Page 1: Biography
Ballet teacher and examiner, choreographer
This biography, written by C. Joy Axford, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
Jean Ballantyne was born on 10 July 1906 at Hastings, Hawke’s Bay, the second of five children of Edith Emily Hartshorn, a schoolteacher, and her husband, Herbert Gregory Ballantyne, who was of Scottish parentage. At the time of Jean’s birth, her father owned the general store at Puketapu, a sheepfarming community outside Hastings. He and his wife were active in every organisation promoting the advancement of the district.
Jean’s career began at four when her mother would drive her and her sister Bessie to Hastings in a gig for dancing lessons. Family photo albums show that the Ballantyne children were encouraged at home to dress up and perform in plays and concerts. At 12 Jean was enrolled as a boarder at Napier Girls’ High School, where she won prizes for music and dancing. On leaving, Jean helped her sister and a friend with their ballet school, which she continued on her own when the others married.
Jean was eager to gain professional qualifications outside New Zealand and began by spending her Christmas holidays in Sydney studying with Lorraine Norton. In London in 1936 she passed the examinations to qualify for membership of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing. Back home, she continued her training in classical ballet with Napier teacher Constance Macdonald and eventually obtained the Advanced Teacher’s Certificate from the Royal Academy of Dancing (which had recently commenced examining in New Zealand). As her studio expanded, Jean Ballantyne taught classes throughout Hawke’s Bay at outlying stations and at private schools. She was well known for her children’s recitals, for which she designed and choreographed imaginative and spectacular adaptations of children’s stories. They were major events, playing to capacity audiences in the Hastings Municipal Theatre.
On 28 January 1950 in Hastings, Jean Ballantyne married Cedric Joseph Wright. He had served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for courage and skill displayed as commander of a torpedo boat in the Scheldt estuary, in December 1944. After the war he returned to his father’s menswear firm in Hastings and was very soon involved with organising amateur theatrical productions. He was president of both the Hastings Group Theatre and the Hastings Musical Comedy Company.
Jean Ballantyne continued to use her unmarried name professionally. The highlight of her career came in 1953 when she was invited to examine for the Royal Academy of Dancing. For the next 20 years she travelled widely throughout New Zealand and in England, Fiji, Malaya, Hong Kong and Singapore, examining thousands of students annually and conducting courses for teachers. In 1952, as queen of commerce, she participated in a carnival to raise £30,000 for the Hastings war memorial. Her artistic ability was expressed not only in dance and music: she was a keen gardener, an amateur painter and even restored a 100-year-old tablecloth of Brussels lace. She was of medium build, with auburn hair and fair complexion, and always looked immaculate.
Cedric’s love of the theatre became his livelihood when he was appointed custodian of the Hastings Municipal Theatre in 1964. For the next 26 years, until he retired at 81, Cedric, popularly known as ‘Mr Theatre’, attended to the administration, stage management, lighting and general maintenance of the theatre. A plaque in the circle foyer commemorates his service. A foundation member of Hawke’s Bay Opera, he was also active in the New Zealand China Friendship Society.
The couple had no children of their own, but family was very important to Jean Ballantyne, as was her membership of the Anglican church. She retired in her late 60s due to ill health and became a life member of the Royal Academy of Dancing in 1977. She died at her home in Hastings on 17 November 1980. Cedric Wright died on 3 October 1993. They shared a love of music, theatre and travel while Jean Ballantyne had given a knowledge of dance to three generations.