The Dallas Morning News
THE BALLET DANCER
Suzelle Poole 74, Dallas
Suzelle Poole may be a small, quiet woman, but she has a robust résumé and grand love of the arts. The ballet dancer who was born in England has practiced her craft all over Europe, Canada and South Africa. She currently teaches all ages and levels of ballet at the Royale Ballet Dance Academy in North Dallas, where she’s been a guest teacher for 11 years. She also writes poetry for children and does voice-over work.
Poole was raised in a creative, encouraging environment, she says. Her English father was an architect in London and her mother, who was part French, taught in a Montessori school. “They were both very talented and took us to hear music and to art galleries,” she says. “They brought us up with music and art.”
She learned from them to love teaching as much as she learned to love the arts. Poole also taught Montessori for many years and adores working with children.
“I love children,” she says. “I enjoy children and I respect them. And I love ballet. I just want them to enjoy what I enjoy.”
Poole has had many acclaimed mentors over the years. She first studied under Celia Franca and Betty Oliphant at the National Ballet of Canada. There, Poole performed in Mother Goose with actor Eric Christmas in 1951 at age 10.
When her family moved to Houston, Poole studied ballet under Tatiana Semenova, the founding director of the Houston Ballet Academy. “I became her assistant, and she taught me how to teach 6- to 11-year-olds,” she says.
“I’m not so much a great talent,” she adds. “I just had the most wonderful teachers.”
Poole says she learned from her mentors about artistic expression and stage presence, but the basic fundamentals are most important.
“Show the right way, the correct way, first,” she says. “Don’t show what not to do. One of my teachers always said: ‘Slower you go, faster you arrive.’ ”
Poole met her husband, Jonathan Poole, an opera singer, in England. They later lived in Germany and Cape Town, South Africa, before moving to Dallas. Her husband, a tenor, bolstered her background of music even more. He sang in the original Fiddler on the Roof film and had a Royal Command Performance for the queen in the 1960s.
“When I perform in nursing homes, I sometimes dance to his voice,” Poole says of her husband, who died in 2003. “People connect with that, because some are in the same position I’m in.”
As part of what she calls the Poole Ballet, Poole choreographs and dances for various senior facilities as well as other community groups. She often performs with current and former students and focuses mostly on classical music such as Mozart and Beethoven. She also continues to perform and tour professionally with her dance partner, Daniel de Córdoba of Bailes Españoles.
She also enjoys teaching adults who want to try ballet for the first time.
“I like to help people. I was taught that by the people around me. And I believe ballet helps people,” she says. “I have a joy for dancing. It’s definitely keeping me healthy at my age. It encourages me to move my body. Many people my age, they just sit. Dancing is good exercise for the body and the mind.”
She’s also currently preparing some students for the Moscow Ballet’s acclaimed Great Russian
Nutcracker, which takes place at Southern Methodist University in late November. Poole is certified in the Cecchetti Method of ballet, founded by an Italian teacher who mentored Mathilde Kschessinska, who then mentored Semenova. “She was my teacher’s teacher,” Poole says. But Poole doesn’t strictly adhere to methods. “It’s the standard of ballet that counts. It’s a mix.”
With her younger students, Poole focuses on posture, how to stand and how to count to the music. Then she begins teaching technique at age 6.
“It’s important to have respect for the child and an understanding that they have other things going on in their lives,” she says. “Nowadays there’s not enough respect. Teachers can help encourage that. If you teach manners and respect, it comes out in every way, for the profession and for the world.”