With the academic year having come to a close, it felt appropriate to put forward an object that allows us to reflect back on education of the past as we take a break to enjoy the summer holiday. It is a radiogram record manufactured by E.M.I Studios Ltd in London for The Royal Academy of Dancing, now simply known as the Royal Academy of Dance (and sometimes even just the RAD). The record was first published in 1958, but this particular copy is estimated to have either been from the very late 1950s or the early 1960s. As a dancer myself, I found this object especially interesting as it allows an insight into a past that is so relevant to me.
This record and five others were once owned by Miss Florence Davis, who was the proprietor of the Arundel School of Dance from 1948 to 1998. Although not currently on display in the museum, it provides an interesting insight into what obscure items in the museum has accumulated over the years.
Although it is slightly damaged and so unable to be listened to, we know that the music was composed by Thomas B. Pitfield, who was considered a revitalising influence on English music after the deaths of other famous composers such as Edward Elgar and Gustav Holst. He was commissioned around 1947 to write a hundred short pieces for the Royal Academy’s dance examinations, and this exercise is thought to have significantly widened his audience.
On this record Pitfield’s music was performed on the piano by a Miss M. Quible, alongside instruction from Marjory Middleton (often spelt Majorie), a famous ballet teacher from the Scottish Ballet School.
The record is noted as being for Primary Ballet, and as it is considered normal for children start to learn at a young age it means that those who would have listened to this may have only been five or six years old. This music will have been played during class for the dancers to practice their exercises to and later, in their examination, where they will have been tested on their ability to perform these set exercises in front of an examiner. However, it is uncertain whether this record was for the sole purpose of being played in classes and exams or whether, much like today, this was a copy for the dancers to take home to practice.
In terms of the actual dances, according to record label, both sides of the record contain music for simple exercises such as “knee bending”, “springs from foot to foot”, “step and hop with foot in front” and finally, music for the curtsey. Exercises such as these are still used today to teach younger dancers the basic techniques to prepare for dances in higher grades where knowledge of these moves is essential. From a dancer’s perspective, it is exciting to know that my predecessors, who went on to become professional dancers, started with very similar exercises to myself!
Emily Briffett (Intern at Littlehampton Museum, July 2018)