……BY BILLY SUTER……
THE dance world has lost a bright, twinkling light – news broke this morning of the death in America last night of Durban dance teacher and choreographer Denise Britz. She was 75 and was diagnosed only last month with metastatic breast cancer that had spread to her liver and bones.
She is survived by her two children – Matthew, a playwright in London, and Sarah-Jane, who also danced but is now training and working with horses in South Africa – and a grandchild, Dylan.
Britz, famous as a dancer, teacher, choreographer and for the many dance cabarets she produced at now-defunct Durban venues such as Ruby Tuesday, Millionaire, 7th Haven and The Cellar, often with then-husband Don Clarke, had been based in recent years in the US. Until recently she was teaching her first love, ballet, at Miller Street, a dance studio in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Michelle Soutier, a close friend, who runs the US studio at which Britz taught, wrote on Facebook: “Tonight the world lost the greatest ballet teacher ever!”.
She added about Britz: ¨”It has been an honour to care for her over this journey. She never complained and told me she had never felt more loved than she did because of the huge support given to her during this time from her friends, family and dance family. God bless you my sweet friend, and rest now.”
Since her cancer diagnosis a few weeks ago, Britz was showered with huge support from friends worldwide, a Facebook page, Miss Denise’s Warriors, having been set up for friends and colleagues to help guide her through her daily medical treatments with prayers and fond memories. A fund to assist with her mounting medical expenses was started online and soon raised $20 000 worldwide.
Social media was quickly abuzz after her passing, with longtime friend, Johannesburg-based choreographer and former dancer, Bryan Hill, writing on her Facebook page: “Very saddened to wake and see that Denise Britz has passed. The countless dancers and performers whose lives she touched will remember you fondly, Britzie, and our love and condolences go out to Matthew, Sarah-Jane and your family.”
Former husband Don Clarke, in a moving Facebook entry reflecting on their time together, wrote: “Our 17 years together were both tempestuous and terrific, depending who was mixing the potion, but there was never any shortage of passion bound by very real love”.
Friend Brian van Rheede wrote: “There’s a deep ache in my heart, a lump in my throat and I want to scream – death came suddenly to take our lifelong friend. Denise Britz. Thank you God for the joyous childhood memories, the excitement of youth and the memories we shared on our weekly chats.”
Cape Town dancer and choreographer Didi Moses wrote: “A beautiful soul has departed. May she rest in peace”.
In the fund-raising drive online it was stated that Britz’s dance career included feature roles in ballet and modern companies as well as roles in musicals in South Africa, Europe and touring companies to the Far East.
During her career, she continued training in the Vaganova method of ballet. Her career included classes with Rudolph Nureyev, Galina Somsova, Gillian Lynee, Andre Prokovski, Maryanne Lane, Matt Mattox, and numerous others in London and Paris.
In South Africa, she owned and operated her own dance studio where she provided instruction in all disciplines of dance.
Britz performed and choreographed for cabarets, cruise liners, musicals, beauty pageants, fashion shows, operas, pantomimes and corporate functions in all parts of the world.
Prior positions included choreographer for Magic Life der Club, an Austrian-based chain with hotels in Turkey, Greece, Spain, Egypt, Tunisia, and Bulgaria. Her job required her to design costumes, sets and lighting for shows in 21 different hotels.