Rhythmics in 1939! (Memories of Mary Knowles)

It was with surprise but excitement that I recently learned that my mother-in-law, Mary Knowles (née Ashworth), took part in rhythmics lessons when she was a child. Mary is now a sprightly and keen-minded 93 year old. She lived most of her life in Bolton, Lancashire but now lives on the island of Islay in the Southern Hebrides of Scotland.

She attended Bolton School as a Scholarship girl and the school continues to be a well-known and highly successful Independent school in Lancashire in the north of England. Mary’s memories are surprisingly detailed and she remembers her first Dalcroze Eurhythmics lessons took place in the autumn of 1939 when she was 11 years old. Her teacher came to teach at the school once a week on a Tuesday. The lessons lasted 40 minutes and took place in the school hall. She described the tunics as ‘sage’-green and made of a very soft material which didn’t crease! She also remembers that they were very expensive! The tunics were sleeveless with round necks and with a tie round the waist. Mary explained that it was very annoying when the tie came undone!

I was fascinated to find out what Mary could remember about lesson content. She told me that she remembered skipping around the room in a big circle then having to make movements with the arms as she skipped. She was very proud that the teacher frequently asked her to demonstrate to others because Mary Ashworth was good at remembering the order of movement sequences. She gave one example of how she had to skip with one hand on a hip and the other on her head.

When I prompted her for any further memories she explained how the class would be encouraged to create their own movement based on themes, for example, getting vegetables out of the ground. Her lessons coincided with the first year of the Second World War and she told me that the themes often reflected this. Mary also described how they would sit silently in a circle with heads bowed when the sirens went off.

Interestingly she remembered hearing her teacher explaining how Dalcroze Eurhythmics was good for improving listening and concentration.

Mary’s one frustration is that she can’t now remember the name of her teacher, except that it began with an ‘M’ and that she drove from Manchester each week. However, she also remembers being thrilled at being the one chosen to show how it was done. She was the star of Dalcroze Eurhythmics in Bolton!

Photo – Frédéric Boissonnas Jaques-Dalcroze’s Dalcroze Eurhythmics School

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