Pussy (Diana Payne Myers)

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Pussy dancing at her 80th birthday party

This is Dec. 6th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th

Sometime in the spring of 1987, I was playing for an evening professional open class at the Urdang studios in Covent Garden. I noticed the most wonderful dancer at the barre – wonderful, because she seemed to respond to the slightest nuance in the music, with tenutos, staccatos, phrasings & rubatos all equisitely played out in her movement. She knew even the most esoteric tunes, and a lot of them made her laugh.


At the end of the class, she rushed up to talk to me, and said how much she’d enjoyed the music, and would I like to play for a summer school in Cambridge that she was organising, and could she have my phone number. She seemed just a little, well, batty; so I gave her my phone number, and didn’t too much expect to hear any more. But then about a week before the summer school was due to start, the phone rang, and she gave me my travel directions, and arranged to pick me up from Cambridge station.

That was the beginning of a remarkable friendship, and some remarkable partnerships that arose through Pussy’s unstoppable enthusiasm for getting people together. “There’s a person you must meet…” crops up in just about every conversation, and she’s right every time. Over the years, I’ve come to realise that Pussy is the epicentre of all that is happening, wacky, lovely & exciting in the dance world, and not in the least bit batty. You can’t maintain that kind of physical and mental discipline and curiosity without being 115% sane.

I first saw her in Matthew Hawkin’s Percy Circus (1988), where, as I remember it, she appeared in white body paint and comedy breasts banging a big bass drum (or was she dressed as an enormous flower?). She’s become a household name for her role in Bound to Please (photo here)& Strange Fish , and there’s a documentary about her called Dancing under the Dust Cover which I’d love to see. I believe she’s off to Australia in the new year to play Edna in Stephen Daldry’s An Inspector Calls, which she played many times in London.

I have learned so much from her; sometimes the names, places and experiences tumble out of her like a magicians string of flags, and it takes a while (and a dance encyclopedia) to unravel them all afterwards. Her passion for music is not in competition with her love of dance, it’s part of it. Without her introductions, I would never have done all kinds of exciting things, and without her lively erudition about dance and theatre, would never have appreciated a thousand others. Beyond all of that, she is a loyal friend and supporter, who makes more effort than almost anyone I know to turn up to parties, performances and special occasions, always with some terrific present perfectly matched to the occasion. I still have a beautiful polished stone which she gave me in 1987 “for throwing at choreographers”. I’ve never had to use it, but the knowledge that Pussy thought I might need to use it has made me smile and keep sane through many a production.

(The photograph is from a recent trip to Glastonbury. We couldn’t resist a photograph of the menu from The Who’d a thought it?”)

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