Dear Students, Parents and Members of Downland Dance,
As we move into the second half of our first term as the new owners of Downland Dance, I thought the time was right for me to release an update on how things have been going so far, as well as to tell you a little about my future plans for the school. I’m also keen to hear back from you over how you think we’ve been doing.
Our first six weeks have been focused largely on establishing the new Downland Dance brand. You will all be familiar with our new logo and re-vamped website by now. In addition to this, our Abingdon members will have all seen the bright and vibrant makeover that the entrance way to our Abingdon studio received in January. We haven’t stopped there though, as the studio itself will be getting a touch up during the Easter break, which will create a clean and comfortable space to help all of our students focus on the serious business of learning to dance! We have also acquired some orange and black cushions which will be provided for our parents on their watching days, hopefully making them much more comfortable.
We’ve been doing some exciting things in the studio as well. Over the past two months, we have begun to put on the first (of what I hope will be many) of our special events which are aimed at inspiring people of all ages and backgrounds to learn to love dance, and at breaking down the stereotypes that might put people off dancing (in particular, my pet hate, that dance is just for girls!). If you weren’t aware of these events, this is what we’ve done so far:
Matz Skoog Masterclasses:
At the beginning of term we were absolutely thrilled to have Matz Skoog with us (an internationally acclaimed ballet star, ex Artistic Director of English National Ballet and Royal New Zealand Ballet, and world renowned dance coach) to deliver ballet masterclasses to students aged 11 and all the way up to adult. The masterclasses were a huge success and thoroughly enjoyed by everyone who attended. Don’t worry if you missed out this time- Matz, and others, are sure to come and visit us again in the future!
Just after our fantastic day with Matz, we were generously hosted by Didcot Aureus Secondary School, along with some of the very talented Graduate students from our friends at Elmhurst Ballet School, to deliver a workshop to 120 of their year 7 students, introducing them to the exciting world of dance. We demonstrated to them how ballet is just as much about power and athleticism as it is about grace and art, and gave them a trial of how good it feels to dance. Many of the Aureus students (the majority of whom were boys), left the studio feeling inspired and energised by dance. To my mind, a huge success!
Downland Dance Open Day:
Our Open Day, which took place during the half term break, saw our Abingdon and Didcot studios filled with 3 – 7 year olds who had come along for a free trial class to see for themselves just how much fun ballet can be. It was a lovely day, and a joy for our teachers to meet so many enthusiastic young people and to share their love of dance with them.
Still To Come:
Our next event will be a day of jazz workshops, on Sunday 8th April 2018, delivered by Courtney Jackson – an experienced professional dancer and successful choreographer, specialising in Jazz, Tap and Musical Theatre, who trained at the Stella Mann College of Performing Arts. There will be classes for students aged 6+ (including a group just for adults), and all ability levels will be catered for. You can find out more about this exciting event by clicking here.
An objective for us, as new owners, is to organise the running of Downland Dance in a way that makes it simpler and more convenient for everybody involved, so we will be implementing a number of systems that aim to do exactly that. Here is some useful information:
Term Dates/ Summer Show:
Next term will run from Monday 23rd April – Thursday 26th July 2018 (Half term: 28th May – 3rd June). You may have noticed that our summer term runs for a few days (depending on your school) after the schools break up this year, and there is a very good reason for that. On Thursday 26th July, we will be holding our Summer Show and Launch Ceremony – an exciting progressions performance, followed by a drinks and nibbles reception to celebrate the official launch of the new ownership, where we will also be handing out awards and prizes to our most deserving students. To enable this to run effectively, our normal scheduled classes will stop on Thursday 26th July, where we are likely to hold a full dress rehearsal in the theatre before the show (more details to be released soon).
Of course, while I understand that holding the ceremony after the schools break up may make it difficult for some people to attend, I would really like for as many of our students and their parents to be there as possible, which is why we are trying to give as much notice as we can. Please do let us know if you think you or your child won’t be able to attend. It is our intention to culminate each summer term in the future with a summer performance, so if you can’t make it this year, it is perhaps something to keep in mind for next year!
Finally, as part of our commitment to efficient communications, we will aim to have the dates of all three terms for the 2018/19 school year published by the end of next term.
We will be holding our next exams session before the end of June 2018 (date tbc by the RAD), and teachers have already begun thinking about who they’d like to put through. From September 2018, we will be holding exam sessions in the Autumn and Spring terms, and teachers will have decided who is to be put forward for their exam by the half term of the preceding term. There will be no exams in the Summer terms (starting 2019), as these terms will be focused more on our summer shows.
My ambition is for every student to get the highest possible marks they can in every exam, and so to this end I have asked teachers to make robust decisions on selection, and to only put students through when they are absolutely sure that the student is ready. I know that all of our students work incredibly hard, so I’m sure that they will appreciate the acknowledgment of progress that being put forward for an exam represents.
When students are selected to go forward for an exam, they will be notified by email and will be presented with a choice of one of our new Exams Packages. The packages were designed with students and parents in mind, and will offer a combination of extra exam prep classes, as well as covering the cost of the exam entrance fee. We want parents to know exactly how much the whole process is going to cost upfront, which is why we have developed Gold, Silver and Bronze packages, so that every student can find the right deal to give themselves the best possible chance at the fairest price.
Just like dancing in a performance, I think it is vital that students rehearse the day before their exam, and so after the exam date is confirmed, we will be rearranging the timetable the day before in an effort to make that possible. As we are likely to have a large number of students entered into exams, it may not be possible to give everybody a class the day before, so we will try to be as fair as possible when deciding how to fit the extra classes in. Don’t worry, we will know about any changes to the timetable before we send out our invoices, so if your scheduled class falls on the day when we’d like to rearrange the timetable, you won’t be charged for the missed class.
There will be minimal changes to our timetable for next term, and if your class is one of those affected by the minor changes that we do plan to make, we will notify you directly. I am happy to announce that after the success of our 3 – 7 year olds Open Day this month, we will be putting on an Overture/ Pre Primary class in Didcot, starting after Easter.
Most of you will know that we usually try to adapt our timetable term from term in an attempt to make our classes fit around all of our students’ schedules. However it seems to me that this is almost always cumbersome, and results in some of our students missing out on classes where a new class time doesn’t work for them. That is why, from September 2018, we will be implementing a new fixed timetable which we will do our best to avoid altering between terms (with the exception of the odd minor change as we work out the bugs!). I hope that this will make it much easier for parents to plan ahead and avoid clashes with the other activities in their schedules. The fixed timetable will also ensure that students who are entered for exams will know exactly when their new class time is going to be after they’ve moved up a grade, and have time to prepare for it.
We have tried to organise the classes in our new timetable as logically as possible, and that does mean that we have had to make some changes from the way it looks now. So, although the timetable won’t be taking effect until September, in order to give all students and parents enough time to prepare for the changes, we will be releasing the new timetable as soon as it has been confirmed – so look out for news on that very soon!
A difficult task for me has been to figure out how we can offer students the best possible environment to help them improve. As students grow and develop, and as their class work becomes more advanced, they begin to need more space so that they can properly execute the steps. My concern is that, while our Abingdon studio is comfortable and conveniently placed for some, its size and ceiling structure can restrict our students from reaching their potential as they begin to need a large space to move effectively and comfortably. That is why, from September 2018, we will be encouraging the Abingdon students of Grade 4 and above to take advantage of the fantastic facilities that are available to us in Didcot Aureus School.
We will be reducing the amount of classes that we offer in Abingdon (Grades 4 and above), and encouraging students to also attend one of the Didcot classes to make up the difference. While this may seem to be an inconvenience at first, I am absolutely certain that all of our students who travel to Didcot will love the freedom that dancing in the bigger space will give them. Not only will they enjoy their dance classes more, but their technique will reach new levels in the bigger space, making them feel that the journey is totally worthwhile.
The classes we offer will be structured as follows, from September:
- Overture – Grade 1: 1 x per week
- Grades 2 & 3: 2 x per week
- Grades 4 & 5: 1 x per week
- Grades 6 – 8: n/a
- Vocational Grades: n/a
- Overture – Grade 1: 1 x per week
- Grades 2 & 3: 2 x per week
- Grades 4 & 5: 2 x per week
- Grades 6 – 8: 1 x per week
- Vocational Grades: 1 x per week
While we have put a great effort into making sure that all students (Grade 2 and above) have at least two classes a week available to them, I understand that this change in structure may make things difficult for some people. That is why we will still be offering open classes in both locations. I remain certain that open classes are the key to fast improvement and to gaining top marks in your RAD exams. This is because the teacher is able to individually adapt each class to suit the needs of its students. If you are Grade 4 or above (and it is essential if you are a student of the vocational grades), you should be coming to at least one open class per week, as well as your RAD graded classes, to make sure that you really are getting the best training that you can.
I understand that asking students to attend open classes on top of their RAD classes can cause a bit of a financial burden, however our primary interest is attainment and achievement for our students, which is why we have developed our new Open Class Packages to help people get the training that they deserve. If you’re interested to find out more, please do get in touch!
I firmly believe that the key to running a successful dance school is to have good communication with the students and their parents, to make sure that we’re meeting your expectations. That is why I am always keen to hear your thoughts and feedback, and you can do that either by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or why not put a suggestion in our suggestions box, which is mounted on the wall of the waiting area of our Abingdon studio.
We may also like to run some polls in the future to help us gather your opinions, so please make sure that you’ve liked us on facebook (@downlanddance) so that you can be involved with those, as well as be kept up to date with all of the exciting news and events which are still to come.
We aspire to making Downland Dance a leader in the provision of ballet training in South Oxfordshire, and a place where our students can enrich their lives in a happy and comfortable environment. Thank you for taking the journey with us.