Councillor Gail Casey – who represents Clydebank Waterfront – is a former professional dancer. In February her old teacher, who inspired and trained young Clydebank dancers for most of the late 20th century, passed away. Today, the councillor pays tribute to the memory of Betty Stewart.
Betty set up her dancing school in Agammemnon Street, Clydebank in the early 1950s before relocating to Todds Dance Hall in Elgin Street and eventually moving onto a studio in Belmont Street. A trained teacher from Lillian McNeil’s school in Glasgow and an exceptional dancer herself, Betty was an amazing woman who put on a mask of discipline but had a heart of gold.
Many of her dancers – who came mainly from Clydebank – were not from wealthy homes and Betty never turned anyone away for financial reasons. She always tried to promote talent wherever she found it and was so loved by her dancers for it.
Betty took many of her dancers into the amateur shows she choreographed and produced for groups such as the Pantheon Club and the Minerva Club, giving many the chance to experience the bright lights of the stage - running productions such as The King and I, South Pacific, My Fair Lady and Hello Dolly to name but a few.
Elly Moir Dysinger - another student of Betty’s, a former professional dancer and a teacher and choreographer – told me: “Miss Stewart made me the best dancer I could be and now the best teacher that I could be. I will never forget her ability to make us work harder with comments like ‘I have more energy in my wee pinkie that you girls put together’.”
Betty encouraged all of us to participate in the whole show, not just the dance, and always had great expectations of her dancers. She tolerated no nonsense in learning to dance, stage craft, singing and acting.
One of her favourite expressions was “once a dancer always a dancer” and we all remember that to this day. She taught us discipline and that in order to succeed in any form of show business you had to be a dancer, singer and actor – with ambition and drive to succeed. Before a dance exam one of her famous lines was “keep the heid”, which was not part of her day to day vernacular – just a wee comment to help you relax.
Many dancers passed through her studios over the years, some who went on to become professional dancers in the world of summer season in theatres, such as the Gaiety Theatre in Ayr, Her Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen and so many more. The Glasgow Pavilion Variety Shows and pantomimes in King’s Theatres all over Scotland were the bread and butter for many of her dancers – who shared her love of the excitement of the ‘five minute call’ on opening night’ and the sadness of the ‘last night’.
Television also played a part in the employment stakes for Betty’s dancers with shows such as the White Heather Club and Thingimijig. Her dancers worked abroad on ocean liners and travelled the globe in the fascinating world of circus and in the Lido De Paris, with the famous Bluebell Girls.
London’s West End was another place for her dancers to shine in the many musicals staged there; an opportunity given by her teaching. Some went on to choreograph and some to teach, some to appear in shows such as the Siegfried & Roy’s White Tiger show inLas Vegas.
Marie Smith, yet another former student who became a professional dancer and a teacher/choreographer, said: “Miss Stewart was my dance inspiration throughout my life, an amazing character, a wonderful teacher and a great lady.”
I remember Miss Stewart often said “I can spot my students a mile away by the way they walk”. That, she explained, meant “head up, shoulders down, tummies in, bottoms under, stand tall and look intelligent”: A tall order indeed.
Having hailed Betty Stewart as a disciplinarian, it has to be said that she also had a wicked sense of humour, a joyous sense of the absurd and the ability to bring laughter to most situations.
We love her and miss her, remember her and thank her for all she gave to us. Rest In Peace Miss Stewart.