Lionel and June Glennie were both born in Coventry, a city savagely blitzed during the Second World War. Lionel was born in 1930 and June in 1932. Lionel was born to parents who had no religious interest or faith, whereas June had a mum who was a regular church-goer, and saw that June duly went to Sunday school. Her mum also took her, between the ages of four and seven, to a dancing class in a building in Coventry until a Nazi bomb flattened it.
Later, at the age of eleven, attending a private school where everyone had to do dance, and in spite of many hating it, June loved it. She actually made trips to London to attend the classical ballet classes of Edouard Espinosa “in a room every Wednesday between two and six o’clock behind a locked door” (it was ‘first come, first served’) and those classes led to June’s first certificate of dancing proficiency. Dame Ninette de Valois had attended Espinosa’s classes and she later came to present trophies. Interestingly her passion for dance was always to teach it and not perform. June said that “anything that moved at home got a lesson!”
Lionel’s father had fought in the First World War, and having been holed up in a tent with a coke fire, suffered respiratory troubles for the rest of his life. He did not want to see his own son caught up in any war, and so sent him off to Canada where he was sponsored by a brother-in-law already living there. Lionel already had itchy feet, having travelled round England with a friend picking up casual farming or labouring jobs. His initial lead to Canada was the offer of a job as a lumber-jack.
Lionel and June met at a dance in Allesley, a village near Coventry. Lionel, somewhat friendless and at a loss after his return from Canada in the early fifties, found himself at a Conservative Club dance in spite of his own father being a firm Labour supporter. June had gone there with a friend. Apparently Lionel danced to what June refers as “his own rhythm”, a somewhat fitting description for Lionel’s life in general.
Lionel and June were married in 1954 in an Anglican church wedding, more in line with June’s Christian background than any religious commitment of Lionel’s. However it became apparent that he was not wholly uninterested in religion. The vicar conducting the wedding wryly observed “It’s a pity you did not read as much about Christianity as you have of all these other religions”. Lionel had told him about his fascination with other world religions, including the religious practices of the North American Indians. Many years later he described himself as being ‘absolutely smitten’ by the musical Jesus Christ Superstar.
Lionel and June ‘took to the road’, for a life of touring the country and living in a caravan. They both worked on the land, simply moving from one landowner to another. June gave up any association with dance for the next seventeen years. It was an extraordinary life which brought a mixture of experiences and responses, and June remembers that having lived an essentially ‘gipsy-like’ existence they met some harsh prejudice. I remember some people saying ‘We don’t want your sort around here’”. June still went to church. “We travelled round the country in our horse-drawn wagon, and if we happened to be within walking distance of any church, we would go along.
In 1962, with some financial help from June’s parents, they bought a piece of land near Beccles in Suffolk, on which they could finally settle with their family. For the first few years they kept their caravans, but in 1969 they started to construct their own home. It was largely self-built, over the following years, with the children helping too, notably their son Martin. It is today an impressive house with features of heritage salvaged from demolition sites.
Finally, settling on the Suffolk site, June started a modestly-attended dance class in a local village hall, which ultimately led to two permanent studios, one in Beccles and the other in Lowestoft. This fledgling class grew into the June Glennie School of Dance, which has evolved into one of the best dance schools in the region, with a history of sending pupils on to professional training, including achieving places at the Royal Ballet School and other highly reputable dance colleges. However, June’s abiding pride lay in seeing “a child with two left feet or knock knees or tight tendons” achieve success, even if it be relatively less marked. Her return to dance teaching had also been prompted by the tragic death of a son, David, at the age of four. June described how the commitment to dance helped fill the dreadful vacuum of his loss.
Their initial introduction to the Faith and Bahá’ís came in the early 1970s. Indeed the essential attraction which led Lionel and June to become Bahá’ís was that of their Bahá’í friends “whose kindness and friendship countered what had been the worst in people.”
Although June sustained her Christian faith, she always felt “there were faults in the Christian religion; man-made ones. They tweaked it to be all-powerful and turned it into something that controlled people.” Later, embracing the Bahá’í Faith, June said that the absence of a clergy impressed her greatly.
Lionel’s introduction to the Faith was specifically through Wendi Momen whom he believes he met through local Suffolk Bahá’ís Richard and Rosemary Morgan. Lionel remembers attending the then annual Barsham Fair where the Bahá’ís had a tent. Lionel particularly responded to the musical performances of that time, and he remembers an impressive drumming session!
Following this, June remembers “We used to go to Nigel Colebrook’s where we met other Bahá’ís, and where they held ‘firesides’. We went together to Wendi’s firesides, but on one occasion when I could not go, Lionel came home and said ‘I’ve declared!’” Lionel observed that his declaration “caused me and June to quarrel for a long time, because she said ‘whatever happened to consultation?’” After this, June did not attend any further firesides for the next two years, but she did provide food for any Feasts held in their home. However Richard and Rosemary were “apparently praying like mad” that June would declare!
Lionel rather modestly remembers being attracted by the Bahá’ís as people, but also felt that he met people “much more intelligent than me who had investigated the Faith, and if they were convinced, I ought to be as well!”
June duly declared, two years after Lionel, and describes loving the Feasts and the people who were “not always picking holes in others, but looking for the best.”
Lionel too loved the Bahá’í events and celebrations, and both he and June were deeply committed members of the newly-created Spiritual Assembly of Waveney. When boundaries were later redrawn by the Universal House of Justice, the Waveney Assembly disappeared. Lionel was deeply affected by its loss, feeling that years of hard work and effort had gone into its development, only for him to be expected to start all over again.
Lionel and June were at the creative centre of the annual local carnivals in which the wider Bahá’í community participated. The Waveney Bahá’ís for some years entered Norfolk and Suffolk carnivals with startlingly imaginative structures and costumes which proclaimed the principles of the Faith. Lionel was an intrepid organiser and leader on the day, and truly loved the experience of serving his beloved faith in this way. The carnivals have now run their course but they left a legacy of happy memories and video footage for possibly thousands of people who witnessed them.
The creative skills of the Waveney Bahá’ís led to their being directly responsible for the ‘Liverpool Experience’, an extraordinary installation at a Liverpool Bahá’í Festival, which had people journeying through the Siyáh Chál and Ridván Garden!
Over the years, June has displayed Bahá’í quotations in her dance schools, and Bahá’í themes have informed some choreography, not least being the remarkable dance performed at a National Convention held in Ipswich, which celebrated the building of the Delhi Temple. June’s commitment to all her dance students, whatever their build or talent, was amusingly recognised by a Bahá’í watching the ‘To Build a Temple’ dance who said to her afterwards “You used the little fat one well”!
Lionel ran a haulage business for many years, and often put his lorries at the service of the Faith. He has retired now, as has June. Their two gifted daughters, Sharon and Beth, run the dance school.
June’s remarkable legacy as a dance teacher has been to instil not only the love of dance, its discipline and grace, but an abiding confidence which serves her former pupils through the rest of their lives. Indeed she has led a life of service to others, which was recognised at an annual dinner of the British Ballet Organisation (BBO), in Covent Garden, where she was awarded its highest honour, a Fellowship. The BBO actually use videos of the June Glennie School of Dance to advertise the Organisation on a global scale.
Lionel and June both continue to serve the Faith in Suffolk.
Lionel and June Glennie,
Suffolk, March 2016
Story composed from notes taken and recorded by Iain Macdonald.