Jessica Wheeler

The Principal of Elmhurst Ballet School, Jessica Wheeler talks hopes and dreams for the dance centre of excellence, plus juggling a young family – and two lively king charles cavaliers! 

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

I graduated from full-time contemporary dance training in 1998 from Trinity Laban, London and joined their resident dance company but suffered an injury which meant I had to consider my options. I always enjoyed working with young people so teaching seemed a natural way forward. I started lecturing at London College of Dance and was an artist in residence at Impington Village College, Cambridge before my first teaching job as head of dance at a really challenging school in Islington. It was tough, but by the time I left six years later we had created a new performing arts centre with purpose-built dance studio. Out of the blue I received a call about the role of principal at Elmhurst and couldn’t believe my luck when I was offered it in 2010.

IT’S WHAT I DO

I love my job. The students, staff, the environment, the excitement of performance – there is never a dull moment. My role is to lead and manage the school, from learning, dance and academic and health, well-being and boarding. As a business, we have 130 employees and budgets to balance. Funding is a struggle and now with Covid-19 we will have even bigger issues to overcome but I am ready with my brilliant team to face them.

WHAT I’D LIKE TO SEE

My ambition for Elmhurst is to be known as one of the top 10 ballet and dance school’s internationally. Not only to serve our students brilliantly but to offer something to our local community; sharing the love of dance as an art form and healthy activity, giving young people the opportunity to engage with dance who might not otherwise have been able to. I want us to be an influencer across the wider dance and education sectors. We reach our 100th anniversary in 2023 and we all know the best birthdays are celebrated over a couple of years so it will be an exciting time. Watch this space!

BIGGEST SUCCESS

Juggling my life! I have two gorgeous children aged three and four and I am a single mum, so working full-time and making sure they get enough ‘mummy time’ is a challenge, but one I enjoy. I was really pleased to be nominated in the Ladies First Awards’ Business Woman of the Year category 2020 – it is lovely recognition for the school and as I celebrate 10 years at Elmhurst.

BIGGEST LESSON LEARNED

My parents brought me up on the principle that ‘you make your own luck’ and that hard work and effort are important to carving out your future. I love pace and challenge but I have learnt that taking your time and sleeping on decisions often leads to better outcomes. I also remember mum saying to me ‘jump and the net will appear’, so I think taking risks and being creative can lead to exciting results.

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT BRUM

I am a complete Brummie convert. The city has so much to offer – culturally, socially, food! The people are genuinely friendly too. I feel very much at home here.

DOWNTIME

I love to exercise and have to work hard to take the time to push through a short Joe Wicks or Shaun T session, even if the kids and dogs join in! I have two King Charles Cavaliers – Roxy and Ruby – so walking them with the kids is always great. Our local park is Warley Woods in Bearwood which is a real gift!