County Durham pair to make Royal Ballet debut

Dancers Leah Cliff and Ella Boyd have been accepted onto the Royal Ballet's prestigious junior associates scheme

Ballet dancers Leah Cliff, 11 and Ella Boyd
Ballet dancers Leah Cliff, 11 and Ella Boyd

The school that launched the career of prima ballerina Darcey Bussell has two little stars waiting in its wings.

Friends Leah Cliff, 11, and Ella Boyd, nine, have been accepted as Royal Ballet Junior Associates and are on the very first rungs of the elite academy’s training programme.

Just 10 girls a year are accepted onto the scheme from the North East and get the prestigious honour of wearing the school’s white and navy leotards.

Marion Lewis, who currently teaches the pair at the Lewis School of Dance in Chester-le-Street, County Durham, said: “They are absolutely lovely little girls and they are so disciplined and so dedicated for children so young. They are so happy to be doing this.”

As junior associates they will train alongside other gifted dancers at the Sage Academy of Performing Arts in Byker, Newcastle, in two-hour sessions with a Royal Ballet instructor. The programme is often used to talent spot the region’s best dancers and some may be invited to audition to become full-time pupils in the future.

Ella’s mum Lisa Boyd, said: “We’re immensely proud of her. She’s been dancing since the age of two and we never have to force her to go.

“She wants to pursue this when she’s older so it’s far mor than just a hobby. She goes to see lots of ballets but her favourite is Romeo and Juliet.”

The youngster, who attends Durham High School for Girls and lives at Langley Park in County Durham, auditioned in February.

Leah was accepted as an associate last year and finds out next month if she has also landed a full-time place at the ballet’s lower school at White Lodge in Richmond Park, London.

Dance teacher Marion said: “They are very difficult auditions so to have two girls at the same time is great.

“What they are looking for is the right shape body. They are looking for long legs with a short body, a long neck, although this isn’t essential it’s aesthecially pleasing, and a beautiful arched foot.

“They are also looking for loose limbs and a really good jump.”

After taking part in the dance school’s performances of Babes in the Wood and Giselle last year the girls are now working towards their Grade 3 ballet exams.

Leah, who goes to Park View Community School in Chester-le-Street, is the daughter of Neil and Joanne and has an older brother.

At the age 11 she is also starting to dance en pointe for the first time.

Marion said: “She’s just got her shoes and put the ribbons on. I teach all the girls to sew and darn their ballet shoes. Even Darcey Bussell does her own shoes!”

The girls are only the third and fourth students from the school to be selected for the scheme in the thirty years Marion has been teaching dance.

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