Great Britain

A Darlington dancing legend: Obituary for Marie Therese Laundy

TRIBUTES have been paid to a former dance teacher who was part of the fabric of the Darlington dance scene.

Marie Therese Laundy, age 83, passed away peacefully at home on February 9, 2021.

She was born December 20th, 1937, at Darlington to Winifred (nee: Boylan) and Harold Leeming in an era of “children should be seen and not heard” but it was soon apparent that Therese was intent upon making her mark in life by doing things her way.

Born into a dancing family, she was surrounded by music and movement before she could walk.

Therese soon learned she and her five siblings were better off than many, often lamenting the fact that some children at school would arrive with no shoes on their feet.

England was then recovering from World War II, and with all her compassion, generosity, and love, she developed a keen sense of obligation to share life’s blessings with those less fortunate. It became a cornerstone of her life’s code.

At age 14 Therese started teaching at her parents’ dance school and home on Woodlands Road.

In her late teens she met a chap who came in for a ballroom class with his friends, and David Laundy soon asked her out on a date to the cinema. They were married on Therese’s 21st birthday in 1958 and shortly thereafter moved into their new home on Devonshire Road.

In 1969 Therese opened a playgroup in Haughton Village, Darlington, which she happily operated for several years.

Imbued with a love for dance, though, and her desire to instruct and inspire other young dancers and teachers, Therese later opened a dance school at Archway House in Haughton village.

Enrolments in her classes grew quickly and she subsequently opened schools in Chilton, Newton Aycliffe, and Northallerton. Soon it became evident that she needed a larger studio, so she and David bought a four-story house in Haughton Road; it became the M.T. Laundy School of Dance in 1980.

As luck would have it, the Darlington Working Men’s Club was being demolished at the same time, and David was able to salvage and repurpose its dance floor at their new school.

This is where Therese’s legacy truly began. Her tender heart and compassion for others extended beautifully into the teaching world. She helped countless timid children blossom into independent and confident young adults through the world of dance and performance.

Students invested many years of effort and commitment into their dancing, so it was not surprising that Therese invested in the rest of their lives outside the studio. She loved sending thoughtful handwritten letters offering good cheer, fun stories, and sometimes a bit of sage advice and motherly encouragement. Therese was not shy when offering her opinions and did not tolerate beating around the bush, so she expressed herself plainly, straightforwardly, and honestly. One of her most memorable oft employed turns of phrase was, “I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but…”

Many of her students became professional dancers on stages and cruise ships around the world. Her younger students were given the opportunity to dance in the Darlington Pantomimes. A good number of her longtime students earned their teaching qualifications under Therese’s tutelage and some even opened successful schools of their own.

In 1981 Therese became an Examiner for the British Theater Dance Association; for decades, she travelled the world spreading her knowledge and keeping scores of teachers up to date with the syllabus. She travelled extensively in the United Kingdom and Scotland, and also to Ireland, Malta, South Africa, and elsewhere. Those fortunate enough to accompany “Miss Therese” on such whirlwind trips learned that her reputation for spirit and exuberance preceded her, and she was a sought-after Examiner and trusted friend to professionals across the globe. Therese retired from teaching in 2001 but continued to serve as a respected and beloved Examiner until 2014; in 2015 she was awarded the title of “Examiner Emeritus” from the British Theater Dance Association.

At home, Therese was most often found in the kitchen with cake flour on her nose and a smile on her face. She loved to bake. There were cakes for block parties, festivals, church groups, sick people, visitors and friends – and for anyone that called ‘round for a chat. She made Christmas Cakes by the dozens, and often put so much brandy in them that she could bake in October and store the cakes in her attic until Christmas! She was a master of multitasking and accomplished all these generosities while choreographing routines for her next class or festival. Her motto was, “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today,” and she lived by that maxim her entire life.

In her later years, Therese participated in the Women’s Institute and became a group leader for the U3A organizing canasta and creative writing groups. Therese loved crafts and delighted in sharing her creations far and wide. Her dining room table was frequently strewn with materials and embellishments for her latest crafting creations, and hers were always labours of love. Both Therese and David looked eagerly forward to visits from past students and their offspring. Therese kept a well-stocked box of toys and books under the stairs and would lay them on the floor with a picnic lunch set out for the children of former students who came to visit, and both she and David loved keeping in touch with so many dear friends.

Foremost among her life’s joys were her three children: Melinda, Simon, and Marybeth as well as her grandchildren: Fiona, James, Tom, Spencer, and Anna; and her great-granddaughter Phoebe Tia. Before her death Therese learned that she has two more great grandchildren on the way, and she counted the many blessings of her long and eventful life.

All who knew her will miss her indomitable smile and mischievous laughter but can rest assured she is dancing with the angels where every performance receives a perfect score.

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