WASO violinist Fleur Challen first got into ballet at five years old, and after starting lessons again last year, the recent lock-down certainly wasn’t going to stop her.

Fleur’s interest in dance began when, as she describes it, she became “TOTALLY obsessed” with ballet after listening over and over to a vinyl recording of The Red Shoes. “I begged my parents to allow me to have lessons, and I was very fortunate to have some excellent teachers in Melbourne.” 

Her family moved to Perth when she was seven, where she picked up lessons with highly regarded teacher Joan Haesler, who had been recognised for Services to Ballet in the Queen’s Honours. 

1990 - Graduate College of Dance, Fleur (centre) and Heather (second from right)

Fleur’s current teacher, Heather Callander danced for WA Ballet and many companies in London, “She is SO inspiring and such a fantastic teacher as well as a generous friend. I’ve often said if she taught karate or woodwork, I would be obsessed with those as well!”

Both Fleur and her friend Sue Byrne, who she used to compete in piano eisteddfods with, had a 20-year break from their ballet lessons before returning to the barre with Heather, “I’ve lost many skills, flexibility and memory for the names of certain steps.The wonderful thing about our lessons though, is that there is never any judgement. Of course, there are many corrections but in a very encouraging way, and appropriate for our different levels. Sue is so much more accomplished than me, having been selected for The Australian Ballet School and Bejart Ballet Company. The comradery is every bit as beneficial to us as what we are trying to achieve in class.”

Fleur's weekly Zoom ballet class in her lounge room

The group never miss their Monday class, so having to stop as a result of the pandemic was not an option, “Even when Heather is overseas, we still turn up and feel tremendous afterwards so it was devastating to have to stop but Sue came to the rescue and suggested we continued with Zoom classes. I honestly couldn’t see how this could possibly work, but it has been fantastic! We’ve had to make do with our own houses and whatever we can use as a barre, but we manage a little better each time and have a good laugh.”

Ballet on the small screen does come with its challenges, “I always seem to be heading in the wrong direction or using the wrong arm or leg. I think Heather has the patience of a saint. The great benefit though through the situation we found ourselves in, was that we could do more classes.”

Fleur's precious violin, ballet shoes and photo of her son Sam as a child.

For Fleur WASO’s seasons playing for WA Ballet is the best of both worlds, “Of course, I absolutely love to watch it as well, but as you know, when WASO is playing in the pit, on the whole we can’t see a thing. I think because I know what is going on above the pit (in most of the traditional ballets) my taste in the music is different to my colleagues. I think it would be fair to say that almost without exception, we all love to play the score by Prokofiev for Romeo and Juliet.” 

The discipline and skill needed is not much of a stretch from what is required when playing an instrument at Orchestra level, and is a huge part of what Fleur loves about ballet, “Combined with grace, the beautiful music, my teachers over the years and the feeling of achievement when you finally nail a difficult skill. Surprisingly it is very relaxing and especially good for the mind.”

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