“Our lives are moulded by those that inspire us, those that challenge us and those who empower us.” After Hilary Kaplan was recently bestowed an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD), London-based Steven McRae took to Instagram and announced how his “incredible ballet teacher back home in Sydney … transformed my life”.
“Hilary not only prepared me for the Royal Academy of Dance Genée International Ballet Competition and the Prix De Lausanne but Hilary, more importantly, taught me how to believe in what I do, trust myself, and be the best that I can be,” shared Steven, a former student of Hilary’s and Archibald McKenzie’s popular school, Alegria Dance Studios.
A dancer has to perform with heart, soul and sincerity and needs to convey emotion and expression through movement.
His glowing endorsement seems to encapsulate Hilary’s overarching vision as an educator. “I try to teach the students life lessons, so they are not only proficient at their craft, but are also confident, happy and generous human beings,” effused Hilary. “Dancing is therapeutic as well as being a discipline … It is wonderful to witness how it impacts each student’s life.”
When Steven was dancing as a soloist with London’s Royal Opera House in 2007, one of the principal male dancers injured himself, rendering him unable to perform the opening night of Romeo and Juliet. Typically, another principal dancer would be appointed to the role, but subverting convention, the prima ballerina asked for Steven to partner her instead. “You cannot imagine his joy and jubilation to see us all at stage door after the show which was a huge success,” recalled Hilary, remembering how she, along with Steven’s family and Archibald, had surprised the talented ballerino in London, after which time Steven was appointed to the role of principal artist.
Dancing is therapeutic as well as being a discipline … It is wonderful to witness how it impacts each student’s life.
Many of Hilary’s former students have been accepted into renowned dance companies including Munich’s Gartnerplatztheatre and the Baltic Opera in Poland – and for those who have transitioned from professional ballet into an alternative field, Hilary says their grounding in dance has nonetheless gifted them “acute focus, determination and strength to succeed in their new profession”.
With a strong founding in classical ballet and Spanish dance, Hilary was the proud recipient of a Solo Seal Award (the highest vocational graded examination of the RAD) and the South African RAD bursary, granting her the opportunity to train at London’s Royal Ballet School.
Then gracing stages in South Africa before opening her own studio, Hilary immigrated to Sydney with her husband, Laurence Etkind and their five daughters in 1996, before becoming a RAD examiner. “I have been privileged to see many outstanding students from all over the world. What excites me is a pure classical technique which underpins an artistic and musical performance,” delighted Hilary. “A dancer has to perform with heart, soul and sincerity and needs to convey emotion and expression through movement. This will elevate the performance to a higher level.”
Bestowing a lifelong passion in her students, Hilary’s love of dance has also been passed down the family line. Her daughters all learnt ballet and Spanish dancing with Hilary, and of her five grandsons and seven granddaughters, Kaplan said the eldest girl, aged 11 and an “incredible sportswoman”, danced for six years, while the other six are “all dancing and loving it”. Whether or not they follow in their grandmother’s footsteps, mused Hilary, is now in the hands of Terpsichore – the Greek muse of dancing and choral song.