Margaret Dorothy Louise Daniels, who was to become one of New Zealand’s leading teachers of ballet, was born in Wellington on 1 August 1916, the third of four children of Winifred Louise Smart and her husband, Frederick William Daniels, a civil servant. Dorothy was educated at Kelburn Normal School and Wellington Girls’ College. Dancing was her passion, and from the age of six she learnt what was known as ‘fancy dancing’ from Wellington teachers Kathleen O’Brien and Joseph Knowsley. Later she attended a course at the Frances Scully School of Dancing in Sydney.
During the following generation ‘fancy dancing’ was to become differentiated into ballet, character, jazz and operatic. From her early years Dorothy’s ambition was to become a dancing teacher, and at the remarkably young age of 13 she taught her first pupil. She conducted classes in Hataitai (in the building later known as The Realm). At the age of 15 she opened her first studio at King’s Chambers, on the corner of Willeston and Willis Streets (later the site of the Bank of New Zealand). On 21 December 1938, at Wellington, she married Desmond Hulbert Bezzant, an insurance superintendent. They were to have one child.
Daniels gained the Advanced Teacher’s Certificate of the Royal Academy of Dancing (United Kingdom) and was appointed an examiner for that society. She directed her own dancing school, the Dorothy Daniels Academy of Dancing, for about 40 years in Wellington. Her studio, in premises on the second floor at 125 Cuba Street, with its distinctive circular-framed window onto the street, was to be one of the focal points of ballet life in Wellington. It was not only the headquarters of her flourishing school but also the venue for some Royal Academy of Dancing ballet examinations, and many intensive tuition courses and rehearsals by other theatre or dance groups were held there over the years.
In the 1950s suburban branches of the Dorothy Daniels school were established and classes were taught in Seatoun, Eastbourne, Ngaio and at the Convent of the Sacred Heart (later Erskine College) in Island Bay. In 1953 Daniels travelled to the United Kingdom and Europe to observe ballet performances and classes in several famous institutions. She was thrilled to witness the sensational début performance of Rowena Jackson in Swan Lake at Covent Garden, and also to meet with her own former students.
In 1965 she took up a Teacher’s Award from the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of New Zealand to observe ballet teaching methods in the United Kingdom and Europe, including Russia, where she studied the Bolshoi Ballet. Delighted by this opportunity to travel, she enthusiastically related her experiences to the dance community when she returned.
Daniels directed her own academy until 1970, when her work partner, Valerie Bayley, took over the school, by this time known as the Daniels–Bayley Academy of Dancing. Associates in the teaching work prior to that time were some of Daniels’s most promising pupils: Anne Rowse, Leigh Brewer, Joy Smith and Joye Lowe. Daniels had been appointed acting director of the National School of Ballet in mid 1968, and became its permanent director from 1969 until her retirement in December 1972. It was a considerable achievement that all of the graduating students in that year were offered contracts as dancers with the New Zealand Ballet Company.
Earlier, Dorothy Daniels had been secretary and president of the Wellington Ballet Society, previously the Wellington branch of the Australasian Society of Operatic Dancing. In retirement she was a board member of the National School of Ballet and of the New Zealand Ballet Company. She was made an MBE for her services to ballet in New Zealand in 1976. She died on 27 June 1981 at Wellington, survived by her husband and son.
In 1982 the Dorothy Daniels Dance Foundation was established to foster dance in New Zealand, particularly by supporting study projects undertaken by dance teachers. A woman of integrity and intelligence, Daniels was a caring teacher who inspired great loyalty in her pupils. Many of them achieved successful careers in dance, either as performers or teachers. They include Sara Neil, dancer with the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet in London and the first director of New Zealand’s National School of Ballet; Anne Rowse, dancer with London’s Festival Ballet (United Kingdom) and director of the National School of Ballet (later New Zealand School of Dance) from 1978 to 1993; and Peter Boyes, ballet master and choreographer with the Royal New Zealand Ballet.