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On 18 June this year the remarkable dancer, teacher and choreographer Shona Dunlop MacTavish died in her hometown of Dunedin in New Zealand. She was 99.

Shona had an extraordinary life, as uplifting and beautiful as it was tragic.

Shona in Cane and Abel by Gertrud Bodenwieser (1940)

In 1988, I was a 19 year old Physical Education student in Dunedin wanting to become a dancer. Shona was about 68 at the time. I’d heard about her Saturday morning classes (who hadn’t?) and I remember the feeling of trepidation when I joined the class for the first time. We improvised a lot, and did rather punishing jumps from deep squats like Russian Cossacks. It was hard on our knees and spines — so much extension in the back — and she was unrelenting in her desire to challenge our bodies and minds. Years later I vaguely remember a hilarious improvisation where I ended up either as Lady Godiva or the horse.

Those classes — and the few years I spent with Shona and the Dunedin Dance Theatre — were far more than training my body in the expressive movements of the Ausdruckstanz that Shona had learned from Gertrud Bodenwieser. They were about how we live our lives as human beings, how we take care, how we inspire and are inspired. Shona’s extraordinary joy for life and for being with others was profoundly moving for me. She seemed to be able to tap into our heartbeats with her own breath, to spark the dancing of our lives with action and will.

This world of ours doesn’t feel the same without Shona’s voice and breath: inspiring, nourishing and challenging.

Rest easily dear Shona; I’ll be dancing with you until my days are done.

Image: Shona in Cane and Abel by Gertrud Bodenwieser (1940)

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