Back in the days when Merle Park was a CBE — she became Dame Merle in 1986 — she left this interview with a British women's magazine. It makes interesting, and amusing, reading almost 40 years later.
Dame Merle Park will celebrate her 80th birthday on 8 October this year.
At times my energy has been at a very low ebb
I always have more energy in a hot climate than in a cool one, but that's probably because I was born in Rhodesia. Out there, as a child, I led a very energetic outdoor life, always climbing trees and riding my bike — good physical training probably for a dancer's life. But at times my energy has been at a very low ebb.
After I had my baby eight years ago, I felt so well and so happy that I went back to work far too soon. I was actually back on stage within five weeks of the birth and a year later it told on me. I became very anaemic, and finding any energy at all for anything, let alone dancing, was a great effort. So I took three months off, completely.
Since then I've realised that people who work as hard as dancers do physically, desperately need a complete resting holiday once a year — a whole month without any dancing at all.
“You should be dead!”
My most physically demanding role is La fille mal Gardée, when I dance almost non-stop for two hours. A doctor came round after one performance to measure pulse rates and after taking mine he shook his head in astonishment and said, “You should be dead!” After a performance when you should be dropping, you find you aren't because the elation is feeding you with energy. It can take hours to unwind to the point where sleep is possible.
I have six spoonfuls of sugar in my tea
I relax by listening to those boring phone-in radio programmes. I think I must get most of my energy from sugar… I have six spoonfuls in my tea and coffee. I try to follow a high-protein diet and be firm with myself.
Nerves can affect dancers in two ways. Some people get very keyed up and find more energy that way. I lose energy if I'm tense. So I have tried hard to eliminate worry, because it will only injure my performance. I must never say to myself, “Gosh I'll never make it,” but simply keep calm and wait until the time comes, and it's never as bad as you expect.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.