(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.
|Darcey Bussell as Sylvia, wielding a golden arrow|
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.”