All That Tap- May 24th, 2014 Massey TheatreThe West Coast Tap Dance Collective's annual Tap Dance Day celebration - All That Tap, will be held this year on May 24th 7:30 at the Massey Theatre in New Westminster. This will be our 12th annual celebration showcasing local talent along with invited guest performers from across Canada and the US. We are excited to be paying tribute this year to legendary local tap teacher and mentor Peggy Peat.
Peggy Peat was born in London to parents, George and Marie Bowen. She is a ‘true’ Londoner, born within earshot of the ‘Bow Bells’ the bells of St. Mary-le-Bow church. When she was very young her parents moved to Dagenham, Essex which is now a suburb of London.
Peggy Bowen’s father was instrumental in her dance career. In WW1 he had been in the entertainment corps and he had a love for theatre and dance. “He could make anybody laugh”. Despite the fact that the family did not have extra money, he took them to the theatre often.
At the age of four, Peggy began her dancing lessons with Miss Olga in Dagenham. Miss Olga specialized in preparing her students for the London Pantomimes so Peggy learned tap, character, charleston and can can dancing. George would come home from work to ride Peggy to her lesson on the handlebars of his bike.
When Peggy (also known as Cissie) was nine or ten, she had a crush on Shirley Temple. She would to go the theatre and stay all afternoon, watching the same show two or three times in a row. Many times the theatre manager would have to announce, “Cissie Bowen your dad is waiting for you.”
At the age of nine, Peggy was chosen to perform in the chorus of the London Pantomimes. She loved the thrill of performing and being on stage. Once a year a man was sent to the dance schools all over England to look for potential performers, and two weeks before Christmas he would decide who would be hired. Peggy was chosen along with two or three others from Miss Olga’s school and they would ride with a chaperone on the train to the theatre every day. There she would dance in shows such as Dick Wittington and his Cat and Cinderella. On one occasion the person playing the cat in Dick Wittington was unable to perform and Peggy stepped in. She knew the part and was the only one small enough to fit the costume! She was paid more because it was a speaking part.
When World War II broke out, her opportunity to perform ended but she continued to dance and take lessons. Her dad would sell the families' sugar coupons to pay for her dance lessons. In her spare time she taught the neighbourhood kids singing and dancing routines to perform at the hospitals.
In 1945, Peggy met her future husband, a Canadian soldier named David Watson Peate. Her sister, Marie, had brought her boyfriend home to meet her parents. His intention was to ask for Marie’s hand in marriage so he brought his friend David for support. The two men were on leave from the army. Peggy got to know David during his week of leave, and married him when he returned from the war three or four months later. Marie and Peggy had a double wedding in 1946.
The same year Peggy and David moved to Palmer Saskatchewan where Peggy taught dance in the public school for a short time. Then they moved to Moose Jaw Saskatchewan where she taught for Doris Sidder. Doris became a good friend, but Peggy felt that she couldn’t help to support her family on the $1 per hour she was being paid. She opened the Peggy Peat Sunshine School of Dance and soon had four or five hundred students. The school was in the basement of Peggy’s home. It was too small a space to properly rehearse larger groups so every week Peggy rented a hotel space for rehearsal. Peggy and David lived in Moose Jaw for twenty-five years, moved to Saskatoon for three years and finally moved to Maple Ridge in 1970.
Peggy’s family is very important to her and she is proud of her five children. Her daughter, Margaret, and her grand-daughter, Talia are now very active in the school. The studio has an excellent reputation for providing quality instruction and excellent experiences for dancers. Although she has long been retired from teaching she works at the studio every day except Wednesdays and Sundays, answering phones and talking with students.
“People ask me if I had my life to live again, would I change? No. I wouldn’t change a thing. I was married sixty-two years and I was happy.” Peggy Peat