs in Latvian so the soldiers could not understand. Under Communism, life was intolerable. Family members disappeared, her father was sent to Siberia and shot 2 yrs later. There was fear poverty and persecution. Lija and husband fled secretly to West Germany, hidden amongst torpedoes on a troop ship. They appealed to the American army and came to Australia as migrants. Fruit picking for 2 years, husband joined the railways and built houses at weekends.

After a lifetime of turmoil that we simply cannot imagine, Lija took over from Fibig, and established her ballet school in Ballarat in 1954. Firstly in the Anglican church hall in Sturt street, then top floor of the old fire station. She bought the costumes from the disbanding Sunbeams. There followed weekly trips to Melbourne to gain her diplomas and recognition with the Borovansky Academy (Australian version of Russian ballet), she became Vice President thereof, and an Australian examiner. Her students danced at South street until recent years. Lija choreographed the BTV6 dancers, and remembers the arrival of Fred Fargher, and Marj Welsh (Jim Welsh ballroom) as one of the dancers.

Meanwhile, in the Calisthenic camp, Glenola was in danger of closing. A committee was formed and converted it to the Ballarat Calisthenic College in 1959. Ruby Looney became it’s first teacher. Lessons were 6 pence each in those early days!

Amongst those involved with that change were Lew Gay (& family), and Jean Waldron. Jean was our Nancy Oliver’s sister, and had been with Kiora Cal Club back in 1919.

Marlene Lee (volunteer usher and seasons ticket holder) who had been a Sunbeam Girl, joined the Glenola / Ballarat Club at this troubled time and helped in the transition. Now days, she teaches dance for Debutantes, and senior citizens (Recycled Teenagers).

In years to come you will remember that Ballarat Cal Club split twice, giving birth to Sovereign and later Jayde Cal Colleges.

June Storen and Ken Jeacle, of the Junen Dancing Academy in Melbourne, conducted a branch school in Ballarat in the late 50’s.

By the early 60’s, the Selmon/Case and Elliott schools had gone. BLOC started in 1957 and became a major theatrical force. We see one Peter Zala and Barbara Dunlop on the committee although not for their fancy footwork. Lija Svalbe had to teach Barb D how to curtsey without falling over. Carole O, Carol T, Pam Waller, and Lija Svalbe have been involved in their productions as dancers or choreographers. Marj Welsh was dancing at BTV6 and teaching at the now Jim Welsh Ballroom Dance Studio.

Fred Fargher had worked at the BBC, London, studied dance in UK and USA and was now established in BTV6. He had a dance school in Creswick, and was to be deeply involved with Lyric Theatre Co. which split from BLOC in 1963. Carole Oliver was in Lyrics first show. Later of course he organised his own fabulous shows. You might remember he also adjudicated the BTV6 Talent Shows held at the RSSS Comps in the late 60’s.

Carole Oliver (1962) and Pam Waller (1963) had now opened their own schools.

Lija Svalbe’s school continued strongly.

Carol Trenfield commenced her own school in 1963 with 12 pupils in her mother’s Lounge room! These 4 schools grew strongly, and the quality of their work is legendary.

In 1971 Pam Waller closed her school, and a great number of students split up, some to Carole Oliver, some to Carol Trenfield. Carole O established herself in the Wendouree Municipal hall and later attached a Dance Supply Shop. Carol T moved eventually to a studio above Browns the Printer in Armstrong st sth (now demolished and part of Central Square). Lija Svalbe moved atop the Vegas theatre (Mechanics Institute) in Sturt street.

We were so fortunate to have such dedicated and clever Teachers amongst us. During the 70’s the 3 schools of Svalbe, Oliver, Trenfield, and their offspring, unleashed a torrent of superb dance students. BLOC, Lyric Theatre, Begonia Festival, and the fabulous Fred Fargher Shows of the early 80’s, gave incredible opportunities to all the teachers and many of their students for choreography and involvement. And they continue to do so today. We have all lived with, loved, and been influenced by, this amazing maelstrom of theatre and dance in Ballarat.

Many students went on to further studies and professional work, and I shall not elaborate further at this stage for that is another essay. Some went on to become Teachers, teachers who have directly affected South Street at some time, and have been or are well known in theatrical circles in town. Since some students changed from one school to another during their career, I mention origins as where the bulk of their learning occurred.

The following Teachers taught here at some stage and/or established their own schools:

From Lija Svalbe’s school of Ballet came:

  • Caroline Owen, now teaching in London.
  • Liz Gurrie now Sydney,
  • Debbie Tonkin school in Skipton,
  • Hilary Hazledine (daughter of Dr Hazledine, sponsor), school in Gilgandra, now freelance teacher/adjudicator,
  • Sue Crowe (of Netlor computers), had school in Ballarat, now BLOC, school teacher.
  • Sue Broadway (nee Carter), school in Ararat, Ballarat, now teaching at Mt Clear Tech., rock eisteddfods, BLOC etc.
  • Anita Coutts, current school “Anita Coutts S o D” Established in 1987, now in a renovated church in Albert St, Ballarat.
  • Rachel Odlum, completed studies with Anita Coutts school in Beaufort 1996.

Lija Svalbe closed her school at the end of 1998.

From Carol Trenfield school of Ballet came:

  • Debbie Farrow, now Melbourne
  • Peta Davidson (Davidson trophies at the comps), now teaching in Sydney.
  • Gabrielle Kennedy , school in W.A.
  • Janet & Cheryl Brown, had school in Ballarat, in the Vegas theatre in the 70’s and early 80’s.
  • Terri Allen, school “Terri Maree S o D” established 1975, in Ballarat, and Buninyong. Mum, Val Allen has been a Writer for us, and sponsor.
  • Angela Magill, and Roberta-Jane Magill, schools “Ballet Theatre Co.” established in 1984, Ballarat and Hamilton.
  • Nadja Geoffrey, school “Vertex Theatre” at Creswick. Nadja sadly deceased 1995.
  • Trudy & Lisa Harris, school “Ballarat Ballet Centre”. Sponsor at the comps, as is dad (Owen Williams ).
  • Established in 1978, studio now beside the Base Hospital. Brother Ian, is theatre tech here & Melbourne.
  • Kerry Moore, school in Ballarat “Kerry Moore S o B”. Established 1979, now above the RACV in Doveton St. Nth. Kerry was one of the original “lounge room 12″. School parent Mrs. Di Kierce is sponsor and Writer.

From Carole Oliver School of Ballet came:

  • Jane Martin, school in Maryborough “Jane Martin S o B”
  • Pamela Waghorn, school “Ballarat Danceworks”. Established in 1989, now in a renovated church in Burnbank St., and Creswick.
  • Sandra Clack, school in Geelong “Sandra Clack S o B”
  • Carmel Horsefield, school in Woodend “Carmel Amelia S o B”
  • Dianne Wilkie, branch school in Delacombe.
  • Susan Mayes, now official physiotherapist for Australian Ballet.
  • Wendy Kitzelmann, now in Qld. Mum Dorothy sponsor and Writer for RSSS.
  • Gayle Border, now Dance Captain and assistant to the director in Fred Fargher’s productions.
  • Kathryn Henderson, currently teaching at Carole O school.
  • Julie Richards, school in Beaufort 1996.
  • Heather Coyne, teaching with Ballarat Centre of Music & Arts, 2000.

At the end of the 70’s, Carol Trenfield moved to Sydney then Melbourne, and Terri Allen, Trudy/Lisa Harris, and Kerry Moore established their own schools as above, with Pamela Waghorn, Angela Magill, and Anita Coutts establishing in the 80’s.

Then from the 80’s to the 90’s –

  • Fred Fargher staged his Las Vegas type dance shows in 1982 & 3.
  • Helen Parkinson from Terri Maree, taught in Buninyong in the mid 80’s
  • Marika Lambregste ran a school in Creswick in the late 80’s.
  • Graeme Coombs after a lifetime in theatre, held a theatrical school in Albert st. in the 90’s, and ran an Actor’s Agency.
  • Christine Allison, (husband Hedley Thomson), from Sandra Allan, Melbourne, established “Ballan Ballet School” in Ballan, 1996.
  • Kylie Powers from Sovereign Calisthenics teaches dance privately in the late 90’s.
  • Jackie Jones from Ballarat Danceworks, started Southern Jazz Academy in Sebastopol in 1997.
  • Colleen Anderson established the “Ballarat Movers” briefly in 1997.
  • Shelly Wright left Jim Welsh ballroom in 1996 and opened The Dance Studio.
  • Eric Langdon took over the Jim Welsh ballroom dance studio in 1998, and entered a Group in the RSSS comps.
  • Nicole McNeice from Carol Trenfield, now singing, and teaching Line Dancing in London (”The Golden Boots”).
  • Maxine Montgomery tutor in vocal, but yes, originally a Carol Trenfield dancer.
  • Narelle Kent from Ballarat Ballet Centre, teaches specialty classes to young children.
  • Karen Mason (Mrs Playsted) from Terri Maree, is currently teaching with Lyric Theatre, and Southern Jazz Academy. Started Ballarat Centre of Music & Arts in 2000.
  • Janelle Johnson also from Terri Maree, now teaching with BCMA above.
  • Kellie Fishwick from Kerry Moore, taught with Bev Palmer, & Dance World, (Melbourne), now freelance teaching for many other schools.

And so it was that Terpsichore was well pleased with the staging of her efforts.

The land abounds with her daughters, and her practitioners are myriad at the dawn of the 21st century. The city of gold is now served by the temples of Carole Oliver, Ballarat Ballet Centre, Kerry Moore, Terri Maree, Ballet Theatre Company, Anita Coutts, Ballarat Danceworks, Southern Jazz Academy, Ballarat College of Music & Arts, Ballarat Calisthenics, Sovereign Calisthenics, Jayde Calisthenics, The Dance Studio, Jim Welsh Ballroom, other small groups; as well as the yet unmentioned allied fields of Heritage, Polish, Irish, Scottish, Philippine, Line, and Old Time dancing.

Each Teacher has a personal history of extensive specialised study, exams, professional engagements, dramas and triumphs and self sacrifice. For example, Carol Trenfield’s history of her school alone fills 28 pages of text! There are great stories needing to be told, alas not now. Being a Teacher is an extraordinary achievement.

Every Teacher is or has been supported by a caring mum and dad, family, relations and friends, people who make the teacher’s dream work, and keep the dream alive. Jean Trenfield is one of these people. So many others have not been mentioned, but they have been there since the beginning. We extend a very sincere appreciation to all our Teachers and supporters, for their remarkable place in our rich history of Dance.

In the background, mention must be made of the Ballarat Ballet Guild, a group of volunteers who strived to help the schools and public appreciation. It operated 1948 to 1971, and 1981 to 87. The Guild organised scholarships, concerts, guest teachers, films, lectures, dinners etc. Once they held a ballet on the island at Eureka stockade (everyone froze)! They even had singing nights, and verse readings by one Joan Crompton. Some important names you should remember of the first Guild were Mesdames Tuckett, Lawrence, Waghorn, Opie, Emily Eeles, Ruby Looney, Ellinor Morcom (yes, even she sought enlightenment), Austin McCallum and Keith Young.

Persons of the second Guild we currently know at the comps were Emily Eeles, Val Allen, Joan Bradbury, Nancy Oliver, Jean Trenfield, Barb Cole, Janet Harris, Mirn Coutts, Di Kierce, and many others. All were closely associated with the schools, the competitions, and often as helpers for us. A legacy is the BBG Junior ballet champ.

My special thanks to the generous and amazing personal histories of Nancy Oliver and Jean Trenfield. Their lives have been very rich indeed, and only a tiny fraction of their wonderful experiences are recorded herein. We genuinely honour Nancy and Jean’s contribution to our community life.


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