VAN ALSTYNE — Suzelle Poole has been a ballerina for the last seven decades. From the time she was a child going to the theater in London to now teaching at four dance studios in North Texas, Poole has made ballet her life.
“I had a very fine family,” Poole said. “My mom was very artistic. She played the piano and also painted. My father was an architect. He also painted. They loved music. They taught my brother and I to always appreciate the arts. They took us to art galleries and museums.”
During World War II, Poole said she saw Myra Hess play the piano, and she watched the Royal Ballet in London.
“The music of ballet is very special,” she said. “I only like classical music. I am quite musical. I recently choreographed a piece for myself to Beethoven’s Violin Concerto No. 2, which is not normally done for ballet. I just love the music, and I do it on point, which is quite rare for someone to do at my age.”
Dancing on point in ballet is to dance while on the tops of the toes. Poole said that learning and discipline were very important when she was growing up.
“We had about 4,000 books in our home when we were growing up,” she said. “I started ballet when we were living in Canada. I had a lovely teacher. I enjoy it so much still because you never get it right. Your chin can always be higher. You never get there. It is the challenge and the discipline.”
Poole does not think of herself as a great ballerina. She said that she had wonderful teachers. One of them, Tatiana Semenova at the Houston Ballet School.
“Madame Semenova did very beautiful ballets,” she said. “She was very musical.”
As a teaching assistant at the Houston Ballet School, Poole even worked with Debbie Allen when the head ballet teacher was not there. That was more than 40 years before Allen began her dance school, Debbie Allen Dance Academy, in California.
Poole once worked with Nigel Lythgow, the creator and executive producer of the television show “So You Think You Can Dance.” Poole has also taught in Toronto and Montreal in Canada; Glasgow, Scotland; Russia; Munster and Stuttgart in Germany; Cape Town, South Africa; and Dallas.
Irina Cowles of Lift, Dance and Fitness in Van Alstyne found Poole on Facebook.
“As soon as I saw her, I just knew she was the real deal,” Cowles said. “In dance, it is about combining a lot of things. It is about the movement and the music. Music is based on numbers. Dancing is also based on numbers. It is very intellectual when you move past the soul of it.”
Dancing can keep the mind sharp, Cowles said.
“There is so much going on during a dance and while choreographing a dance the mind is constantly working,” she said. “From memorizing the movement, paying attention to all the moving parts of the dance, understanding how the music is working with the dancers, it can be a lot.”
Along with dancing, Poole does pantomime, which is voiceless acting that ballerinas often do. She also has acted in plays.
“I have always used my voice on radio and on stage,” Poole said. “I was in a lot of opera. My parents designed sets for operas. At the Houston ballet, I did a lot of performances around Texas. I can dance on point and speak well so I have done a lot of fairy godmother roles.”
Cowles said that finding a person who has spent her lifetime dancing is rare because professionals dance about three to six hours a day. So what Poole does in the ballet world is exceedingly uncommon.
“Well, it’s not entirely impossible because she does it,” Cowles said. “It is not natural to move the way that ballerina’s move. It is not natural to walk with your toes pointed out. It is not natural to move on point. Everything about ballet is not natural to the body and that is why it takes years and years and years of practice to get that muscle memory to do that. That is why ballerinas sometimes walk like penguins when they are not on stage.”
In order to be a good ballerina, Poole said, it is all about the teaching.
“The best thing is to find a good teacher,” she said. “People should not go on point until they are ready with a good posture, good knees, a straight back. It’s not age. It is whether they are ready.”
Poole said she can always judge whether a dance school is good by how soon they put their students on point.
“When people go on point before they are ready, they will not enjoy it,” she said. “They will quit because they are not ready. It is about one step at a time. You want people to be confident about it. Ballet is about discipline, and it is very good for a child. Parents should nurture that.”
Ballet is good for all children, Poole said.
“Ballet is very good for all children,” she said. “Some will be ballerinas and some will not. It is good exercise. Every part of the body is used in ballet. Doing ballet is good for any modern dancer because it teaches the basics. … It teaches the posture.”
Ballet is also good for adults.
“I do performances at nursing homes where I see a lot of people that may not be exercising anymore,” she said. “But, by me showing them that I can still do this at my age, it may be motivation for them. I dance to my husband’s voice. I am sure that there are other widows there and so they can relate to me.”
Poole married her late husband, John Poole when she was in her 20s. He was an opera singer, and they met on the stage.
“We were in the same circles,” she said. “My husband did a royal command performance for the queen.”