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As allegro was about to begin during a ballet class yesterday, I started to smirk thinking about something I’d read in Derek Parker’s fascinating book, The First 75 Years of the Academya brief history of the Royal Academy of Dance published on its 75th anniversary in 1995. It was a reminiscence about the teaching methods of Judith Espinosa, who “spoke Cockney in the old Dickensian manner” (pronouncing the letter v as w, apparently), and was rarely seen without a cigarette. For those used to universal smoking bans, it’s hard to believe that this was probably in a ballet studio, but even I remember having an ashtray on the piano during company class. In addition to chain-smoking and speaking Dickensian cockney, she also shouted so loud that people feared for her vocal health. 

Put all these together, and now imagine the way that she set her choreographic “scenas” in class:

“You’re fishermen’s wives—you’re waiting on the beach for the boats, but there’s news that all the men have been drowned in a storm; you’re wild with grief. [To the pianist] We’ll have a waltz.” The First 75 Years of the Academy, p. 12

The style is hilarious, but what I was smirking at just as much was the familiarity—to anyone who’s played for class—of the abrupt return to musical mundanity with “we’ll have a waltz.” 


2 thought on “Judith Espinosa, the fishermen’s wives and the waltz”
  1. jonathan, i’ve been following your blog about a year and a half (i came upon it looking for riisager sources: you’re the oracle)–you are a really wonderful writer, and i’ve been reading back steadily to your early 2000’s–i want to tell you that this post about judith espinosa is magic for me: i can see it happening, i can hear it happening…i have no idea who she was (i’m a very parochial usa accompanist) but i would have been ready and able when she said “we’ll have a waltz” after the fisher wives setup both as an accompanist and as an audience–you presented a complete picture so lightly–and oh god, about smoking in class (for me late 1970’s): how in the world did we all get away with it at the expense of the silent minority

    1. Thanks so much for the lovely words, so glad you’ve enjoyed reading. I have to say, this is also one of my favourite posts, and favourite anecdotes about the ballet world. I had no idea who she was either until I read that article/book, but I think she was definitely on to something, and scenas like that are all too absent from modern day teaching! Ah yes, the smoking, shocking, isn’t it? Now that I’ve been a non-smoker for over 10 years, I can only imagine how annoying it must have been for all the non-smokers in class.

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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist