Farewell to a lifetime of dancing

Zenda Smith is retiring and leaving the dancing world behind her after 58 years as a dance teacher.

For 81 years, dancing has been her life, but the time has come for Zenda Smith to hang up her dancing shoes for good.

From professional ballet dancer, to teacher to dance wear shop owner, Smith is finally retiring and moving out of the Howick residence that she has called home for the past four decades.

Thousands of children have walked through the doors of Smith’s dance school over the years learning ballet, highland dancing and modern jazz.

“Fifty eight years – it’s a lifetime, isn’t it?” she says of her career as a dance teacher.

It’s the moments where she can see her students growing in confidence, she says, that she will miss the most.

“I love that dancing can bring out the best in people. Particularly for children who are really shy, it brings them out of their shell. It gives them confidence, discipline and they make lifelong friends,” she says.

“One little girl I probably didn’t speak to her for about five months because she was so shy. She went out one day from the class and I beckoned her back and I said “I haven’t heard you talk, have you got a tongue?” and she poked it out at me and she started chatting away.”

The 86-year-old says she had never planned to become a teacher, but a stroke of bad luck and an injured ankle led her to the profession.

Smith first started dancing as a 5-years-old in Wellington as a way to help develop her lungs and prevent asthma attacks.

She began Highland dancing at 8 and by the age of 12, she and her sister regularly performed for the American troops outside Auckland Hospital.

“I remember we had to put the soldiers back in the wards and many of them were in wheelchairs, so we helped them into bed, turned round and they would already be out of bed and playing skittles out the passageway with beer bottles,” she laughs.

“It’s funny little things you remember.”

Smith experienced many successes competing in dancing competition around New Zealand and went on to become an original member of the Auckland Ballet Theatre Company which later became the New Zealand Ballet Company.

She spent a few years in Australia dancing for the Brovanski Ballet Company, before injury struck and she was forced to re-evaluate her career path.

“After four months, the dancing world doesn’t want to know you if your injury hasn’t healed,” she says.

Smith returned to New Zealand, pointe shoes in tow, and took over the teaching at a dance school as a favour to her former ballet teacher.

It was a move that led her to a profession she holds dear.

“I discovered that I loved dance teaching. Soon after I started my own school, and here we are.

“It really was a happy accident,” she smiles.