Betty Pounder AM 1921-1990

Betty Pounder

Betty Pounder

Betty Mildred Pounder – and what a wonderful name for a choreographer! – was born in Melbourne on 8 August 1921.

She joined J.C. Williamson’s, making her debut under the direction of ballet mistress Edna Edgley in the 1941 revue Funny Side Up.

 

‘Sparkle, darlings!’

‘I believe no other person in the world worked on as many shows as Pounder,’ says Australian theatre icon Sue Nattrass. ‘Her reproductions of Broadway shows were accepted by all those famous choreographers because they knew she did it properly – they trusted her. In the mid 1970s I often followed in her footsteps after she had been to see the shows in New York, and I found what high regard she was held in over there. All the dancers I met would ask after her and say, “Sparkle, darlings” – she said it to them too, as she did to us. And because they liked her so much they helped her when she was learning a show, when perhaps the production people wouldn’t. She was an extraordinary woman. She never aged in the head; she related to young people as well as she did to her own generation, and that is unusual.’

Betty Mildred Pounder – and what a wonderful name for a choreographer! – was born in Melbourne on 8 August 1921.

She was four when she started dance lessons with May Denerio in North Fitzroy, mainly to help cure her shyness. By the time she was 12 she was studying classical ballet with Eunice Weston. At 16 she won a scholarship to study with Edouard Espinosa in London. When war broke out she joined ENSA, the forces entertainment organisation, but when her parents discovered she was entertaining troops on the battlefields of France they insisted she return home.

She joined J.C. Williamson’s, making her debut under the direction of ballet mistress Edna Edgley in the 1941 revue Funny Side Up. Life as a JCW ballet girl wasn’t easy. ‘Everybody was strict,’ Pounder recalled, ‘but always terribly polite. We were not allowed out without stockings and gloves, keeping up the standard. It was an honour to work for JCW’s then.’

Pounder danced in a seemingly endless series of Gladys Moncrieff revivals and before long she was made assistant to Edna Edgley’s successor, Hazel Meldrum. She was sent to New Zealand where for about 18 months she trained locally-recruited dancers and chorus singers. She returned to become assistant ballet mistress and dancer in Annie Get Your Gun. Then came operas, Gilbert and Sullivan, pantomimes and countless more musicals. Kiss Me, Kate was her last show as a dancer; after that she was promoted to ballet mistress, starting with Call Me Madam in 1953, and then dance director.

In 1957 Williamson’s sent Pounder on the first of her many trips to New York. Her brief was to study the choreography of The Pajama Game, which she documented using her self-devised notation and later reproduced in Australia for – at her suggestion – an all-Australian cast.

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Biographical references

Brian Courtis: ‘The cleverly choreographed world of Betty Pounder’, in Man of La Mancha program, 1988
Patricia Laughlin: ‘Pounder: life is a performance’. in Dance Australia, August-September, 1987

Betty Pounder papers and other research material in the Performing Arts Collection, the Arts Centre, Melbourne