A dance school with a difference celebrated its first anniversary in Hucknall last Friday.
Councillors, community groups and teachers were invited to the Believe Academy’s base on Portland Street to discover how the school’s unconventional ethos can help Hucknall.
Founder Simone Witherden said: “We don’t drive the pupils in an aggressive way - it’s very much more the holistic approach. Nastiness is unnecessary. I think you get a lot more out of teaching people to believe in themselves.
“I have had kids walk through the door who had no confidence who went on to win top performer of the year. We have seen brilliant results without cracking the whip and hurling abuse. I want to to boost their self-esteem and confidence. That’s a great privilege.”
The school has around 200 pupils - aged from three to over 50 - who learn ballet, modern, tap, street, gymnastic and bespoke choreography like wedding dances. As well as dance classes, the academy regularly mounts musicals, with their next production - The Wizard of Oz - due to be performed on November 28 at the John Godber Centre in Hucknall.
There are short courses on specific dances like waltz and rhumba, and ex-pupils who have turned professional come back and teach workshops in subjects they have specialised in.
But the academy’s unusual approach to creativity and performance doesn’t stop there.
Simone said: “There are a lot of children who have the skill to be involved but don’t want to be on the stage. So they get involved in things like costume and set design. If there’s a photographer we let them do that - we do as much as we can to develop all areas of the performing acts.”
In addition, the academy also teaches a programme of life-skills which prepares children and parents for the ‘rollercoaster ride of adolescence.’
Simone said: “We try to get the children to recognise that, like a rollercoaster ride, adolescence does come to an end. Some people have a really rocky ride and we teach coping techniques and strategies to deal with things like cyber bullying and peer pressure.
“We have had great feedback and it’s very rewarding.”
The Believe Academy grew out of the Let’s Dance studio - which was based in numerous school halls and temporary venues for 11 years - until Simone found a permanent base on Portland Street above the Glen Smedley carpet shop.
Born in Zambia, Simone studied dance in Durban, South Africa, where she danced professionally before moving to the UK in 2002. She started teaching at Butler’s Hill infant school in Hucknall. “It just grew from there,” said Simone, 49, of Bolingey Way, citing examples of the many school productions, after-school clubs, impromptu ‘flash-mobs’ and shows the academy has staged.
Simone says the school’s success is based on an ‘incredible group of supportive and involved parents and teachers’ who share the same ethos.
“I am very community focussed,” she said. “At the birthday celebrations we were asking ‘How we can do more in the future to make a difference?’
“I do push the pupils. I tell them to practise your best so that your best gets better. They need to be the best that they can be.
“It’s about fulfilling individual potential and each individual can do this.”
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