Fay danced her way into hearts of many
Obituary: Fay Pearl Harbottle January 8, 1934 – September 15, 2016
It has been said of Fay Harbottle that she was probably born wearing dancing shoes.
Dance was central to her life for over seven decades, six of these teaching aspiring ballerinas, character tap, jazz ballet, ballroom, Latin American and highland dance pupils.
Fay, born in Te Aroha, began dancing when she was three years old and it was to become her life’s passion. Given her brother George’s skills on the bagpipes, it is little wonder that she loved highland dancing.
Such was Fay’s early talent that parents Vera and Robert Young tackled the metal road weekly to Auckland in their Austin-10, for years to ferry their daughter to dancing lessons with the famed Madam Valerie Valeska.
The young Fay was an able and dedicated pupil and, by the time she was 15, was teaching dancing in Te Aroha, as well as working full-time in the town’s shoe shop. Fay was fully qualified by the time she was 18 and, at 19, met Leon Harbottle – also a piper – at a Caledonian Society dance.
As well as committed partners in life and marriage, Fay and Leon were fluid and graceful dance partners, winning the 1957 New Zealand Rhumba title at the Society of Australian Teachers of Dancing Championships.
The pair moved to Matamata where they set up Harbottle’s Dance Studio and son Brent recounts mum vanishing into the studio around 6am each morning to begin teaching – often not finishing until after 9pm.
Fay also taught in many town and district halls, taking sons Mark and Brent out of school at 2pm on Mondays to travel to Te Aroha and her pupils there.
‘‘We didn’t get out of school work, though – we had to sing our times tables there and back,’’ said Brent.
‘‘In the school holidays we were lugged around the countryside to competitions, but it was all good.’’
Fay and Leon were both skilled and perceptive judges at the Australasian Ballroom Dance Championships and this enjoyable task took them to Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
Thousands of dance pupils, including son Mark and Fay’s own two granddaughters, passed through her studio over the years. Many of these began as threeyear-olds, while her oldest student was a gentleman in his 80s, who simply wanted to learn to dance.
Many of Fay’s students went on to excel not only at exam level, but also in the competition arena. Some also went on to teach.
The studio was a popular gath- ering place for couples and groups of friends wanting to learn or brush up on their social dancing skills, with Fay and Leon teaching these together.
Safe to say, however, that none ever came close to matching the Harbottles’ effortless elegance on the dance floor.
Leon died in 1995 and, much as she mourned her life and dance partner, Fay’s passion for teaching did not diminish. Indeed, her contribution to the art earned her life membership of the Royal Academy of Dance.
Fay is survived by her two sons and four grandchildren.
Fay Harbottle, working with some of the many young students she taught to dance.