Mission statement

Downland Dance aims to offer dance tuition of the highest quality, in a friendly, supportive, but structured environment, and to encourage the artistic, academic, and spiritual growth of each and every student, instilling best practises around equality, diversity and fairness.

Downland Dance is an organisation made up of a family of Directors and Teachers, many of whom hold a strong link to the professional dance world. All of our teachers hold full DBS certificates, are first aid trained, and adhere to Downland Dance’s strict Safeguarding Policy. Read on to find out more about us.

Management

Desmond Kelly OBE

Desmond Kelly OBE

Non-Executive Chairman

Born in Zimbabwe, Desmond trained there before he began his professional career with London Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet), becoming principal dancer at age 21, and later working with many international companies including Royal New Zealand Ballet, The Royal Ballet and Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet.

He performed in Britain during the 1960s, and joined the Royal Ballet Companies in 1970, dancing the principal role in all the major classical repertoire and partnering many of the world‘s leading ballerinas including Margot Fonteyn, Antoinette Sibley, Merle Park, Natalia Makarova, Monica Mason (former Director of The Royal Ballet), Margaret Barbieri and Marion Tait (now Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Ballet Mistress). He is particularly noted for his interpretation of the Balanchine repertory, and he has created numerous roles for choreographers including Bintley, Carter, Corder, MacMillan, Seymour and Tetley.

Desmond has taught classical ballet to many international companies since 1985, becoming instrumental in the development of numerous dancers, particularly at Birmingham Royal Ballet, where he was appointed Assistant Director in 1990.

As Assistant Director, he was a member of Birmingham Royal Ballet‘s Senior Management Team and provided a communication and management link between the ballet staff and dancers, and the administration departments. He line-managed the Company’s Ballet Staff, was responsible for the welfare of the dancers in liaison with the Jerwood Centre for the Prevention and Treatment of Dance Injuries, and taught certain repertory to the Company, notably that of Balanchine and MacMillan.

Desmond was awarded an OBE in the 2005 New Year‘s Honours list, and was made an Honorary Doctor of Letters by Leicester University and the University of Birmingham in 2007. He directed BRB’s artistic team for Ballet Changed My Life - Ballet Hoo!, the education project documented on Channel 4 during autumn 2006, for which he was presented with a special award at the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards in 2008. He is married to former dancer Denise le Comte and has two children and four grandchildren.

Adam Harris

Adam Harris

Artistic Director

Born in Oxford, Adam is an active professional dancer with the Croatian National Theatre. After graduating from Elmhurst Ballet School (in association with Birmingham Royal Ballet), where he gained his National Diploma in Professional Dance (Level 5), he has gone on to perform solo roles in some of the world’s most iconic ballets, to full theatres all over Europe, as well as in Asia and America. He is a full member of the Royal Academy of Dance, having passed all of their vocational graded exams.

Adam’s experience on the stage, as well as his knowledge in the studio, enables him to oversee the artistic structure of the school and to create a truly unique and professional atmosphere whereby dance students of all ages are able to reach their fullest potential. Though Adam doesn’t hold any regular classes in the school, he will be with us to hold masterclasses and special events that are aimed at raising the standard of the school.

James Harris

James Harris

Managing Director

Born and educated in Zimbabwe, Jim returned to the United Kingdom in 1980, and set up his Company, now based in Didcot, which he continues to successfully run. With 4 grown up children, one of which is Adam(!), he took on the role of a ‘Ballet Dad’ running Adam and his elder Sister backwards and forwards to ballet class several times a week. He followed, supported (and had the dubious pleasure of paying for) Adam’s professional education at Elmhurst Ballet School, and watched with pride as Adam graduated as a professional dancer, and entered the world as a Ballet Pro.

Currently, Jim maintains his connections with the ballet world as a Director of the Elmhurst Ballet School, and outside of that and his ‘day job’, is the Chair of the Governing Board at Hagbourne Primary School, and a Trustee & Treasurer of the British South Africa Police UK Regimental Association.

Matz Skoog

Matz Skoog

Artistic Advisor

Born in Stockholm, Matz Skoog trained as a dancer in Sweden and in the former Soviet Union. After graduating from the Royal Swedish Ballet School, he became a member of the Royal Swedish Ballet, later joining English National Ballet where, along with other guest engagements, he remained as a Principal Dancer for several years. Matz has enjoyed an extensive dancing career at the highest level in both classical ballet and contemporary dance, working with artists such as Mark Morris, Mats Ek, Jiri Kylian, Sir Fredrick Ashton and Rudolph Nureyev to mention but a few. He has also been a member of Netherlands Dance Theatre in Holland and Rambert Dance Company in the UK.

In 1996 Matz was appointed Artistic Director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, a position he held until 2001. From 2001 to 2005 he was Artistic Director of English National Ballet. Since 2006 Matz is pursuing a freelance career as a teacher, artistic consultant and personal and professional development coach; working in these capacities with several national dance companies and schools. Recent appointments include Artistic Advisor to the Royal Swedish Ballet, Head of the Artistic Department for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, Ballet Master for the Polish National Ballet. Current guest teaching engagements include the Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Norwegian National Ballet, Rambert Dance Company and Studio Wayne McGregor.

Cat Young

Cat Young

Non-Executive Director

Cat started ballet lessons aged 7 because her parents thought she needed to burn off some of her insatiable energy! She went on to undertake vocational training at Tring Park where she appeared in shows at the school, in the West End and on TV. Since then, Cat has forged a successful career in Marketing and Management and is an in-demand Key Note speaker on Digital Selling. She returned to ballet after a 17-year gap, and has since passed her Intermediate RAD Ballet exam with Downland Dance. As well as dancing, Cat runs and sings in a local a cappella choir and plays Tenor Sax in an Abingdon-based band: any excuse to perform!

Suzanne Simcox

Suzanne Simcox

Non-Executive Director

Suzanne has been dancing since she was three years old. In adulthood she has found it a great way to stay fit in body and mind in such an enjoyable way (although taking vocational exams is no easier as an adult!). Dancing has provided a complete release from the busyness of work and bringing up a family. As her family has now grown up, she is training as an RAD teacher as she enjoys passing on the love of ballet to other students.

Suzanne was treasurer of the Downland Dance Club and looks forward to using that knowledge as a non-executive Director of Downland Dance Ltd.

Teachers

Judy Harris

Judy Harris

Principal Teacher
Laura Houghton

Laura Houghton

Teacher

Laura is an active freelance professional dancer, working in a variety of disciplines including Classical Ballet, Commercial Dance, Acting, Modelling, Film and Television. She graduated from Elmhurst Ballet School (in association with Birmingham Royal Ballet) with a level 5 National Diploma in Professional Dance after 9 years of vocational ballet training, and she later completed her BA (Hons) in Professional Dance at Middlesex University.

Alongside her rigorous performance schedule, Laura is passionate about inspiring youngsters to take up dance, and she has dedicated large amounts of her time to teaching classical ballet to students all around the UK.

Alessandra Giunta

Alessandra Giunta

Teacher
Suzanne Simcox

Suzanne Simcox

Teacher

Suzanne has been dancing since she was three years old. In adulthood she has found it a great way to stay fit in body and mind in such an enjoyable way (although taking vocational exams is no easier as an adult!). Dancing has provided a complete release from the busyness of work and bringing up a family. As her family has now grown up, she is training as an RAD teacher as she enjoys passing on the love of ballet to other students.

Suzanne was treasurer of the Downland Dance Club and looks forward to using that knowledge as a non-executive Director of Downland Dance Ltd.

Amanda Taylor

Amanda Taylor

Teacher

I first started dancing at the age of 3 with my first performance seeing me, loving life, onstage, costumed as a Jelly baby!

I continued to dance all styles and passed my dance teaching exams in my early 20’s and then real Babies came into my life! Since then it has been childcare as a parent and as a qualified Early Years professional for more years than I care to admit in public.

Dancing/ performing/teaching/children have always been part of my life. Ok, I admit it, I’ve never really grown up. I’m loving seeing the fun and joy dancing brings to children’s lives. On the flip side, I’m loving seeing how dancing encourages hard work, discipline and determination, the very foundations that can set young people up for life. See I can be quite serious too.