In the north-east, it can often feel that we are miles away from the epicentre of the arts.
Thanks to one Aberdeen dance school, though, many dancers from the region have gone on to enjoy extremely successful careers, and even west-end stardom.
Danscentre, on the city’s Hutcheon Street, was set up by Karen Berry in 1987, and has grown constantly since, offering north-east youngsters the opportunity to explore their love of ballet, jazz, tap and contemporary dance styles, among others.
As part of its 25th anniversary celebrations, the school has produced a spectacular show, Live – Love – Dance, which they will perform at HM Theatre this week.
Although the dancers range in age from five to 18, Karen said that visitors could expect a very high-quality show, reminiscent of touring companies’ productions.
“We’re very privileged to have HM Theatre as a platform for our work. I see lots of things there, but I can genuinely say what people will see is nothing short of what you would expect of a professional show,” she said.
The show, which has taken nine months to put together, is split into three acts. Act One is a story dance, Nottingham Tales, based roughly on Robin Hood. All of the school are cast, with the junior pupils taking starring roles.
So why no sugary-sweet fairytale like Cinderella for the juniors?
“We have so many boys this year, it’s unreal,” said Karen.
“We thought that seeing as we have so many Merry Men it would be a good choice. There are over 20 boys in the junior classes this year. It’s quite unusual, especially when I go in and all I can hear is football chat. It’s quite funny.
Act Two focuses on the school’s ballet dancers, covering romantic ballet and neo-classic ballet. Finally, Act Three covers tap, jazz, hip hop and contemporary, and will feature some special guests on Saturday.
“We have 33 dads performing a routine to Moves Like Jagger at the weekend, and it’ll be fantastic,” said Karen.
“They’ve done a block of six weeks of classes and been sponsored to complete the dance on the stage. They have raised thousands of pounds for charity, which is just great.”
Karen says it is hard to believe that the school has been running for 25 years. Although there have been many trends in the world of dance in that time, she said that the number of boys signing up for classes has definitely been one of the most noticeable.
“We’ve always had boys; we started with two and I’ve been to both of their weddings in recent years, and now one of their sons comes to the school,” she said.
“The trend in general for dance in Britain has been more accepting of male dancers. That’s been helped by Billy Elliot and other high-profile films, and groups like Diversity on Britain’s Got Talent. People can see it’s a very athletic art. We have boys-only classes now, but they’re not fussed about being in with the girls. It’s great for the girls because it makes them more competitive, and having girls in a boys’ class helps them appreciate the finer skills of dancing, like how to achieve a better line.”
Having a connection with her pupils has been important to Karen. Many of her pupils have gone on to have success in the industry, including Rambert dancer Angela Towler, west-end star Callum Nicol, and Harris Beattie, who is currently treading the boards as Billy Elliot in London.
“Unlike a school teacher, who has their pupils for two years at the most, I get to watch them grow from a child into an adult,” said Karen.
“OK, 99% of them might not go on to dance as a profession, but having a routine, learning to work to their full potential, learning to put in that extra effort when they’re tired and really push themselves – these are skills they’ll take on to life. It’s a real privilege to be part of that journey.
“The Danscentre community spreads so much farther than Aberdeen. When I visit London, I meet up with former pupils, and also in Manchester.
“In Aberdeen, we’re a very creative bunch, quite cosmopolitan, and open minded. It’s more difficult to break down barriers farther south, but up here, dance is looked at as something athletic, and something to be proud of.”
With a special civic reception with the lord provost to look forward to, and future hopes of expanding outwith Aberdeen, Danscentre has plenty to celebrate.
Live – Love – Dance is at HM Theatre from tonight until Saturday. For more information, visit www.box officeaberdeen.com