War, love and ballet: a prima ballerina’s road to Wesley School for Seniors
Wesley School for Seniors is about recognising that no matter what your age, you never have to stop growing, learning, laughing and being inspired.
Someone who embodies that philosophy fully is Maria Filmer, a volunteer tutor who, now 96 years of age, has been leading the gentle exercise class two days a week for the past 16 years. Her class supports older people to move their body through gentle exercise accompanied by lovely music, helping people to stay active and maintain their strength and wellbeing. Maria’s class is very popular and always attracts a lot of students.
Maria is a wonderful role model for living a healthy, full life. By anyone’s standards, she has lived an exciting life, filled with adventure and glamour. And she doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
She was born in Hungary in 1920 and began learning to dance at a young age, going on to begin a career as a professional dancer before moving to London at the start of World War II. In London, Maria performed as the principal dancer in many productions and even found love, meeting and marrying a British musician.
Just before the Soviet occupation of Hungary, her parents left their homeland to join Maria and her husband in England. They made it just in time, because the day after they arrived, Maria’s beautiful daughter was born, but the adventure was only just beginning because the whole family soon moved to Africa. They lived in Nairobi, Kenya for 20 years, first as chicken farmers and then growing coffee.
Maria’s parents lived the rest of their lives in Africa, and were buried there when they died. After they had both passed, Maria and her family moved to Australia. It was the 1970s and Maria was living a leisurely life in Queensland, where she says she was not doing much more than playing lawn bowls and swimming each day. Eventually, Maria moved to Sydney where a friend of hers, who has only recently passed away, introduced her to Wesley Mission and she started attending School for Seniors ballet classes.
Sixteen years ago, Maria started volunteering as a tutor, teaching the gentle exercises class that she continues to teach today. Maria facilitates two classes each week to a regular group of approximately 30 women, and in 2015 she was awarded a Volunteer of the Year award in the Wesley School for Seniors category.
Maria loves to volunteer, “It’s a wonderful gift to give your ability to other people,” she said.
“It’s nice to see the ladies being able to do exercises now that they could not do when they started.
“And it is a nice feeling for me, I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I can still volunteer and manage that size of class and at that level of two classes a week.”