(Hat tip: never, ever have your photo taken with this woman unless you actually don't mind looking like a hobbit by comparison.)
The great ballerina Darcey Bussell has some tough words for the British dance establishment. “I don’t think the British are very good at celebrating our own home-grown talent,” she says. “I think we need to realise how much goes into a passion for dance – and people should be encouraged to be seen if they have that talent.
“We don’t want talented young dancers to be lost in a crowd,” she adds. “There are lots of beautiful dancers – but unless they get on that stage and perform, we’re never going to know.” Bussell was the leading British ballet star of her day; since her retirement from the Royal Ballet in 2007, potential successors have remained few and far between.
But now the new BBC Young Dancer competition, taking place in spring 2015, could help redress the balance, and more, its remit also extending to contemporary, Hip-Hop and South Asian dance. Other initiatives, too, are emerging to assist hopeful youngsters and fuel public interest. The Royal Academy of Dance, of which Bussell is president, has launched a bursary scheme to help impecunious young dancers participate in its prestigious Genée International Ballet Competition; and the success of World Ballet Day on 1 October, which live-streamed five international companies for 24 hours, suggests a burgeoning appetite in the audience.
And though the BBC contest is for the young, dance is for everyone. Bussell, who is encouraging dance for the over-50s, says it is more than exercise. “Dance gives you a lift,” she declares. “It makes me feel happy. It’s as simple as that.”