Val attributes her longevity as a performing artist to having a sustained and undiminished passion for dance. That – and having around her “the most amazing people”, who along with the support and love of her family, keep her true to herself.
She also takes great pleasure in seeing pupils, proteges and cast members of innumerable community theatre shows and classes master a step, a movement, a routine or a whole scene they’ve been working on.
Val says there’s huge satisfaction in seeing someone achieve and then excel at something they’ve been taught.
As a dancer, Val made a relatively late start not having her first lesson until she was 12, learning under respected local dance teachers Jean Fraser and Gwen Gibbs during the late 50s and early 60s.
Her first solo role came in the 1964 Palmerston North Operatic Society (now Act-3 Productions) production of Showboat.
Seen as a talented model for performing arts practice, Val was soon in demand as a choreographer by local and regional musical theatre societies.
That demand has never gone away.
Her latest project is co-directing and choreographing Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance for Manawatū Theatre Society, which opens on 12 November at the Globe.
A trained and qualified ballet and dance teacher and adjudicator who has worked in professional cabaret, and who still takes ballet and related classes at the Turitea School Hall, Val applies professional disciplines, qualifications, standards and attention to detail to her selfless and prolific community arts practice.
During the 1980s and 90s through the Palmerston North Community Arts Council at Square Edge, she tutored creative PEP and ACCESS programmes for challenged youth and people with disabilities, helping equip them with life skills and resilience, while encouraging them through the arts to make positive life choices.
Work with Special Needs classes at Awatapu College led Val to devise creative movement projects and interactive workshops for those who don’t often have access to these kinds of expressive and artistic activities.
Since 1987 Val has taught Over 50s Dance and its offshoot dance and musical comedy performance troupes – the Spring Chickens, the Plucky Chicks and Bush Babes. She took over management of the group in 1997.
The classes provide mental as well as physical exercise that boost wellbeing and encourage social interaction, while providing emotional support, friendship, camaraderie and fun.
Val takes two Over 50s classes a week, arranging performances and workshops, and choreographing routines to entertain at Senior Citizen’s organisations and disabilities groups, rest homes and friendship clubs throughout the region.
In 2019, the group performed well over 20 shows of up to an hour in duration.
The next Spring Chickens show is in Raetihi this Friday, 30 October.
Val is also a creative contributor to the Crows Feet Dance Collective, and Fiesta Flamenca.
Flamenco has always been a favourite and in 1992 Val was acclaimed by Spanish practitioners when she danced flamenco on the New Zealand stand at the Seville Expo in Spain.
In her 56 years of community contributions to local musical theatre shows and performances, Val’s versatility has seen her onstage and off as actor, dancer, choreographer, designer, director, writer, stage manager, dance instructor, producer, facilitator and project manager.
From these innumerable productions, Val says she retains particular fondness for 1979’s Jesus Christ Superstar and the 1981 production of Hair, both performed in the old Opera House.
Over the decades, Val has maintained the happy knack of finding appreciation, respect and admiration for her patient, relaxed, encouraging and inclusive approach to her performance coaching and creative flair from people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.
Not even a heart attack and triple bypass operation in 2017 could keep her off the dance floor and out of the studio for long. While some might have regarded this as a time to hang up the pumps and leotard, Val decided otherwise, and eased herself back into her teaching regime.