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Inverness dance school is learning new steps

By Margaret Chrystall

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Lexi Kershaw is among the students. Picture: AFD imaging
Lexi Kershaw is among the students. Picture: AFD imaging

TWO of the three founders of an independent performing arts school in Inverness find their new premises directly opposite the location they took their first dance steps as toddlers.

Amanda Chisholm, who runs Performers UK with Victoria Rollo and Enrica Ross-Campbell, explained: “When Victoria and I were three we started dancing classes just across the river from where we are now.

“We can see where we took our own first little steps!”

Since 2014 when Performers UK was started, it has become a well-established independent performing arts school that – until earlier this summer – was based at Culloden Academy on the outskirts of Inverness.

But just before lockdown, the three funders and principals announced that they intended to take over the lease of the city centre Dr Black Hal.

They revealed they intended to renovate the building and use its extensive space to accommodate all the classes in dance, acting, singing and musical theatre that the school offers for pupils aged two to 18.

However, the timing was affected by Covid-19 taking hold across the country.

Amanda said: “We were due to have our open day in April, but obviously as we were trying to get the building ready, we were hit by Covid like everybody else and we had to down tools during lockdown.”

They did manage to run Zoom classes from their own homes over the summer.

.”But as soon as we could we got back into the building as the restrictions started to lift and we carried on with the renovations and managed to open on August 31.

“It was much later than we anticipated,” said Amanda.

“But we made it.

“We have some capped numbers in classes following government guidelines, we’ve got a one way system in place and all the rules in place.

“Obviously, we would love to have had our big open day for opening so everyone could come and see it, but we are just glad to be open.

“We were kind of lucky because you come into the building and you can’t imagine it being used for anything else now.

“There is a very strong one way system there going round in a loop.

“It was so rundown – it had been empty for eight years – so we were in cleaning, scrubbing it, everything got painted, new flooring, we decorated the bathrooms, and it just feels like home now, a proper performing arts centre. The studios are great we have dance floors down there.

“It is a listed building, so we are governed and have to jump through more hoops because of that and have to make sure we are allowed to do things. There are lots of rules and regulations there.

“It is a work in progress, but we are going on to the next thing. We still have some little bits and bobs to finish, but it is all coming together.

It doesn’t look as the school will be able to stage a production this year.

Amanda said: “We have only just been allowed to sing, so we haven’t gone ahead with the group singing classes yet. We have been focusing on dance and drama and we do exams so we have been focusing on those.

“Live shows are still not allowed, so we can’t see us going ahead with our Christmas show which is a shame for the kids, but it’s just the way it is.

“So we are just brushing up on things and making sure they have all their technique in place for next year.

“Upstairs will be a brilliant live performance space. We have called it The Great Gatsby Hall and we have named all the rooms, so downstairs we have The 42nd Suite- which is another dance studio.

“Like everybody, we are just waiting to be told what we can do next.

“Luckily we have a lot of October workshops happening next week – we weren’t sure until Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, spoke the other day, whether we could go ahead.”

The three principals are happy that so many people have supported them through the lockdown and as they got their new building ready.

Amanda said: “We were really lucky we have so many loyal people who have been with us for years. We hae 300 children on our books now, but obviously we have had to cut class sizes down and put more classes on.

“A lot of people stuck with us with Zoom classes over lockdown, just to give them some kind of normality every day, also it was good for the active side of things and they have been amazing.

“They stuck with us, and they love us being in the centre of town.

“The older ones can get a bus or the train in depending on where they live and get off in the town centre.

“At first we were worried because there is no designated parking, but there is so much in town and there is a bay outside the building where you can drop the kids off . People just drop them and we take them in because we don’t have any parents in the building at all at the moment.

“It’s a shame because they are all desperate to see it, but we just can’t have the traffic through.

“We are desperate for everyone to see it and there will be a big party when we do.”

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