Thank you to retired ballerina, Shirley Grahame Kershaw for explaining how an ankle injury nearly ended her career, as well as a glimpse into her ballet schooling.
Royal Ballet School
From a local ballet school, Shirley Graham (her stage name) went to White Lodge from age 11, the Royal Ballet junior school. Shirley tells me “looking back to my school days at the Royal Ballet School, although mostly happy, there was a lot of stress incurred. They expected perfection in every respect which for an eleven year old could be pretty tough. Looking back it was very necessary.
“I can remember going home some nights crying and stressed out after a bad class. My mother told me that I didn’t have to stay if it made me so unhappy. I said through my tears that I wanted to dance and knew that was the best place to be.
Humiliation in Class
“An incident that has stayed in my mind was when I fell over in a pirouette and the teacher laughed! I felt humiliated and useless. I’m sure she didn’t mean to be unkind but that was how it felt at the time. Suffice to say after that I dreaded pirouettes and this never left me for the whole of my career.
“As a teacher I was very aware of the above points and always tried not to fall into the same trap!! I have seen a number students whose spirit has been broken in this way and haven’t had any support.
Shirley then listed for me the teachers that had taught as a student and through her career:
Miss Edwards (Vera Fedorova) Diaghilev Co., Leonide Massine, Mdme Kasavina, Mdme Messerer, MdmeTchernichava, Serge Grigoriev (Fokine’s ballet master), VassilieTrunoff, Harold Turner, Mdme Volkova, Dame Ninette De Valois.
Quite an impressive line up of teachers.
Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet – Injury
At 17, Shirley joined The Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet (SWRB) and after 3 years became a principal in the company.
“I had a bad foot injury whilst in SWRB and was suffering for over a year. After many consultations with the SWRB surgeon who was unable to diagnose the problem was told that maybe, from a psychological point of view, I didn’t want to dance any more!!!
“My director said he had heard of a surgeon in Denmark who was interested in treating dancers and had great success with treating them. My director suggested I go and see the Danish surgeon and within ten minutes of seeing him he had diagnosed the problem and I had successful surgery the following day.
“On returning to London, the SWRB surgeon, having read the report, said it was a lot of nonsense, and again intimated that I unconsciously probably didn’t want to dance again! Suffice to say I never had any more problems.
“I had no support during this time and had begun to think it was all in my mind. Looking back I needed someone to talk to and share my worries with. My career could easily have been cut short by ten years. The worst thing was seeing other dancers taking over my roles when I was at an all time low.
It is so important that dancers get the support when at the time that they need it.
Shirley remained with SWRB company until she joined London’s Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet). I had the pleasure of working with Shirley as her “Manager” to her “Street Dancer” in “Le Beau Danube” (Leonide Massine 1970) during her time in London’s Festival Ballet.
Moving on to teaching
After a year in the company she retired from performing and set up a ballet school with Dame Merle Park. Over the years Shirley became ballet mistress at the Royal Ballet junior School, teaching around the world for The Royal Academy of Dance and teaching at Rambert School of Dance in London.