3 Jun 2019

Honours recipient can't imagine a life without dance

1:14 pm on 3 June 2019

A woman who performed with the world's greatest ballet dancers before teaching go-go girls to shake and shimmy on New Zealand TV has been made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

No caption

In a varied dance career Dorothea Ashbridge choreographed the TV pop music series, C'mon. Photo: RNZ / Tim Collins

Ninety-one-year-old Dorothea Ashbridge, known as Thea to her friends, has had a huge influence on dance in New Zealand - from classical ballet to the ground-breaking contemporary troupe, Limbs.

As a young woman, she danced with legends Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev in Britain's Royal Ballet.

She was there when Nureyev scandalously defected from Russia to the West, joining the Royal Ballet in 1962.

"We'd never really seen Nureyev. We had heard about this dancer but when he came and danced at the rehearsal with us well, we couldn't believe it. He was stunning," she said.

South African-born Dorothea Ashbridge led a glamorous life travelling the world and fell in love and married New Zealand dancer Bryan Ashbridge, who wanted to bring his new bride home.

The sleepy New Zealand of the 1960s was something of a culture shock but it soon brought new adventure, she said.

She was at home with her young son when the producer of the groovy sixties music show C'mon came knocking at the door and asked her to choreograph.

"He said, 'it's not ballet. It's the latest craze - the shake, go-go, all that'. I thought 'this is a challenge' and I said yes," she said, laughing.

"I think why [he asked] is when we had parties in London I used to go mad - I used to do all the dance crazes at the time and I think word just got around."

Ms Ashbridge mixed her love of ballet with contemporary dance for the rest of her career.

She judged prestigious international competitions and continued to teach classical ballet.

She taught the modern dance troupe Limbs, which shook up the New Zealand dance scene in the 1970s and 80s.

Douglas Wright.

Douglas Wright, who was among Dorothea Ashbridge's pupils. Photo: John Savage

Audiences loved what it brought and were mesmerised by some of her pupils, including the internationally recognised dancers Douglas Wright and Mark Baldwin.

She was a strict teacher but took joy in bringing out the best in people with wonderful natural talent, she said.

Her award was recognition for the whole dance community, she said.

"Being in New Zealand is something really special to me and now that I've been awarded, it's even greater. I'm very proud and very honoured," she says.

Ms Ashbridge rarely danced now, but credited it for her wonderful health at 91 and couldn't imagine a life without dance.