Friday, 1 March 2019

Undine Clarke (1902-1986)

Undine Clarke as a young woman
One of the most remarkable people who contributed to Tauranga art and culture during the 20th century was the colourful Undine Clarke, a renowned dance teacher. Even if you didn’t learn ballet or other forms of dance, you still knew who she was. She was hard to miss with her hair drawn back by a Spanish comb, her jangling bracelets, and her Spanish dancing shoes. She didn’t look like the other mothers.

For decades she locally trained and encouraged the art of dancing be it ballet, Spanish, musical comedy, ballroom, or tradition highland. On top of all that, her numerous qualifications acknowledged her to be the highest qualified teacher of dancing in New Zealand in her time. And she belonged to Tauranga.

She came from Auckland, where she had a career as a solo dancer, to Tauranga when she married local farmer Hector Clarke. With him she raised a family of five children. As if this wasn’t busy enough during this time, she went to Australia for a year’s study and examinations to obtain Advanced Teacher’s Certificate (Royal Academy of Dancing). Once her family had grown, she furthered her career by going to London for personal, expert tuition in ballet, Latin American, Spanish and Greek dancing.

All this knowledge and experience benefitted Tauranga’s aspiring young dancers at the Undine Clarke School of Dance. Some of her pupils attained the ‘Solo Seal’, the highest degree of Ballet, notably Yvonne Edwards (nee Parnell).

Local performing societies benefitted from her skilled services as a choreographer and teacher. She received the British Empire Medal for cultural and community services in the 1969 New Year’s Honours List.

This remarkable woman pioneered the art of dance in Tauranga, and her legacy is the many dance schools led by those who learned their art under her tutelage.

Reference: Tauranga 1882- 1982: The Centennial of Gazetting Tauranga as a borough. Edited by A.C. Bellamy, published by Tauranga City Council .


  1. Thankyou Jane for this wonderful tribute. She indeed was a colourful character and I remain indebted to her for her passion of dance, passed on to me and many others. Yvonne Edwards

  2. Oh my goodness, I certainly knew that Undine Clarke had inexhaustible energy as my ballet teacher, but not that she had achieved all those other things... (You never forget those bangles!) Jan FitzGerald (nee Coad)