Dancer Dorothy plans headshave
Dorothy Clarke, 58, best known for leading the Bollywood Dreamers dance group, has been diagnosed with a rare auto-immune condition called anti-synthetase syndrome. She lives in Rodbourne with husband Bruce, and the couple have two grown-up daughters.
DOROTHY Clarke carries two pieces of writing with her wherever she goes. One was written by a 19th Century Quaker missionary called Stephen Grellet: “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” The other is her own message to herself: “
From ancient times the great gurus realised that messages and feelings can be communicated in a number of ways – through the body/dance, through voice and speech, through the right costume, by disciplining one’s mind to deeply feel the emotion, and to try to touch others’ hearts with their communication.”
Dorothy, both on her own and with her husband, has helped to change many lives for the better over the years. It’s a measure of her character that when she learned she was to have chemotherapy for her painful auto-immune condition and might lose her hair, she decided to have it all shaved off in aid of a good cause.
She also had herself loaded up with medication to ensure her run of dance performances at the Mela would not be broken.
The memory of that day moves her deeply. “I was gasping for air but I was just exhilarated, and all my students were there. The audience appreciated it. I just had a real sense of being alive and glad to offer this to Swindon.”
Dorothy was born Dorothy Dias in Bombay, now Mumbai, and was the second of four children. Her father was a civil servant with a fondness for dance and her mother an expert sewing instructor.
For much of Dorothy’s childhood, the family lived in Uganda, where her father managed council storage for maintenance supplies. As Asians they suffered under the growing madness of Idi Amin, the murderous Ugandan dictator, who eventually expelled all Asians.
“My parents would open their door and see dead bodies in the street. The military would walk in with grenades and machine guns and just walk out with stuff. They said, ‘You’re Asian – you’re leaving anyway’.
"My brother nearly got shot because he had a bubble gum sticker on the back of his ID card. They said, ‘You’re a spy.’
He was 14 and they were going to shoot him. My father decided that was it.”
The family, like many other Ugandan Asians, arrived at Heathrow in 1972. It was December 16 and the weather was foul.
They were promptly sent to a refugee camp at Greenham Common and later allocated a house in Calne. The new arrivals were mostly welcomed by their adopted community, and especially by fellow Catholic churchgoers, although it wasn’t all plain sailing.
“In college it was difficult. There was lots of racist stuff then. It was difficult but you go through it. The positives were that we were welcomed by the community and fitted in quite quickly. My dad was a very generous person, and because people helped us we would go and help them.”
Dorothy’s first job was in the wages department of electrical goods firm Westinghouse, and she worked in the payroll department of Plessey in Swindon after moving to the town with her husband. Bruce, whom she married in 1976, had been the boy next door, and shared her love of travel.
In the late 1970s they couple journeyed overland to India and saw much of Europe.
With the birth of their first daughter in 1983, Dorothy decided to set up on her own business, tackling payroll duties for local voluntary groups. She still does. “I decided to go ‘community’ rather than corporate,” she said. The couple’s community activities are too numerous to list, but include kickstarting Swindon’s link with twin town Ocotal and organising the precursors of the Mela, of which Bruce is a director.
They set up Third Age Challenge to help over-50s back to work, Back on Track to do the same for younger people, Swindon Interactive Arts Service for people with learning disabilities and countless other community projects.
Dorothy is best known for her Indian dance workshops ranging in style from classical storytelling dances to Bollywood moves. Local musician Nick Weaver is a long-time collaborator.
What few realise is that Dorothy only began dancing at 35. “At the age of 11 I saw these amazing dancers telling stories. It was in Goa, at the school there. The memory stayed with me and when I was in my thirties I started learning a little bit about it - and then I went to Swindon Dance and learned a little bit more.”
Dorothy was invited to lead Indian dance sessions at her daughters’ junior school and has never looked back.
She has a simple message for others with longstanding ambitions yet to be fulfilled: “Grab it with both your hands and go for it with a passion, go for it with a soul, go for it with a heart. “It will come. It will be a struggle, and there will always be people trying to put you down, but it will come.”
Dorothy will be having her sponsored head shave in support of Bailancho Ekvott head shaved on Friday 1pm at Kateson Body Care, Unit 33, The Arcade. Donations can be made via firstname.lastname@example.org
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