Dancers take a step in the right direction

Dance success
This is Megan Kavanagh who was one of the dance students who left this year with an A grade. Picture by Carl Gleavey

YOUNG dancers from Warrington and Halton are heading to the UK’s top dance and theatre schools after dazzling tutors and examiners with their skills.

Priestley College’s dance cohort have secured places at London Studio Centre, LIPA,  De Montfort and Edge Hill amongst others following a remarkable set of A-Level results, which saw 80% secure A* to A with every student achieving at least a B.

There was similar success for the BTEC Dance students with a 100% pass rate and 50% of grades at Distinction*.

“It was an outstanding year. The students worked so hard and responded brilliantly to everything we taught them,” said Tutor Rachel Leyland.

“Our tutors have worked in theatre so we teach with industry standards and expectations in mind and the students responded to that.”

Among the successful performers was 18-year-old Holly-Ann Hodgkinson from Padgate.

The former Beamont Collegiate Academy pupil secured A* in her Dance A-Level, Distinction* in her Dance BTEC as well as a B in Drama.

Holly-Ann has been dancing since she was a toddler, often performing for family and always moving to a beat if there was one to be heard.

Priestley's dance students’ performed piece at the Victoria Baths in Manchester as an alternative venue.
Priestley’s dance students’ performed piece at the Victoria Baths in Manchester as an alternative venue.

It is only on stage that she leaves her insecurities behind and thrives in front of an audience.

“When you’re on a stage you are in a different world,” said Holly-Ann, who is going on to study Dance and Drama at Edge Hill.

“You just feel the music and move, you’re not aware of anything else around you.”

One of the highlights of studying at Priestley for Holly-Ann was performing at the Victoria Baths in Manchester, which the college hired as an alternative venue.

“It made me realise you don’t need to dance on a stage or in a studio, you can take dance anywhere and be inspired,” said Holly-Ann.

Over the year the dance students have benefitted from workshops in college run by people at the top of their profession including Britain’s national dance company Rambert, a dancer from Thriller Live and Phoenix Dance Theatre Company.

Even former students such as Ben Cupit, who is now studying at the Arts Educational School in London, and Ashley Bradbury, who recently graduated from the University of Middlesex, returned to Priestley to give advice and guidance on how to succeed.

Priestley’s Head of Performing Arts Sarah Graham said: “It really does raise the students’ aspirations by introducing them to professionals in their chosen disciplines. It’s the best way to introduce them to industry standards and our students always raise their level during these workshops.”

Among those who benefitted from the workshops was Beth Lambert, who is 18 and from Sandymoor.

“You really are aiming for perfection when you study at Priestley,” said Beth. “We all pushed each other on, watched one another perform and aimed for the same standards.”

Beth, a former Bridgewater High School pupil, could often be found putting in extra practice in Priestley’s dance studios arriving before anyone else in the morning and sneaking in extra practice during free periods.

Her exam solo was rehearsed more than 50 times – probably more than 100 including practising individual segments of the performance – but it was worth it, reducing tutor Rachel Leyland to tears and setting her on the path to become a West End performer.

She is now going to study at the London Studio Centre after securing an A* in her Dance A-Level along with two Distinction*s and a further Distinction in her Performing Arts BTEC Extended Diploma.

“By the end of my solo performance my heart was on one side of the stage and my lungs on the other because it was physically very challenging,” she said.

“All the hard work was worth it though because I achieved what I wanted to at Priestley and now I am ready to continue pursuing my dreams.”

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