My best teacher - Emma Forbes

10th July 2009 at 01:00
This broadcaster will always be grateful to her ballet instructor, even though he squashed her dream

My love of ballet really started at Hurst Lodge, a theatrical school in Virginia Water, Surrey. I was there from age four to 16 and they always provided ballet instead of gymnastics. It wasn't an extra-curricular activity; it was part of our daily life.

So when I turned 16, I was determined to go to ballet school. I auditioned for the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance and got down to the last three out of about 30, before this man turned me down.

I didn't make any of the major schools like the Royal Ballet, but I did get into the Urdang Academy in central London.

When they announced a new teacher I recognised him immediately as the man who'd rejected me at Rambert.

He walked up and down the room before stopping at me. He asked if I was the girl from the Rambert elimination process. When I said I was, he told me I'd have to work very, very hard.

I adored him from that moment on. Terence Etheridge was the sort of man you desperately wanted to please. His approval meant everything to me. He was very strict, but he inspired me to do well, keep going and really push myself.

There was one move I really couldn't master: the fouette turns. Mr Etheridge encouraged me to dust myself off and try again and again. Eventually, I managed to do about 10 in a row. He just said: "OK" with a slight wry smile and moved along. Even that little smile meant the world to me.

But Mr Etheridge was a retired dancer himself and he knew how hard a career in ballet can be. It demands total dedication: I ate, slept and breathed ballet at the academy.

I did art, English and French A-levels on the side at a nearby college, but I really wasn't that bothered with academic subjects. Most of the other students didn't do A-levels. The ballet alone was too all- consuming.

Everyone knows you've got to be good to survive. Even for the best, it's a short career and it can be all over with a single injury. He knew that I was no Darcey Bussell and implied that I may be better suited to another career.

I think he thought I was a decent enough performer, but would never really make it big. My dream was to be a prima ballerina or nothing at all. He never said anything, but I think there was an understanding between us. He knew I would never settle for being the third swan from the back.

I wanted to make him proud of me, but he had a good eye and I obviously didn't have that certain something.

I left the academy after three years, but I'd still go back to watch his classes and he was always incredibly nice to me.

The last I heard of him, he had moved to the Hong Kong Ballet company. I would love to see him again and tell him that he was right. He saved me from a lot of heartache.

I don't regret giving up ballet at all. I always knew I wanted to be in the arts and entertainment industry, it just wasn't in that particular field.

I'm now doing something that I love and I'm sure I'm much better suited to it. I've got Mr Etheridge and his honesty to thank for that.

He was an amazing teacher and he was completely right that I would never make the grade as a prima ballerina.

  • Emma Forbes is a TV presenter and radio broadcaster. She currently co- hosts `Going Out With Alan Carr', a new show for BBC Radio 2

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