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Friday, 22 May 2015

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Splitz are still fit and fashionable 30 years on

IN 1971, Anthony Nolan captured the heart of the nation.

Fashions from Hexham’s M&Co will feature in Splitz annual fund-raising show organised and choreographed by Judith Irving, seen here with store manager Rachael Marsden.

Born with the rare blood disorder Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, his only chance of survival was a bone marrow transplant – and none of his family was a match.

In desperation, his mum, Shirley, founded the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Register in an attempt to find a donor for her son and other poorly children like him.

Sadly, no donor could be found for Anthony who died in 1979, aged eight, but the national register continued to grow.

A few years later, when talented dancer and choreographer Judith Irving decided her young Splitz dancers should present their first fund-raising Hexham show, she started casting around for a worthy cause.

“Someone just suggested to me that we raise money for the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Trust and because it seemed such a good cause, we did.

“I’ve just kept going from there really.”

That was a staggering 30 years ago and since then, through her annual Fit and Fashionable shows and other events Judith has raised in excess of £60,000 for charity.

From her classes at St Aidan’s United Reformed Church in Hexham, she has trained hundreds of young dancers over the years, as well as running, and performing with, an adult Splitz group.

Several of her star pupils have gone on to study dance and some have even made it their career, while one of her current dancers, Kay Sams, is now a teacher herself and choreographs one of the routines for the Fit and Fashionable show.

Every Splitz dancer gets a chance to take part in the Hexham show which is always staged at the Queen’s Hall – in fact, the first performance helped raise the curtain on the new arts centre when it opened in 1984.

And there are other opportunities too, to perform at local fairs and fetes – always in aid of a local charity.

Judith said: “I also run classes in Carlisle and stage an annual show there, so between the two shows we’ve managed to help over 50 different charities over the years – mostly local good causes that I’ve either heard about, or someone has approached me to try and help.”

Those good causes have ranged from the Emma Newton fund, set up in memory of the popular 18-year-old and former Splitz pupil who died when a tree fell on her car, to Tynedale Activities for Special Children and Kielder’s Calvert Trust.

As well as being a dance and fashion show, in latter years the format of the Hexham performance has been extended to feature some talented young singers, among them Judith’s daughter, Sally.

And this year for the 30th anniversary show on Friday, May 9th, she’ll be performing “Let it go”, from the new Disney film Frozen and “Memory” from the West End musical Cats.

Fashions will come from Marks & Spencer, M&Co and Lipsy at Gateshead’s Metrocentre, while the dance routines have been choreographed to Putting on the Ritz, I wanna dance with somebody, Walks like Rhianna, Dear Darling, Wild and Move, plus many more.

Joining Judith on stage in the adult routines will be Hexham’s Ruth Silcock, who attended the very first class in St Aidan’s Church, and went on to become a founder member of Splitz, and Suzanne Fairless, also of Hexham, who has danced with Splitz for 28 years.

And the local charity they’ll all be raising money for?

“We’re dancing for Tynedale Hospice at Home this year. We’ve raised money for it before, but this is actually the hospice’s 20th anniversary, which ties in quite nicely with our 30th anniversary”, said Judith.

“And, because it’s a special year we’ve also got something special planned, so I hope people will come along and support us and the hospice.”

Tickets for the Fit and Fashionable Show on May 9, with discounts for children and OAPs, are available from the Queen’s Hall box office on (01434) 652477.

Judith’s Splitz classes run every Wednesday during term time at St Aidan’s United Reformed Church, in suitable age groups for all abilities. Further information is available on (01228) 562118 or 07771 606005