Updated: Aug 29, 2020
Dancing with Fonteyn and Nureyev, rubbing shoulders with Jackie O and Liz Taylor…Olga Tamara, 68, has led an extraordinary life. Here she shares her inspirational story of passion, love, loss and new beginnings.
By Olga Tamara
“Embrace uncertainty. Some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won't have a title until much later. “
Where has the time gone?
Women of our age often wonder…is it too late to change direction? Too late to start a new career… create a new life? Well, I believe it’s NEVER too late and I am living proof.
I’ve had many careers during my life but it all began with a childhood passion for dance.
I’d set my heart on becoming a professional ballet dancer, so when I was accepted by the Australian Ballet Company, it was a dream come true! All of the blood, sweat and tears (literally) had been worth it!
Can you imagine how exciting it was for me - just 21, and dancing in a grand theatre, to a live orchestra, sharing a stage with the greats like Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev? It was both thrilling and rewarding! But it wasn’t easy.
As a dancer my body was constantly under the pump. We danced at night and rehearsed the next ballet programme during the day. That was on top of our regular mandatory classes. Dancing for eight hours a day was the norm.
I’ll never forget the bleeding toes, the muscle pain and the constant fear of weight gain. There were times when I’d go to bed as early as possible just to avoid eating. On top of that there was the anxiety of whether or not we’d be cast in the next ballet and, if so, for what role.
Being a classical dancer was torturous at times but it was a life I loved and lived for.
In the early 70’s the Australian Ballet Company often toured overseas and with that came so many wonderful experiences.
One of the highlights was dancing in the Company’s production of the film “Don Quixote” starring Rudolf Nureyev and Sir Robert Helpmann.
It was wonderful to be a part of it, but working with Nureyev was not for the faint hearted! He had an ego like no other, and could be a real tyrant!
On stage, he transfixed audiences with his grace and beauty but behind the scenes he displayed brutal and often abusive behaviour that terrified many of the dancers.
However he did an amazing job co-directing one of the finest dance movies of all time.
Our tour of Russia, which was under Communist rule at the time, is something I will never forget. I was just 22 when I met Vladimir, a 19 year old Russian design student.
Despite being unable to speak each other’s language there was a very strong connection. We didn’t date or have an affair. We would just meet up after each night’s performance, together with other new-found friends, for secret late-night drinks that went on into the early hours.
I say “secret” because in 1973 as guests of a communist country there were curfews in place for us. Our new Russian friends would whisk us away in the back of their cars, covered with a blanket!
We partied and listened to their Beatles and Rolling Stones records while drinking vodka. They were so proud of their “western” music collection and amazed by our capacity to hold our vodka!
The last time Vladimir and I saw each other was outside the front of my hotel. We held hands in silence for a very long time as we waited for the Ballet Company’s bus to arrive.
I tearfully waved him goodbye as we left to continue our tour throughout Europe. I had no idea the love affair that lay ahead and what an important part of my life he would become.
Another amazing memory was the opening night of The Merry Widow in New York City in which Dame Margot Fonteyn was starring. She was 56 at the time which, as young dancers, seemed ancient!
But when we saw her perform we were humbled. She charmed us all with her artistry and pure elegance.
After the performance we were all invited to the famous Sardi’s Restaurant. It was an unforgettable night. .. the stuff dreams are made of.
Upon our arrival, there was an air of sophistication in the room as we were greeted by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Onassis, Patricia Kennedy Lawford… the list of stars was endless. They made us not only feel welcome, but treated us like celebrities in our own right.
As dancers, we rarely had the opportunity to share time away from the stage with the beautiful Dame Margot which made the night even more special.
In 1976 I became restless and decided to take time out and travel around Europe taking classes with other ballet companies.
When I returned to re-join the Australian Ballet Company I felt something was missing. Expressing myself through dance wasn’t enough anymore.
I was 26 when I left the Company and turned my attention to acting.
Almost immediately I landed a lead role in a popular TV series which earned me the ABC TV Penguin Award for Best New Talent. I couldn’t believe that career number two was off to such an auspicious start!
Next came a series of roles in various productions (some great, some not) but I had successfully carved out an acting career working back-to-back in television and theatre.
It was all going well and then I fell in love…and I fell hard.
My acting jobs had been taking me out of town far too often. I was only able to be with my fiancee, Tony, at weekends. I didn’t want a marriage with long periods of separation so I decided to put my career on hold to marry the love of my life. A decision I later regretted. Yes, sometimes we have regrets!
This was my second marriage. My first, at the tender age of 21, was unsuccessful, and sadly, my second union also faltered.
But this time it was different. This time it was a devastating blow. The man I loved unconditionally, the love of my life, could not resist the temptation of the destructive habits that pervaded his life… and there were many. I was heartbroken.
As I began to rebuild my life, I changed career for the third time, opening a business working as a fitness instructor. I created my own brand of tone and stretch classes, coached and choreographed solos for young dancers, and taught actors the art of movement. I loved it!
It was now 1988 and one day while reminiscing about the Russian tour with my friend, Paul, who was still with the Australian Ballet Company, he informed me they were about to tour Russia again.
Paul said that he would find my Russian “boyfriend” Valentine (Vladimir) who I had met and waved goodbye to 16 years earlier.
He was joking but, as fate would have it, they ran into each other at the very same hotel where we had said our goodbyes 25 years earlier!
Over the next six months, a flurry of letters between Australia and Russia ensued.
Valentine could now speak English well enough for us to chat on the phone regularly and we were both eager to meet again. After all, it was fate wasn’t it?
Times were changing. It was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall came down giving young people like Valentine an opportunity to flee.
He came to Sydney and we were married in 1989!
Valentine was a proud Russian and an extremely talented fashion designer, he taught me about Haute Couture and high-end fashion. It was his passion.
He inspired me to create career number four, producing major fashion shows, corporate events, bridal expos and the first Australian Couture Collection. I loved choreographing and styling these events. It allowed and screamed for creativity and I had a ball!
Then career number five came knocking. With a lot of hard work and determination I created a hugely successful event company, along with a dear friend, which lasted for five amazing years.
The business was flourishing but the constant long hours, menopause and stress was taking its toll. I was so busy working, I had done very little exercise and felt 10 years older than my 49 years.
An old back injury from my dancing days had re surfaced too so I searched for a form of exercise that I could really relate to. I found it in Classical Pilates and it became not only my saviour but ultimately my sixth business!
I welcomed the precision and discipline of Classical Pilates and trained my body to regain its lost strength and flexibility before embarking on an intensive 12-month comprehensive teacher training course.
After my certification I freelanced as a Pilates teacher for a few years before opening my own studio.
As my business grew, I was in desperate need of teachers but there was a shortage of well-trained Classical Pilates teachers in Australia. So I created my own teacher training program called “Authentic Pilates Education International” which is now licensed internationally.
Olga teaching Gaby Nobel from Exhale Pilates London
Throughout the twists and turns of my varied careers, my love of performing has never left me.
I felt blessed when I was invited to be a guest artist, character actor with the Australian Ballet Company for their Sydney season from 2006 unto 2019.
Valentine and I had been married for 16 years and they hadn’t been particularity happy years. Our personalities clashed terribly and we were making each other unhappy.
We made the decision to separate in 2005 but remained soul-mates over 15 years, meeting up every week as well as celebrating our birthdays, and special occasions together.
Our last night together was spent laughing, watching a movie. But when I called him a few days later there was no answer and I knew something was wrong.
Valentine always picked up the phone so I dashed over to his flat and was grief stricken when I discovered it was too late.
I will never forget the image of him on his bed that day. He had died alone just a few hours earlier from a pre-existing heart condition. I too felt so alone and guilty … could I have done something? Could I have made a difference? It was 10th February 2020.
While our marriage was not the fairy tale we had hoped for, we remained husband and wife until the end. I miss him terribly.
As I reach my 69th year I ask myself “how did I get here so quickly?” And as I contemplate my future I wonder if my career will take yet another turn? The truth is I don’t know.
But one thing I do know for sure is that I have found renewed confidence and have returned to acting!
I have managed to create a business that sustains me and a second chance at a profession that fulfils my passion for performing. I feel more adventurous and feel comfortable making bolder choices without the fear of being judged.
To any of you out there reading this I would say, never give up on your dreams, or say it’s too late. Embrace the ups and downs (there will be many of both) follow your passion. Most importantly stay fit and healthy enough to enjoy it all!
Acquire new knowledge and try new things
Be prepared to take risks
Learn from your failures and celebrate your victories
Keep an open mind and explore the never ending possibilities…there are many
Most importantly stay fit and healthy enough to enjoy it all!
To connect with Olga:
Instagram - @olgatamara2
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