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Part of the Acropolis in Athens (from an ENB tour in 2003) This is Dec. 16th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th 12th 13th 14th 15th

I haven’t got a picture of Pat Neary, but since the first time we met we were working on Apollo, and the second time on Agon, something with an ancient Greek theme seemed appropriate. Also, there’s something about Pat’s pedigree as a dancer & teacher of the Balanchine repertoire, her humour, wit, intelligence, and understanding of life, ballet, art & people that make me think of her as a kind of living oracle.

She describes herself as ‘Bette Midler on pointe’, and certainly, I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun in a rehearsal period. But this is her ethos – you spend 75% of your life working, so you might as well enjoy it. Her standards are high, and she tells it like it is, but she does it all with humour and humanity. In one rehearsal which was beginning to fall apart, she said “Excuse me, I need to go outside and scream”. Which was exactly what she did – she left the studio, and then let out the most blood-curdling scream you are likely to hear in an opera house, and then returned to the studio a couple of minutes later. “OK. That’s better. Let’s go from….” Some teachers would be in a mood for the whole rehearsal, some would lecture the dancers, others would shout and harangue. Only Pat would have the logic and intelligence to just scream and get on with it. Needless to say, the event focused everyone’s mind a lot better on the work at hand, without needing to say a word, and there were no bad feelings at the end of the rehearsal.

Her passion and love for dance and for her work is infectious, and you leave a studio feeling privileged to work in something so fantastic. My friend Alexandre de la Caffinière and I wanted to put up a shrine to Pat in the corner of the ballet studio in Berlin, just just so we could remind ourselves on bad days why we were doing it at all. I only have to think of her for her generous spirit, energy and humour to cheer me up: she paid me the nicest compliment I’ve ever received in a class – “Mr B would have loved you!”. That’s been enough to keep me going for years.

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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist