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Young North East dancers in national finals

THINK of dance and the North East and Billy Elliot might spring to mind – but one talented group of dancers hasn’t followed the plot.

Dance company Vizavis
Dance company Vizavis

THINK of dance and the North East and Billy Elliot might spring to mind – but one talented group of dancers hasn’t followed the plot.

In dance company Vizavis, which is to represent the region in a big show in London this month, the boys outnumber the girls by nine to seven.

“This is the first year that we’ve had more boys than girls,” said Lynda Clough, head of dance at the Dame Allan’s Schools in Newcastle.

Dance has been taught at the schools since 1990, nearly a decade before that famous film showed young Billy struggling to realise his dance ambitions in a macho world.

Vizavis was set up in 2004 as part of the Dame Allan’s Gifted & Talented programme to be the school’s flagship dance company.

It has certainly fulfilled that ambition. At Stockton in April the Vizavis dancers won the regional final – beating 11 other dance groups – of a national Youth Dance England competition.

This means they will be off to London shortly to perform at the 2,500-seat Royal Festival Hall with other winning groups from around the country.

The performances will be part of U.Dance 2012, a three-day celebration of youth dance at the Southbank Centre in London from July 13-15.

As well as performing in front of a large and discerning audience, the youngsters from Newcastle will also take part in workshops led by top dance professionals.

The Vizavis dance piece that caught the judges’ eye is called Once Bitten and it was inspired by TV series The Vampire Diaries.

Dance has become an integral part of school life at Dame Allan’s, according to Lynda, with both GCSE and A-level dance available to pupils.

“From next year, we’ll do dance as part of the PE curriculum, boys as well as girls,” she said.

On reaching a certain level of ability, young dancers can audition for Vizavis which is run by the pupils themselves.

Lynda said: “Because we also want to give them a lot of life skills, they appoint a chairperson and two vice-chairs and they all have their own individual jobs.

“Although I oversee it, they do really run it themselves and have their own rehearsal director, someone who will do the warm-up classes and someone who looks after costumes.”

One of the current vice chairs is James Treynor who is also captain of the first 15 rugby team. Among the other dancers are twins Patrick and Benedict Harrison who are accomplished sailors.

“It’s built up over the years to the point when dance is an acceptable thing to do at our school,” said Lynda. “However, it’s not necessarily universally acceptable.

“Some of the lads have had a bit of a rough time outside school when it’s been discovered they’re dancers.

“But I think the lads really love the physicality of it.

“They like doing the lifts at first but then they want to refine their movement skills.”

It seems the outside world isn’t entirely averse to boys who dance. Lynda mentioned one former pupil who played rugby for his county but was accepted on to a law conversion course when it was discovered he’d done A-level dance.

“When you think about it, a lot of people have similar grades so at that point you’ll go to the next stage and see what’s different about them,” said Lynda. “Being a dancer is seen as an indication of character.”

Past pupils who have gone into the dance world include Hilary Stainsby, who joined Random Dance Company, Rachel Erdof, who now lives in Israel and has won international choreography competitions, and Adam Park, aged 21, who has joined Rambert Dance Company.

Among the current crop of budding stars is 18-year-old Ellis Saul, Vizavis dance captain, who last year was selected for a prestigious scheme run by Youth Dance England in association with the Royal Ballet School and Royal Opera House.


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