Mavis Sykes

Mavis Sykes (1909-1997), remembered as ‘Miss Sykes’, started teaching ballet in Mosman from the 1920s and went on to choreograph Mosman Musical Society productions and establish her own ballet school in Mosman where she taught till her retirement in 1993.

To celebrate and honour Mavis Sykes, her friends, former students and son Ian Campbell reminisce about the life of this remarkable woman. Their memories, illustrated with over 200 photographs bring to life the Mavis Sykes story.

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Mary Lou Byrne
25 August 2014, 11:06 · #

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Miss Sykes also taught tumbling. Handstands cartwheels bend backs front overs back overs were all part of my Saturday mornings many years ago in Miss Sykes tumbling classes. A 5c reward was given if you could do a front walk over at top speed , I think it was a handstand followed by a bridge and a stand to attention! Apparently she taught gymnastics on Balmoral beach during WW2 too – what a woman !

Lyn Davis
5 September 2014, 17:59 · #

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Miss Sykes also had students at the Cammeray Community hall. We attended lessons there. When we were in about fourth grade we joined the girls who had been learning at Bardwell road and later in Vista Street. I have nothing but find memories of my classmates and friends. Nothing but gentle memories of her. She later examined my eldest daughter at Forestville in her primary grade. She remembered my parents, took the time to catch up and remembered me too. A gracious, remarkable woman .

Jennifer Maguire Rowe
1 February 2015, 21:32 · #

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Mavis Sykes, my mother and her sister were all school friends. So naturally it was the Mavis Sykes Ballet School that both my sister and I attended at Bardwell Road, and yes it did leave a lot to be desired in comfort for the mothers, but as the children were all so happy it wasn’t a problem. I completed Royal Academy exams Primary in 1954 – IV in 1958. I continued even when I started work just for pleasure, and all the time I was a pupil, I can’t recall Miss Sykes ever losing her temper or getting angry. She had such a gentle way with all the girls, so softly spoken and yet managed to build confidence in us all and made us feel very special. They were very happy years which gave us stability and wonderful memories. Each year school teachers would change but Miss Sykes was always there. I remember you being there Ian, just walking around, and keeping out of the way.

Sandy Morse
5 August 2016, 17:12 · #

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My first contact with Mavis Sykes was as a littlie, not sure what age but have a photo of me in a bunny rabbit costume around 3 I think. On returning to Sydney from country living in 1954 aged 10 my grandmother Thellie (Thelma Jones decided I needed to learn ballet and so she paid for me to attend Mavis Sykes Ballet School in Mosman. Nanny had been a long term member of the Mosman Musical Society and was very much into theatrics and a friend of Mavis. Well each Saturday morning I would travel by bus, train and tram/bus from Turramurra to Mosman. I remember struggling to be a delicate ballet dancer and so Mavis decided I would be better at the tumbling and I ended up being the clown in all of the concerts. At 13 my family decided the travel was too much and I had lost interest. Mavis had been very patient with me in my attempts at classical ballet.

Les Peterkin
1 November 2016, 21:59 · #

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Congratulations Ian on that lovely story about your wonderful Mother, Mavis Sykes. I just happened upon it today and it brought back many memories. I knew Mavis very well as I was a member of the Mosman Musical Society from 1961 to 1964. I was one of Mavis’s dancers in a few of the shows during that period. My memory is a bit sketchy but I do remember “Brigadoon” and “Music Man” in particular and doing one of Mavis’s routines in the Library Scene in that show. Mavis was without doubt an excellent choreographer and teacher with infinite knowledge and drive and a lot of patience while imparting her dance routines to us. Her firm but gentle personality always endeared her to everyone who came in contact with her. I was so nice to see Cliff Haynes, Lindy Lamb ,and Shane Carrol again. My partner Willam Gill and I opened a studio of Dance and Pottery at 52A Spit Road in 1970, in “opposition” to Mavis although there was never a problem there. Shane Carrol danced in Willam Gill’s seasons of the Sydney Festival Ballet in ’72 and 73 and went on to her wonderful overseas career after that. I am 82 now and I derive great pleasure in looking back on those times. Thank you once again…………..

11 October 2020, 15:32 · #

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I still have my tutu, Russian peasant costume and bunny headdress from my ‘performances’ at Miss Sykes end of year concerts in 1970-71. I have vague but very fond memories of classes and how excited I was to be going to ballet. Miss Sykes was very particular about getting those pliés right! I don’t think I had any talent but gee I loved those classes.

Carolyn Stewart
18 November 2021, 14:33 · #

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My memory is a bit sketchy too,but Miss Sykes taught me ballet..for the life of me I can’t remember where but it was in Mosman..Bardwell Rd rings a bell..was only young …had many great teachers over the years but all loved her and we’re always anxious for next class..I still love to dance
,but at my age,better to sit it out..

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Cast (in order of appearance)
Kelly Hargreaves
Leone and Alan Ziegler
Eliska Sarka
Shane Carroll
Jane Fitzgerald
Lindy Lamb and Eleanor Virgona
Claudia Hickey
Hilarie Lindsay
Ann Lewis
Clifton Haynes
Pat Rich
Louise Seale
Judy and David Plomley
Amanda Moore
Ann Morgan

Kelly Hargreaves: Miss Sykes was the centre of my universe.
Alan Ziegler: Ballet was her life but she took immense interest in the kids themselves.
Eliska Sarka: She just made you feel very very special.
Shane Carroll: Very quiet lady, very dignified, somehow she wrestled all those children into order and taught them how to dance.
Jane Fitzgerald: Miss Sykes was very firm. She wasn’t a fun kind of teacher.
Lindy Lamb: She was just so gentle.
Eleanor Virgona: She never ever raised her voice.
Lindy Lamb: I don’t think Miss Sykes was ever home.
Claudia Hickey: Always patient, always kind, fair in the extreme.
Ian Campbell: My mother, Mavis Sykes, taught ballet in Mosman for a remarkable 70 years, between 1923 and 1993. This is her story.

Vera Mavis Sykes was born in Auckland on 2 December 1909. She was known as, and only ever used, her second name, Mavis. She was the second of four children, and eldest daughter, of Joseph Sylvester Sykes and Ida Jane Sykes. The Sykes family lived in Hamilton before migrating to Australia in 1920, when my mother was 11.

By the time my mother was 14 the Sykes family, expanded by the addition of younger sisters Helen (known as Nellie) and Olga, were living in the ground floor apartment at 13 Wyong Road, Mosman. Mavis developed a life-long passion for ballet from an early age. She began dancing and teaching ballet in Mosman at age 14, while she was still a schoolgirl attending North Sydney Girls High School.

Initially, she taught pupils in the front room of the family home in Wyong Road, but she practised in the back garden as well. Among her early pupils were her younger sisters. My mother applied some of the money, from giving lessons, to pay for Nellie and Olga’s apprenticeships, Nellie as a seamstress and Olga as a hairdresser.

Hilarie Lindsay: We were 9 Wyong Road. They couldn’t afford to pay the rent so my mother saw Mavis and said, Would you like to give the girls dancing lessons as the flats become vacant, and you can wipe that off the rent?

She had two sisters: there was Miss Olga and I can’t think of the other one. I said to my mother, What do we call the sisters? and she said, you call the eldest girl Miss Sykes and the others by their Christian name, and I was quite pleased about that because I was the eldest of three girls and realised I’d be Miss Dyson and they’d be Miss Janet and Miss Athalie. It gave me a certain status, or so I imagined.

Ian Campbell: At some stage, and while she continued to dance and teach, Mavis obtained her formal teaching accreditation including solo seal from the royal academy of dance in London.

Around 1930 my mother abandoned the front room of the family home and rented at the top of Bardwell Road, Mosman, opposite the Marist Brothers School. The Mavis Sykes Ballet Studio occupied that site for the next 36 years.

Ann Lewis: In those days the class was held in this hall, so to speak, in Bardwell Road. I suppose that was all right, where the kids danced, but the waiting room, if you could call it that, was a bit of lane and it was all muddy, with these horrible school benches, and that’s where the mothers had to sit and wait for them.

Leone Ziegler: This was the old dance studio. I remember I’d go there after school with Mum wheeling my sister in a stroller, and she’d wait while the class was on. And I remember all the mothers used to look through the wall. There was a wooden wall with lots of holes in it so they could see how their littlies were going, unbeknownst to the children although I think we actually all knew that our mothers were watching us.

Lindy Lamb: What about when it rained? We had to dance around buckets. The rain was coming through the holes in the roof. We had buckets catching all the drops.

Eleanor Virgona: The examinations for the grades were all held in Bardwell Road. She had little peepholes that she could look through the divisions.

Lindy Lamb: There were lots of peepholes from the outside.

Eleanor Virgona: So she could watch your exam. You knew she was watching through the peephole.

Lindy Lamb: All the boys used to look through the holes in the wall from the outside and peek in.

Ian Campbell: The building at the corner of Nathan Lane and Vista Street, which was previously a Plymouth Brethren meeting hall, became the new home of the Ballet Studio in 1966.

Leone Ziegler: Then we moved on to the place in Vista Street. I remember that looking really old and derelict. You’d go inside and Dad would drop me off on Saturday mornings and you’d pay your 20 cents into the little tin and Miss Sykes would be there, we’d have our lesson and we had lovely Miss Philips playing the piano. She seemed like quite an old lady then; she probably wasn’t.

Jane Fitzgerald: I can remember what the waiting room felt like at Vista Street, where I started. It was quite a dim room; there wasn’t much natural light. I remember there were wooden benches. It was quite an old feeling sort of place, and then the room itself, the dance room, had this beautiful golden light because it was always in the afternoon, the light feels quite distinctive to me.

Ian Campbell: In the early 1980s the Vista Street building was to be demolished, so my mother moved the ballet lessons to the Mosman Community Centre at the corner of Short Street and Myahgah Road, which is now the home of the Mosman Art Gallery.

My mother danced in city theatres, as well as in suburban productions mounted by the Mosman Musical Society. By the time she was 19 my mother had been appointed the Honorary Ballet Mistress of her beloved Society. The earliest record of her as the ballet mistress of the Society is in the program for the “The Vagabond King” in August 1931 which was produced at the Mosman Town Hall.

Clifton Haynes: I remember Mavis very well for all the shows that I did, but apart from being a choreographer with a well-trained ballet she actually played the part of Azuri in The Desert Song.

I remember her at rehearsal coming up to say, Cliff, don’t just push me away, push me hard so that I’ll fall on the stage, it looks more dramatic. So I felt a bit intimidated about this but I did it and it worked, because when I pushed her she flew across the stage, landed on her knees and looked up as much as to say, Look what I’ve had done to me! The audience thought it was wonderful, they all clapped, and the music played, and then she performed The Dance of Azuri and it went down very well.

Ian Campbell: The star pupil at this time was a young Charles Boyd. Charlie was already an accomplished and well-known dancer when he enrolled at the Mavis Sykes Ballet Studio.

My mother and Charlie became dance partners, and danced together on a number of occasions.

During World War 2 the Mosman Musical Society went into hibernation. To fill the void and do something for the war effort, a number of dancers, including my mother, and other members of the Mosman Musical Society, volunteered to visit air force bases in Western NSW to entertain the troops with musical comedy and dance.

Pat Rich: Apart from doing the actual musical shows, we did do other entertaining for the Graythwaite soldiers. They all wanted to talk to you as well.

The shows they used to put on at the old Anzac Memorial Hall, which is now Country Road. Some would just sit and look at us, some would wave, try to talk to you, some would read the paper, some just sat there.

They always gave us nylon stockings, so many packets of nylon stockings, every time we did it.

Ian Campbell: During the War not only did my mother continue to teach ballet in the Bardwell Road studio but she also taught ballroom dancing too. One aspiring ballroom dancer was a very tall and gangly young bank clerk from Mosman, named Donald Campbell. They were mutually attracted and began seeing each other outside the dance lessons. They married on March 24th 1944.

Two weeks after I was born in June 1945 my mother was back at work, teaching ballet in the afternoons, while her mornings included much of the household shopping and housekeeping.

Shane Carroll: She was up in the morning, she was doing everything, making sure everything was fine for the family, off to the ballet school, putting on performances, lesson after lesson after lesson, so many generations, my mother, my grandmother, my sisters, everybody had this experience, and everybody loved it, so she must have been doing something very right.

She really loved teaching dance, she loved putting on performances, she loved what she did with the Mosman Musical Society. I think everybody really recognised and appreciated that contribution.

Eleanor Virgona: She was a very, very particular teacher. She’d get every little detail. She always started with the feet, then you got the arms, and then you had to put the face.

Ian Campbell: In the post-War years my mother maintained an arduous schedule of classical and jazz ballet tuition. Her first classes of the day began for younger pupils as soon as school finished for the day and continued into the evenings for the older girls and working women, while on Saturdays she taught all day.

Eleanor Virgona: She did tap classes, jazz classes, modern classes.

Lindy Lamb: Yes, remember that show, we had to instantly tap. The White Horse Inn – none of us had tapped in our lives and we were doing triple time steps!

Eleanor Virgona: That was one thing she always did say: if you learned ballet, preferably RAD, you could then do anything, but if you started learning tap you couldn’t necessarily go on to ballet.

Louise Seale: I do remember Mavis coming around the class of little girls and just turning your foot out a little bit. Obviously it must have been incredibly frustrating for her with all these little children who were just not quite doing it correctly and she was quite gentle about it. She would turn your feet out or just always pull down this middle finger of the hand so it had to be very, very feminine.
Claudia Hickey: We had to be beautifully dressed all of the time, so hair had to be immaculate and I can particularly remember having to have our ballet shoes tied, crossed over, and all the little loose ends tucked in at the back. You were never allowed to have loose ends on your ballet shoes.

When she showed us a ballet step it was absolutely beautiful. It was beautifully executed and we knew exactly what was wanted of us every time.

Eliska Sarka: We would all get to class early. We had a little changing room or waiting room. All the mothers would come in, they would wait, and the girls would have to put their hair up. There was a lot of hairspray and a lot of bobby pins, and then run into the class, we would have to curtsey to Mavis Sykes as we ran in, and stand at the barre. There was never any talk. There was no problem ever with discipline. We stood at the barre and we stood to attention. It was quite regimented and we absolutely adored her.

We had a lady playing the piano. That was our music. I think her name was Jean. She sat in the corner on the left and Mavis was on the right.

We started every exercise always facing Miss Sykes. We would never start facing the back. We would never turn our backs. If we had to move back and change places, we would run backwards with our face facing towards Miss Sykes. We would never, ever turn our back. It would be considered rude.

Miss Sykes would literally stand on our knees; she would put one foot on this knee and one foot on this knee, literally stand there and push your knees down on to the ground, which I’m sure wouldn’t be very good for you but that’s what she did.

At the end of every single class you had to curtsey, and the first curtsey you would take to Mavis Sykes, and then she would indicate the pianist so the second curtsey you would thank the lady for playing the piano for you, so you always had this gratitude of thanks.

Shane Carroll: It was later on that I realised that the way Mavis taught, whether it was an intentional thing or not or just intuitive to her, was that the environment she created was very friendly, very normal, non-competitive, non-stressful.

Mavis just taught children how to dance. She obviously loved doing it and that’s what she was committed to. So it was a really nice environment.

It’s also as I look back later, and the way I guess I have taught myself when I’ve been doing a lot of teaching is that Mavis didn’t get up in front of a mirror and demonstrate that much; in fact, she demonstrated very little. She’d do the conceptual indications, if you like, so you’d get something that was quite an idea, that was quite holistic, and then you did what I think is the best type of teaching – you figured things out for yourself.

Ian Campbell: From these years, my mother had many long-standing pupils who she counted as good friends. I remember such names as Betty Souter, Lorna Lester, Betty Tribolet, Carolyn Hedge, Marjorie Crouch, Betty Gibson, Hilary Crampton, Shane Carroll, Jane Plomley, Alison Arnott, Eliska Sarka and Eleanor Virgona to name but a few.

Many of her past pupils brought their daughters and sons along to ballet. Quite often several generations of dancers from the same family graced the Mavis Sykes Ballet Studio.

Eliska Sarka: I loved her dearly. She was a mentor in my life. She came to my wedding. Then my daughter came along and when she was born in 1987 I took her along to Mavis Sykes for her first ballet lessons. She was this tiny little poppet, probably about two years old, standing at the barre, placing her feet, and after the first class Miss Sykes said to me, Do you know, I haven’t had a child so clever that picks the steps up as quickly since you first came to me. She was so sweet. She probably said that to everyone but she just made you feel very, very special.

Ian Campbell: A number of her long-term former pupils had notable careers in the arts and other fields. For example, Hilary Crampton.

Shane Carroll: Hilary was an amazing woman who I got to know later on in life.
Hilary was one Australia’s leading dance academics. She was a senior dance critic for The Age for more than a decade. She was a very inspiring woman who would just find a way of doing things. We used to have long and robust discussions about arts policy, or lack thereof. She was an activist. She openly called herself an arts activist.

The sense I had with Mavis as a teacher was that it was about making a contribution. It wasn’t about Mavis; it wasn’t about her being the best teacher or having the best school or anything like that. I think that’s something I realised later on, too. I think that’s a very admirable and sound way to run something like a ballet school.

Hilary was like this as well. She was all about making a contribution. That’s what really dance is about. It’s fantastic to do. It’s a lot more fun on the stage than sitting down watching it; by the way, that’s fun, too.

Ian Campbell: Shane Carroll danced professionally in Europe with the Nederlands Dans Theatre, in Australia with the Sydney Dance Company and is now active in arts project management and consultancy.

Shane Carroll: Mavis created such an accessible environment and so positive that it just enables you to keep things in perspective. When you spend most of your hours at work with a mirror in front of you, it can tend to get a little bit self-obsessive, so I think that early induction to dance that was just so normal and lovely was really critical to staying in the career.

Ian Campbell: Alison Arnott went on to study at the Royal Ballet School in London and then danced professionally in the Ballet Staatstheater Nürnberg in Germany. Jane Plomley and her two younger sisters, Sally-Ann and Jo-Anna, studied ballet with my mother.

Judy Plomley: Jane-Maree was the eldest one and she started in, say, 1973. Then there was Sally-Ann, she didn’t start with Mavis actually till 1975 and then Jo-Anna pushed her way in about 18 months later. She started at two and a half, which was mainly because she was always there and stood in front of Mavis and embarrassed her.

David Plomley: Jane-Maree is extremely tall and couldn’t get a job in ballet in Australia because the men were all short and so she became one of the Bluebells and danced at the Lido for a year, in the middle of her law course. Even at a mature age she was still dancing. After a year there, she died of boredom, the same dance twice a night six nights a week, the first dance at 10 p.m., the next one at 1 a.m., and then Sally-Ann, although she’d finished with Miss Sykes at the age of about 15, she went on and taught adult tap and jazz at the Mosman Evening College so she kept up that side of it although she was never a very good classical dancer but she was very good at tap and jazz. Jo-Anna, the youngest one, didn’t really keep it on afterwards. She found other interests. Boys.

Ian Campbell: Jane danced professionally in France. On her return to Australia she qualified as a lawyer and is now a leading intellectual property lawyer and a partner in a prominent law firm in Washington DC.

My mother firmly believed that the excitement of, and confidence to be had from, public performance should not be confined to the particularly talented or gifted and should not be denied to any of her pupils.

Claudia Hickey: There was a great sense of friendship, camaraderie with the other girls, Mavis didn’t ever favour anyone, there was no one in particular who was the star of the show every year. We all had a chance to do things, to be a gem in a shell at the bottom of the ocean, or in a zoot suit.

Ian Campbell: For many years and right up to her retirement in 1993 she produced an annual show at Mosman Town Hall for all her pupils. These shows featured ballet vignettes from the very youngest beginners to the veterans of the Mavis Sykes Ballet Studio.

Hilarie Lindsay: It was very exciting because you’d have to get a length of material and you’d have these beautiful costumes your mother would make, and then you’d be on stage before the show started and there’d be holes in the curtain in the Mosman Town Hall and you’d go and peep through the curtain to see how many people were in the audience, and then go backstage again.

At the time, with Hollywood and movies, a lot of the dancing you did it in a line, putting your hand on the other woman’s shoulder, and you’d dance along doing all the high kicks.

I did Russian dancing and that was a different type of dancing again. Tap dancing was in a line and that used to be good fun. It was always marvellous and the audience loved us, and we just loved being there.

Eliska Sarka: Each year we had a concert and one of the mothers would make the first costume. Mavis would design what she wanted on a piece of paper, she would have a drawing of her idea, and there was one mother who was a competent seamstress and she would make the costume. Then all the other mothers were called in to look at the finished product and using newspaper they would have to cut out what they thought was a template of the costume.

Ann Lewis: She had this knack of giving the mothers directions to what costumes she wanted made and just the barest directions, really, what height the hem had to be off the floor, and that was roughly it. It always ended up looking beautiful.

Amanda Moore: Our mothers had to make all the costumes. What would happen is that one of the mothers would create the first costume and then our mothers would have to come up to Bardwell Road and however they did it I’ve got no idea how they managed it, but they’d have to work out a pattern.

The costume was absolutely amazing. It was this black can-can costume that had a square neck and thin straps, and it was a full skirt, a huge full rounded skirt, and underneath, around the whole skirt, were probably about 10 or 12 different frills of different colours. Mum had to do all that frilling by hand, work it out, do all the frilling by hand, all the different coloured frills, and then we had these little black knickers with red frills all around them, and a bonnet which had frills on the inside of the bonnet.

Judy Plomley: When it came to a costume she knew what she wanted. You had to produce it. Maybe often with the costumes I did three, four, five before I managed to get the costume right.

Louise Seale: I was a butterfly. I think I’m three. I remember the colour of my purple outfit and the sparkles and sequins my mother had to sew on the wings – I just loved that. I loved that outfit and it kept me going to ballet, all the time up to when I was Spring.

Ann Morgan: We had hoops and we had to run in, put the hoops up in a circle and run back. The band was playing, the boys were singing, but they weren’t singing in sync so we had no idea when to run into the centre. Some of us went with the band and some of us went with the singing, so it was a bit of a disaster, but it was fun.

Jane Fitzgerald: I loved being on stage. I don’t know if the concerts were always in the Mosman Town Hall but I certainly remember concerts in the Mosman Town Hall. They were evenings of great excitement and thrill. You had your makeup done by your mum and your hair done and our mums, our parents, gave us a little present. There was a tradition that there would be a little present because it was a really big night. We didn’t get flowers on stage but it was that kind of feel about it. It was like a really big deal. Again, it was all run very shipshape, no talking off stage and that sort of thing.

I do remember being on stage and I did really love that actually. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I still do.

David Plomley: Also I used to stage-manage the annual concerts that she put on in the Mosman Town Hall. Stage-managing wasn’t a huge job but we had to paint scenery and make sure the scenes came down and the lighting and all the props on the stage. That was my little contribution.

Leone Ziegler: Dad used to paint the sets for us.

Alan Ziegler: Yes, that was always quite a feature. They had to be made out of something which would stand up almost on its own and be decorative, and the sort of thing you could put on the stage and off again in about three seconds flat.

Eliska Sarka: At the end of every concert, Miss Sykes would come out and speak to the parents and then she would award each class, there would be a scholarship winner, whoever had worked really hard would have their training for free for the next year and they’d get a trophy. There would be special mentions and merit awards and certificates and ribbons and all sorts of things. She was very, very generous.

Lindy Lamb: The pantomimes were fabulous. They were all at Mosman Town Hall.

Eleanor Virgona: They’d then have a pantomime which would run for three weeks, over the weekends. They’d then do a big children’s pantomime in January and she’d have all the different children of all ages. I remember one time there was a very large winter scene and there was a sleigh brought on the stage, I think Robyn Jacobs was sitting in the sleigh, anyway the lights across the front of the stage all collapsed down on to the front proscenium and we would have been about seven or eight I suppose, and we were all in a little line ballet across the front and the whole light bay dropped and just missed a whole line of girls. I was one of the little girls. We were dressed as snowflakes and then some of the larger girls were the horses. They closed the curtain, got the lights back up, opened the curtain and out we went again and just carried on. She said, Just repeat what you’ve done, out you go. She was in the wings. Out we went. Nobody turned a hair.

Lindy Lamb: It was like that line ballet when one of the girls, she was rather large, she was dancing, we were doing this thing across the front and her straps just busted, and out fell everything, and she’s just dancing on, dancing on, and Miss Sykes came around backstage afterwards, she said, Pamela dear, if that ever happens again, go straight off. We’re going Get off the stage Pam get off the stage.

Eleanor Virgona: I think she got a big clap!

Lindy Lamb: Oh, of course she did!

Claudia Hickey: Ballet classes, the concerts, and then there were the pantomimes, the yearly pantomimes with the dame dressed up, were greatly exciting. Again, we had matinee performances because we were quite young, and then there was the Mosman Musical Society that all of Mavis’s ballet girls went on to and so there was that series of performances that we could do.

Ian Campbell: My mother was held in great affection by the many thousands of boys and girls she had taught.

Kelly Hargreaves: She was so tough on us girls, but the minute we did something right and she gave us the most tiny little smidgin of praise it just meant everything to us.

The years with Miss Sykes has instilled my great love of ballet and I’ve gone on to do a lot of ballet as an adult, right up until last year I was still taking classes. I always just think about all the things she taught us and I think that personal discipline she instilled in us girls really was something that carried on in our lives. And the interest she took in us all, too, which was extraordinary.

Jane Fitzgerald: I do remember her once giving me a compliment which has stayed with me all these years. Because she was quite firm, if she said something nice to you, you did remember it. She came up to me once while we were doing our exercises at the barre and said to me, You have a beautiful ballet body. I thought that was fantastic. I was very thrilled by that.

Shane Carroll: She wasn’t involved in ego or that kind of measurement. It was just keep it straight, keep it simple, which is good.

Ian Campbell: My mother was appointed a life member of the Royal Academy of Dance in recognition of her services to ballet and in 1958 the Academy appointed her an Australian national Childrens’ Examiner.

Her examining duties entailed an exhausting schedule of air, road and train travel across Australia to conduct examinations. Meanwhile, she continued to run the Ballet Studio with the assistance of friends and older students.

My mother and father were disappointed when, in late 1977, Virginia and I left Sydney to live in Brisbane, where our twin sons, James and Ben, were born four years later. So, notwithstanding, the distance my mother added the role of grandmother to that of ballet mistress, examiner, wife, mother, mentor and all the other family and ballet roles she embraced. Eventually, the daily effort in teaching ballet proved too much and my mother retired in 1993 aged 84, after 70 years of teaching ballet in Mosman.

Judy Plomley: I think after she retired, she was rather disabled with arthritis. We’d go to the theatre, she loved going to the theatre and we’d go to various theatre shows.

David Plomley: I remember we took her to two shows and she really enjoyed them. The first one was The Rocky Horror Show and she loved that and the second one was The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and she really adored that. She really latched on to everything that was going on on stage.

Judy Plomley: She also enjoyed going to eisteddfods, particularly the ones at the Opera House, but the only problem was that she used to comment on the defects of the dancers in a very loud voice, which was rather embarrassing when we were sitting next to her. It was purely a friendship, and it was a friendship until we lost her.

Ian Campbell: Aged 87, she died peacefully on 2 July 1997.

Kelly Hargreaves: I think she was a wonderful woman and a great Mosman legend and people still talk about her.