Fiona Hunter started Felines Dance in 1980 when aged fifteen. She lived in Scotland at the time, but took Felines with her when moving to New Zealand in 1999.
She originally created a dance group for girls who had been rejected from a school performance selection; she was one of those rejected as not “good enough”. Since that time an estimated 2000 girls have become part of the ‘Feline family’.
Almost 35 years after starting Felines, Fiona chose to ‘gift’ Felines to the owner of another Wellington dance company – this happened in April 2014. Fiona only asked that they continue to support CanTeen. Below is Fiona’s story about Felines – how it started, and what it has accomplished.
The Felines Story
The Feline philosophy was strengths-based from the first day. Girls were taught positive self-regard, care for each other, working on their strengths, individual resilience, leadership and a celebration of each and every girl’s abilities.
The dance company was run for love. Starting in 1980, all proceeds were donated to Cancer Research (UK) and CanTeen, supporting kids with cancer (NZ). Fiona ran her dance company in her spare time as a hobby.
At the same time, in her professional life as a social-worker in Glasgow she was often working with young “vulnerable” people in Possilpark where she used dance and movement as an additional “tool” to reach and build children’s resilience and confidence.
Feline Dance, 1987, Lenzie Academy, Scotland.
Feline Dance has been running since 1999 in Wellington. It has grown from 3 girls in the first lesson to over 200 girls and for a number of years, included boys as well.
Since moving to Wellington the profits and ticket proceeds from annual shows have been donated to CanTeen. CanTeen is a charity that supports young people and their families living with cancer. Feline Dance is CanTeen’s longest single sponsor and proud of it.
Fiona’s story is similar to that of many others who were not sporty at school. Usually last to be picked for the netball or hockey teams, scared of both the gymnastics horse and the gymnastics teacher.
Then came a turning point. Deemed ‘not good enough’ for her own school gym and dance display, she decided to start her own dance group. This was for girls who loved to dance, but who didn’t fit the ‘sporty at everything’ category or formal ballet mode.
Feline Dance began this way. But soon many multi-talented girls wanted to join. It became the biggest and most popular dance group in her local community and this was replicated when moving to Wellington.
Feline senior girls, including teachers (Front row left two: Fiona Hunter, Feline Dance, Libby Calder of Pump Dance). Of this group, 10 have gone through 2-years of Feline leadership and mentor training.
Feline Dance has always been about complete inclusiveness, positive attitude and everyone being welcome. As mentioned earlier, the approach is to encourage the girls:
- To identify and build on their strengths.
- To develop positive self-regard
- To care for each other while building as a team.
- To develop leadership qualities.
- To celebrate each girl’s abilities and play to each of their individual strengths.
- To develop an understanding around connection.
Targeted specific and personal encouragement is the basis of how Felines operates, and feedback is always strengths-based, individual and specific. This ensures that girls are always respectful of others and themselves, both verbally and physically.
The Future for Felines
– Gifting It Forward
In 2014 Fiona decided to pass on Felines as a gift. Below is the background to her unconventional, and as always, strengths-based decision.
Fiona has been running Feline Dance since 1980. Over that time has had an estimated 2000 girls who have become ‘Felines’.
Fiona has worked in a strengths-based manner since she was a youth. She has always focused on supporting others, seeking to understand what others need, and enabling positive experiences.
This love of focusing on strengths comes from her mother who was both a counselling-professional and deeply generous person throughout her entire life, generous with her time, her love and her wisdom and whom passed away from cancer in 2012.
Fiona qualified as a social worker in the mid 1980s and has worked in a variety of roles over the last 30 years. These have all focused on making a difference to others, building community and resilience.
Fiona developed a 2-year leadership and mentoring programme in Felines, which has seen young teachers become mentors of girls younger than themselves.
Some of these mentors developed into class-teachers. This has helped establish a strong foundation for these girls and it has been deeply appreciated by their parents. Many have been with Fiona since it started in Wellington, and some are now in their late teens, or early twenties, and started as 5year olds.
After a lot of thought, Fiona decided that it was time to let Felines evolve into something new, thereby allowing her time to focus on writing a book about the practical application of strengths in the workplace and in the community.
Fiona wondered how to pass on Felines to future generations. She decided to give it away rather than sell it, and the aim was an inter-generational ‘gifting forward’. She wanted to gift it to a young person.
In 2004, Fiona got to know a young teacher, Libby Calder. She had founded her own dance company, Pump Dance, and was keen to further her teaching experience. Fiona invited her to teach Feline classes and she became Feline’s first teacher after Fiona.
Libby taught with Felines for around 18 months. She then left to focus on building her own dance company, which was always her drive and passion. Pump has since won international awards.
Fiona started discussions with Libby in 2013, and agreed a way forward. Felines would become ‘Pump Dance’ in mid-2014 and Libby would continue to support CanTeen.
This followed the philosophy of young people helping other young people, and of Fiona working alongside the strengths of others to help them develop them even further.
Felines has been a huge part of Fiona’s life, and that of her family, as well as being of significant importance to the hundreds of young girls who have been, and will remain part of the ‘Feline family’.
Felines has become part of how they think. As the tagline for Felines says:
Felines, so much more than dance!
You can discover more via the following links.
At the end of every class, the Felines finish with a loud affirmation, with a question and a powerful response from all the girls in the class.
What are we? BEAUTIFUL!