Three Decades of Dance
For many little girls, growing up to be a ballerina is the ultimate fantasy. But for a talented few, this dream can become a reality, writes Victoria Bamber
For all budding Darcey Bussell’s, the story starts in the exact same way with a new pair of ballet shoes and a teacher to help them on their way.
Carol May is one such teacher. Based in the heart of Preston for over 35 years, Carol May’s Academy has seen thousands of Lancashire dancers pass through its doors. Many have gone on to have careers in the arts, as teachers, on stage, on tour, on television or even at The Royal Ballet. For others, their passion for dance is a hobby, a fun way to keep fit, make friends and share experiences.
“I have always absolutely loved to dance,” explains Carol, who I interviewed at the Academy one Wednesday evening in between classes. “I teach all day every day, seven days a week, I always have. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t still love it. Even after 35 years of teaching, I am still so passionate about it.”
As the interview progresses, students come and go. Many have been with the Academy since they were two or three years old, learning to skip and point their toes before reading and writing. Often children start dancing before they start school, never remembering a time when dance wasn’t a part of their lives.
As one class ends and another begins, parents with familiar faces drop by to help their children with their shoes, juggling school uniforms and book bags with the occasional tutu and bun nets.
“I taught many of these parents when they were young,” says Carol. “We see generations of children pass through here. It’s amazing to be part of their journey. It’s not unusual to have children, mums and even dads dancing in the same shows.”
Starting at a young age, Carol’s passion for dance was encouraged. After moving to dance college in Kent to professionally train, hone her craft and achieve teaching qualifications, Carol moved to Germany to be part of a touring cabaret ballet called Vegas. In 1982, she returned to Lancashire, teaching students and working for ballet schools before deciding to open her own business shortly afterwards.
In Lancashire, there isn’t a shortage of ballet schools. Many have come and gone over the years, however Carol’s has continued to flourish, with the number of students, classes offered and the premises itself growing as demand increases.
When asked why she thinks her school has been so successful, Carol’s answer was clear. “I adapt to meet people’s needs and requirements. I don’t stand still. I listen to what people want and I try and be as flexible as possible; taking on board new ideas and encouraging creativity.”
Now based in purpose-built studios in Preston’s Guild Hall Arcade; the school offers classes in acro, musical theatre, singing and commercial jazz as well as tap, modern and ballet. Carol has also seen an increase in the number of adults who are looking to use dance to keep fit and have fun as an alternative to going to the gym. The number of male students is also increasing.
From Easter, the Academy will also be offering movement and repetition classes for people coping with the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
With an inclusive attitude towards an art that was once seen as exclusive to all but those with a specific body type, Carol believes that anyone can dance and encourages all students to get involved.
“We are friendly and approachable, and we have worked hard to build an encouraging environment. Anyone can dance and anyone can pass an exam.”
Heavily invested in the local community, the Academy fundraises continuously for Lancashire-based charities and causes. Many of the students dance locally, at village halls and local theatres, as well as nationally and internationally.
When asked about the future, Carol is adamant that she has no plans to retire, having the same enthusiasm for dancing as she did years ago. “I might get a bit bogged down in paperwork sometimes, but as soon as I get in the studio and begin to teach, all of that goes away. Although it might be nice to have a day off once in a while!”