by REBECCA MUGRIDGE
She’s a former professional ballerina, Royal Academy of Dance examiner and teacher, ballet school founder, choreographer, entrepreneur and creator of Progressing Ballet Technique, a program taught in 3500 schools globally. And now Marie Walton-Mahon is also an Order of Australia Medal recipient.
“On the 16th of June it was 47 years,” says Marie, reflecting on the beginning of her career as she sits still poised with beautiful, youthful grace at 67.
“I have received the Order of Australia medal for over four decades of service in the art for dance education.”
Marie and her husband Paddy now call the Sunshine Coast home, moving here from Newcastle in 2020 to a beautiful house on the water in Maroochydore.
Marie has taught many successful ballerinas – her own daughter Veronica won the Royal Academy of Dance’s prestigious Genee Gold Medal in London in 1997 under her tutelage. Veronica danced in the Australian Ballet, the South Atlantic Ballet in the US and the Sydney Dance Company, and – along with brother Laurie and father Paddy – are all now integral to Progressing Ballet Technique’s success.
But the most inspiring part of Marie’s story is the determination.
“I came from humble beginnings,” she says. “My mum was one of 11. She had always wanted to dance but they couldn’t afford it. So, when I was three, she took me to the little ballet school up the road. By six I was hooked.”
It was not easy for Marie, even with talent. It is an expensive career path that quickly out-prices many working-class families and those kids have to really dig deep to keep going.
“It was struggle street, so when dad had a serious accident, ballet had to go,” Marie says. “I said to my teacher, ‘Can I clean the studio? Can I teach little ones? Can I do whatever to pay my way?’”
Luckily, her teacher said yes. And that tenacity in Marie saw her working before and after school to pay her own way, but this also introduced her to the joy of teaching.
“I loved seeing how I could instil technique and positivity, so it was always in my mind that I wanted to open a school one day,” she says.
“Some people can be very precious and have everything handed to them, and they don’t understand the value. You do go that extra mile, you must, and you appreciate it because you struggled to get there.
“Everything I won in any competition I banked because I knew my folks couldn’t help.”
In 1970 Marie was awarded the highest award of the Royal Academy of Dance and in 1971 she won a scholarship to study with Rosella Hightower in Cannes, France.
“I saved up my airfare and travelled to France, first time on a plane, and all on my own. I think I cried all the way from Sydney to Darwin. My family certainly couldn’t pick up the phone and ring – it was too expensive. But they did send Vegemite – I couldn’t survive without my Vegemite,” she laughs.
Marie was spontaneously spotted in a dance class and awarded a professional contract with Ballet National de Marseille, living her dream of a professional career.
But in 1973 her world crashed. Her father suffered a heart attack and she came home.
Marie turned to teaching and launched her own ballet school with just six students. That grew into the Marie Walton-Mahon Dance Academy, where she trained dancers to enjoy careers all over the world.
By 1984 Marie’s husband joined her as CEO of the company and in 2003 she was appointed an examiner and tutor for the Royal Academy of Dance. In 2007 she founded the National College of Dance in Newcastle, a school she is still immensely proud of. She spent years creating a school where students trained in ballet but also could study a fully accredited diploma in dance, because education is extremely important to Marie. It attracted students from all over Australia and New Zealand.
Progressing Ballet Technique – which now has 4000 certified teachers worldwide, 400 tutorials online, 171,000 Facebook followers and 99,700 Instagram followers – came about through Marie’s dedication to safe, careful training and learning about the body.
“Dancers are living, breathing sculptures,” she says. “They need to understand their body and what makes it work. It’s not just about winning a trophy, it’s longevity. Without safety they are not going to have a long career anyway.
“I am mentoring someone in the UK at the moment who because of over-push was put in a wheelchair at 14.
“I started learning about the body and working out what I could do to help every child reach their potential, their personal best. I realised that just ballet class alone is not enough to tweak all muscles that protect the bones, it’s the deep muscles that are the main protectors.
“I created it (PBT) originally for ballet and it has grown in ways I could never have imagined. It’s dubbed in all these languages. I have been mentoring a ballet teacher that teaches it to people with disabilities.”
In a recent teacher training class there were ballet teachers, a physiotherapist, two podiatrists, an exercise physiologist, an ice-skating teacher and even a synchronised swimming team, who are all being taught the program.
“It’s an interesting life,” Marie says. “I still get to work hands-on with a couple of (Sunshine Coast) schools, I get to film, and I have this big diversity working with my official tutors all over the world.”
Teaching, Marie says, is a gift.
“It wasn’t until that first little student – and she is a teacher now – went from primary to solo seal, and then I took her to the Genee and saw her on stage,” she says. “You see those that turn professional and you feel, ‘a piece of me is there’. In actual fact that is more rewarding than stepping out on stage. It has been a beautiful journey; I wouldn’t change anything at all.”
For more on Marie’s program visit pbt.dance. You can follow her on social media at facebook.com/progressingballettechnique and instagram.com/progressingballettechnique.