Karen Berry is in love with dance and encouraging others to pursue it.
And she has been spreading that passion for rhythm and fluidity to youngsters from all over the north of Scotland – and further afield – since the late 1980s.
It’s a journey which has taken her around the world and one where she has witnessed plenty of negative reactions to the idea of boys developing a passion for the paso doble.
And yet, as the head of Aberdeen’s thriving Danscentre establishment, she is delighted that the old stereotypes are being dismantled while young men flock to the dance floor.
Nurturing young talent
Indeed, Karen, who is also involved as senior teacher training manager at the Royal Ballet School in London, is proud of the fashion in which her organisation has helped nurture gifted youngsters who are making waves in major companies across Europe.
It’s a long time since she graduated with a BSc in chemistry from Aberdeen University and quickly realised a job in the oil industry wasn’t going to fuel her artistic ambitions.
So she founded Danscentre in 1987, whilst also freelance dancing and choreographing, and poured her heart and soul into the venture. Some of her early students have gone on to enjoy successful careers in different branches of culture and entertainment: Angela Towler is a renowned performer with the Rambert company, while actress Laura Main is known to millions of TV viewers from her role in Call the Midwife.
Her dissertation was controversial
As a quietly-spoken coiled spring of ebullience and effervescence, Karen has never been interested in sticking with the status quo. When she achieved a BA Hons (1st Class) in Classical Ballet Teaching in 2000, her dissertation was controversial because it critically reviewed the way dance was currently taught worldwide to young children.
She told me: “I remember my tutor saying that I would either be disregarded by the dance profession or employed by them.” Fortunately, it was the latter.
Over the years, despite working for many prestigious organisations, Karen still feels “extremely rooted” to Aberdeen and the young dancers who flock to Danscentre.
She is enthralled by teaching people of all ages and abilities, whatever the reason, whether for recreation, love of movement and physical exercise, or those who harbour dreams of becoming professionals and joining the ranks of the biggest companies.
The boys have fire in their bellies
As she said: “I have worked in Scotland and abroad and I honestly think there is something special about Aberdonians when it comes to dance.
“You don’t find the same prejudices here as in some other places. There isn’t any trace of the notion that dance classes are just for girls.
“If anything, it is the boys who have the fire in their bellies and have the right build to do well, whereas it’s the girls who tend to be a bit more meek and mild.”
The track record, in this respect, is phenomenal. Harris Beattie, 24, from Cults, is a past winner of myriad awards and is now a classical dancer with Northern Ballet in Leeds; Alfie Mcpherson, 22, from St Machar, is a classical dancer with Hamburg Ballet Company; and Cameron Macdonald, 24, from Westhill, has emerged as one of the leading lights with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures.
Talents set to be showcased
There are plenty of others, whose talents will be featured in the Danscentre Senior Review which is being staged at The Lemon Tree from June 22 to 24 and features an eclectic mix of classwork, original choreography and different dance genres.
Karen said: “I can’t take credit for this, because it has been managed and run by our talented co-principal, Michelle Whyte, and the teachers within the school (which has a main centre in Hutcheon Street and six other satellite studios in the north east).
“But it’s a reminder that dance is being taught without barriers and boundaries.”
Danscentre and diversity have gone hand in hand during the past three and a half decades. In which light, perhaps the emergence of this burgeoning generation of Doric dance maestros is only to be expected.
But it wouldn’t have happened without the grand vision of that Granite City youngster with a science degree in her pocket who decided to channel her energies elsewhere.
Tickets are available from www.aberdeenperformingarts.com or by phoning 01224 641122 or visiting the box office at His Majesty’s Theatre or the Music Hall.