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True Height: A tribute to the late Keith Bain, OAM

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Keith Bain, one of Australia’s leading dance teachers, and the founder of NIDA’s movement studies course passed away earlier this month at the age of 85.

A funeral was held in Sydney on Tuesday 10 July, attended by former colleagues, students and friends of the man who inspired Baz Luhrmann’s iconic film Strictly Ballroom.

Australian performer Elise McCann was a student of Bain’s while studying at NIDA, and she has penned this moving tribute.

KEITH BAIN OAM (1926-2012)

Keith Bain

Keith Bain – Photograph of memorial booklet

There are not enough words to accurately reflect the wonder that is Keith Bain.

I say ‘is’ because despite his passing, he is present every day in the lives of his students, in their work and in the students of his students.

You may not know of Keith personally however his influence, generosity and vision are embedded in generations of dancers, actors and the very history and culture of Australian society. Keith began his career as a Ballroom dancer and competed with great success for a number of years. He taught for Arthur Murrays and danced with partner Joyce Lofts winning Latin American championships in 1960, 1961 and 1962.  He became frustrated by the constraints of dance as a sport and so rebelled, choreographing his own steps and ideas which was quite a radical move at the time.

Years later, he taught at NIDA (1965-2005) and whilst teaching Baz Luhrmann he shared his story which subsequently inspired the award winning play-turned-movie Strictly Ballroom.

In the 1950’s Keith danced with and helped developed the technique of the Bodenwieser Dance Group. A constant student and outstanding teacher, he continued to explore a multitude of dance styles and techniques and in the 1960’s he danced and choreographed for television and later founded the Australasian Teachers Contemporary Dance Association and the Society of Dance Artists and co-founded Ausdance. Throughout the 70s and 80s he represented Australia at arts conferences and competitions all over the world.

In 1965 Keith began teaching at NIDA where he continued to teach for 40 years. Over these years he inspired and guided many of Australia’s most notable artists including Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Mel Gibson, Judy Davis, John Bell, Richard Roxburgh and Miranda Otto.

Keith Bain - image from Memorial booklet

Keith Bain – Image from memorial booklet

I was blessed to have had Keith as my movement teacher whilst studying at NIDA.  He was witty, funny, warm and ever so eloquent. He would walk into a room with such grace and presence and nobility that you couldn’t help but stand up straight and listen with complete trust and palpable awe to anything and everything he would say. He loved to teach and he loved to empower his students with the tools to teach themselves.

He taught me far more than movement in the strict sense of moving one’s body – he taught me about myself. He had this amazing way of seeing someone, really seeing them. Within 30 seconds of meeting you he had a sense of who you are and where you come from. Without even speaking he could see your joy, insecurities, your understanding of self and life, all by the way you held yourself, you moved, you stood still.

What was so amazing about Keith as a teacher is that he used this knowledge and understanding with such love and warmth to access the soul of each person and help them grow. A number of my friends and I reminisced about Keith and our lessons over the last few weeks. A common thread in everyone’s minds was how observant and insightful he was. I still think about how I over arch my back when I walk and how my left foot turns out more than my right! He made his students aware of how even the tiniest element of movement contributed to the overall impression of the person – how high your head sits, the length of your stride, how your arms move or how you hold your shoulders. He would teach us the power of observation to the most finite degree and then unlock the power of subtly adjusting movements to deepen your portrayal of character.

His gift with teaching was that he taught us all to stand tall to our “True Height” and accept ourselves for who we are and the differences that make us special. He was graceful, kind and generous. He made you want to be a better person as much as a better actor. He was a nurturer. A genuine creative soul who was inspired by dance, movement, knowledge, and who genuinely inspired others.

Keith Bain was a remarkable person whose influence is indefinable. He will be greatly missed but his spirit and love remains within the hearts of all those he came into contact with him and his legacy lives on in the vast community of lives he touched.

Thank you Keith. We love you.

– Elise McCann

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Elise McCann is a guest writer for AussieTheatre.com