Story: Beere, Estelle Girda

Page 1 - Beere, Estelle Girda

Beere, Estelle Girda

1875–1959

Dancing teacher

This biography was written by Jan Bolwell and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 3, 1996

Estelle Girda Beere was born in Wanganui, New Zealand, on 23 July 1875, one of five children of Edward Holroyd Beere, a surveyor, and his wife, Mary Brewer. When she was 11 years old her family moved to 76 Hill Street, Wellington, where she attended Fitzherbert Terrace School. Estelle had her first dance lesson from an aunt, a ballroom dancing teacher, who taught her the cachucha. She performed the dance, began to teach it to Wellington children, and such was the success of the venture that she set up her own classes at the age of 16. A talented artist, Estelle took classes at the Wellington School of Design (later Wellington Technical School). However, her family discouraged her from taking up a career as an artist because they needed the income she was generating from her dance classes.

In 1895 she went to England and studied ballet with Alexandre Genée, who put her in a ballet at the Alhambra Theatre. There she shared a dressing room with his niece, the great Danish ballerina Adeline Genée, who in 1913 was to tour New Zealand. The two became acquainted and Genée enjoyed the company of this young antipodean dancer. It was during this period that Beere was exposed to the great Russian ballet tradition. She took classes and learnt all she could before returning to New Zealand 18 months later.

Back in Wellington Estelle Beere had a studio built on to the back of the family home at Hill Street, and began a teaching career that spanned more than 60 years. She sustained herself creatively by learning new dances from the individuals and companies who toured New Zealand and during extended visits to Australia, England and the west coast of America, where she became conversant with the modern dance movement.

Estelle Beere enjoyed teaching children, and took the enlightened view that each child was an individual with unique qualities, which were to be given expression in class. Calm and unflappable, she never shouted at her pupils, and created costumes and dances for them with great artistic flair. Beere strongly disapproved of the Royal Academy of Dancing which, when formed in the 1930s, started to systematise ballet technique in a manner which she regarded as excessively rigid, removing the soul and the artistry from dance. Her eclectic, imaginative approach led to her ostracism by followers of the academy's system in New Zealand.

Apart from the flourishing studio classes, she taught dance at Solway College in Masterton and at Scots College (where her pupils were boys), Fitzherbert Terrace School (later known as Samuel Marsden Collegiate School) and Queen Margaret College in Wellington. Successive governors and governors general to New Zealand, beginning with Lord Plunket in 1904, sent their daughters to Estelle Beere for dancing classes. Vice regal approval led to many opportunities for dance recitals, often staged to raise funds for organisations such as the Red Cross and the Plunket Society. Beere's annual dance recitals at the Opera House featured her own original dance plays. She knew what was in vogue internationally and the most recent innovations would appear in her annual programme.

Of the hundreds of pupils taught by Estelle Beere there were a number who went on to make careers as professional dancers. Three of her most renowned pupils were Thurza Rogers, who joined Anna Pavlova's company, making a triumphant tour to New Zealand in 1926; Jan Caryll, who partnered Ninette de Valois and had a lengthy and successful dance career in England and Europe; and Joan Gordon, Estelle's niece, who became a celebrated dancer in England and Australia. After the death of her sister-in-law, Eva Beere, in 1915, Estelle had brought up Joan as her own, although she herself did not marry. From 1926 to 1930 she stayed in England while Joan was establishing herself as a dancer there.

In 1958 Estelle Beere was appointed an OBE for her services to dance, the first dancing teacher in Australasia to receive such recognition. She continued to teach at her Hill Street studio in Wellington until the day before she died, at the age of 84, on 20 September 1959. The name Estelle Beere is synonymous with the development of dance in New Zealand. Charismatic and gregarious, she was for many decades the leading teacher in Wellington and her studio became a centre for generations of students and visiting dance companies from around the world.