Wendy White, A Reader From Melbourne, Australia, Shares Her Formula for a Wonderful Career and Retirement:
This is the story of how one prime woman is navigating her post-career years using her passion for dance, love of the dance community and her will to make other people happy with her talent and eagerness to perform.
Prime Women (PW): Hi, Wendy. Thank you for reading our magazine and for agreeing to this interview. We would like to know about your work life and then how you have structured your post-retirement to such a degree of personal success and happiness. (I have to confess to our readers that I have an inside source about Wendy and her retirement. Her daughter, Rowena, is a friend of mine, and has been part of a series of articles that I wrote last fall called, “The Fun of Doing Business with Friends.”) Let’s begin our questions:
Wendy White 3 years old dancing.
PW: What was the name of your dance studio/business?
Wendy White (WW) The Wendy White School of Dancing
PW: How did you become a dancer, and at what age did you first become interested in dance?
WW: Both of my parents loved music and dance, so it was a natural choice for them to send their only daughter to dance lessons from age 3. Growing up amongst five brothers, I relished in an activity that was so feminine and girly – far from the rough and tumble of a boisterous sport like football.
Music has always moved me, and dance has given me the freedom to express myself. I enjoy both the discipline and the continual creativity it inspires in me. Looking back on it now, I feel incredibly fortunate that my parents gave up so much so that I could do something I loved.
PW: When did you know that this was your real passion and what you wanted to be your life’s work in addition to raising your family?
WW: Graduating in the 1970s in Australia, I did what many women were encouraged to do, secretarial work. Dance had always been my true passion, and by my mid-twenties, I started to dream of turning it into my profession. I was largely encouraged by my husband Neil, who opened my eyes to the possibility.
In 1974, I completed my training Diploma in Theatrical and Tap Dancing to become a teacher, and shortly after began teaching part time while still doing office work.
I was amazed by the number of students that wanted to take my classes, and quickly the school flourished. In a few short years, I was able to resign from my day job and focus on my passion for dance-teaching full time and expanding over multiple studio locations.
Wendy dancing as a teen in 1970.
PW: Did you ever dance yourself professionally before you opened your dance school?
Teaching was my main focus. However, I would occasionally work on the weekends as a professional disco dancer. My husband Neil, who also loves music, ran a private party DJ service part-time in the 70s, and I would provide dancers and choreograph the routines on client request. I was also involved in the choreography for local fashion shows.
PW: Tell us about your career as a business owner and dance instructor. For example, is Australia a nurturing environment for a woman entrepreneur?
WW: The Wendy White School of Dancing is built on a philosophy of teaching life skills through dance and helping students to become the best version of themselves. I have seen the way it can inspire children – confidence soars, personalities shine, and lifetime friendships are built around a passion for dance. This approach has allowed my business to thrive, and students join mainly by word of mouth.
Australia has transformed over the decades. There was a notable shift in the 80s, as I entered my thirties. I noticed how much more respected I was as a young female business owner and teacher.
The biggest challenge when starting out was finding the right balance between running as many classes as possible and giving myself enough time to remain creative with choreography. In the 2000’s I realized the key to this was hiring talented young teachers, to bring new ways of teaching and generate fresh ideas. This decision gave me the time and space to focus more on managing the day-to-day dealings of the business.
Wendy as a Young Teacher in 1975.
PW: What types of dance instruction did you offer? Any for adults or the older woman?
WW: The school holds weekly classes in Theatrical (Broadway), Jazz Ballet and Tap Dancing.
In 1981, the school introduced Jazz, Ballet and Tap examinations with the Australian Academy of Theatrical and Ballet Dancing Inc. (In 2012, I was honored with a Life Membership of the Academy).
I always focused on remaining current, and in 2003, the school began classes in Funk followed by Hip Hop in 2008 and introduced Hip Hop examinations through ATOD Ltd in 2013.
PW: What led to your decision to retire?
WW: It was an incredible responsibility running The Wendy White School of Dancing – taking care of hundreds of students each week, managing numerous examination deadlines, generating new choreography, and designing costumes. After 38 years at the helm of the school, I decided to retire formally in 2012. At the time, I was very busy in my personal life – helping to organize my late parent’s estate, spending more time with my elderly mother-in-law, and devoting a lot of time to downsizing and renovating our new home.
I also felt the school would benefit from coming into line with new business trends and an injection of young blood to keep it current. I decided to take a step back while I was ahead, with the confidence the school was in a great place.
On making that decision, I realized I still wanted to be involved in dance and teach, but knew I would also benefit from reducing my hours. I’m just not as physically able to maintain the high-level of flexibility and endurance required for full-time teaching – and I need to preserve my body so I can continue dancing over the next few decades!
Wendy with young students.
I was lucky enough to have a long time teacher and friend, Bianca King, who taught in the school for 15 years a successor. Both of us were very excited about the prospect of a new beginning, and we started a four-year succession plan. Part of the plan was to have me still teach in the school, and continue to teach 3-6-year-olds as well as conduct private lessons for older students closer to my age.
This year I am in my 42nd year of teaching dance and I also still enjoy stretching and participate in yoga classes once or twice a week to preserve my body and keep me fit for dancing.
“Roslyn Handy Group before a performance of ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ in 2915 with Wendy, front row, left end.
PW: Please tell our readers about your present performance demands. With whom do you dance? How often do you perform? For whom or what kinds of audiences does your group perform? Could you tell us about the choreography, costumes, music?
WW: I currently dance with the Roslyn Hendy Dancers, a group of 22 women aged from their fifties to eighties, with the eldest lady being 89. They are such an inspirational group of women, who share a passion for music, dance, and performance. The group is quite diverse and full of different personalities, each lady brings her own interesting life story.
We do weekly Tap, Jazz, and Theatrical (Broadway) classes -rehearsing and learning new routines. There will sometimes be additional rehearsal leading up to a performance.
We perform mostly in senior communities and sometimes are invited to perform in other dance school concerts. We perform approximately three times per month in busier periods, and are already booked out for 2016! Performing puts you on a natural high, we literally ‘tap our troubles away.’
Four women make the majority of costumes in which the group performs. Roslyn Hendy suggests designs for each of the costumes and the group has an opportunity for creative input. There is a lot of comraderyamong the dancers, and all the work is a collaborative effort.
The great choreography Roslyn innovates is wonderful. It is appropriate for our age group and our bodies’ abilities. Also, it’s creative and keeps our bodies and minds active. We move aerobically, and the wide variety of steps forces us to remember complex routines and to learn new steps week to week. Roslyn makes us work hard, but also gives us well-timed breaks. She is always mindful of our capabilities. We have lots of fun. Her entire approach to dance, entertaining, and taking care of her dancers is a real tribute to her professionalism.
Music for our performances varies from current hits like ‘Uptown Funk’ by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars to old time favorites like ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ by Benny Goodman, but the selections are always something upbeat.
PW: Thank you, Wendy, for sharing your story with us. I’m in complete admiration of your dance group, especially for the 89-year-old member! You are all remarkable. Just look at how gorgeous you all are.
Roslyn Handy Dancers perform ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ with Wendy in the center.
Wendy provides another model for designing the kind of life that suits a woman in her prime perfectly. Julie England and others that primewomen.com have featured have given us others. They exemplify the point of my last article that posed the question: “Are Women Geniuses at Reinventing Themselves?” Yes, we certainly are. If you have an interesting story of redefining yourself in your prime years, we would love to hear it, or if you know of someone else’s, please submit it for consideration for publication in our magazine. Who knows? Your story could be the one that helps a reader find her way to a brand new level of self-actualization and contentment. Inspiring others is part of what we do here at Prime Women.
Health and happiness to you all.
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