Elmhurst is the oldest school of dance in the country – and one of the most prestigious in the world, attracting the best young talent to Birmingham
This great city of ours is full of genuinely top-class organisations and institutions that fly the flag for Birmingham – we’ve featured many in these pages. And Elmhurst School for Dance is right up there with the best. While the name might not be on everyone’s immediate radar, budding dancers travel from across the globe to study at what is the oldest and one of the most prestigious dance schools in the UK. Many former students have gone on to dance with some of the most renowned companies in the world receiving rave reviews and international acclaim. Alumni include Jenny Agutter, Dame Merle Park , Helen Baxendale and Sarah Brightman, while Britain’s most famous modern ballerina Darcey Bussell is also a big supporter. The school opened in Camberley in 1923 and moved to its Birmingham home in 2004 largely driven by its increasingly strong links with Birmingham Royal Ballet.
THRILL OF PERFORMING
Of the move, which realised a £20million investment, principal Jessica Ward says: “We were delighted to become part of the rich tapestry of Birmingham, contributing to the arts and culture scene with our parent company Birmingham Royal Ballet.” These close ties with BRB are a coup for the school and mean that pupils are given the opportunity to experience the thrill of performing in leading productions with a world-class company while they study. They also enjoy tuition with BRB’s leading lights and get a real taste of life as a professional dancer. With pupils from as young as 10, Elmhurst is largely a boarding school although there are a handful of day pupils. The school receives applications from as far afield as Japan and even Australia and has a rigorous audition process. Jessica says: “While the school has an international reach and students join us from across the globe, Birmingham is home.” The school continues to engage with the local community through its outreach programme taking dance to the masses. Ballet still feels like an art form for the privileged, so Elmhurst does its best to break down barriers through regular workshops and performances in local schools, hospitals and other community groups reaching people who might not encounter classical dance in their normal lives.
More than 100 performances have taken place since the programme’s inception under the direction of Errol Pickford (head of graduate performance and touring). The programme has been universally well-received and has even uncovered hidden potential with some of the city’s youngsters showing great promise. There’s an associate programme that runs workshops at the weekend for local children allowing them access to the school’s facilities and top tutors. Clearly the focus of the education is dance, but recognising that a career as a dancer is limited in terms of longevity, Elmhurst offers a holistic approach with a broad curriculum that ensures pupils leave as rounded individuals with a wide skills base. They work hard to fit in the academic requirements as well as dance with long days usually running from 8.15am to 6pm, but there’s a real family ethos. With a medical centre, physiotherapists, nutritionists and strong pastoral care, the pupil’s packed schedule is balanced with strong support and nurturing. Recent former students have gone on to forge successful careers such as Nicol Edmonds who is a soloist at the Royal Ballet, Rosanna Ely who joined BRB, Max Robertson a soloist with the Serbian National Ballet and Nastazia Philippou, a first artist in the Bucharest National Ballet, to name just a few. It’s worth noting that these four talented students received DADA funding which is a Government financial support scheme assisting pupils throughout their time at Elmhurst. Ninety-three per cent of the lower school receives financial help supporting the school’s ethos that every student should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential regardless of their background. All of which perfectly reflects what the school calls its Three Stands of Life – Live, Dance, Learn!