Dance teacher with the golden touch
Published at 09:05, Monday, 30 July 2012
DESPITE not taking to ballet during her first dalliances with the art form at the tender age of three, Hilda Affleck has gone on to teach youngsters in Hexham for the last 21 years.
From the town’s Wentworth Leisure Centre, through her Affleck Academy of Ballet, Hilda, who is known as Miss Affleck to her students, has prepared and trained young dancers for the competitive and all-consuming world of professional dance.
Among them are dozens of success stories who have gone on to perform as part of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world.
Hundreds of others dance for pleasure only and many stay on to help coach and encourage the barrage of tiny newcomers – some as young as four – who are lucky enough to receive one of the school’s sought-after places.
“I am very fortunate to have a job I love so much,” said Miss Affleck, who admits to working seven days a week to offer lessons for all of her students at the leisure centre and her studio at her home in Springwell Village, Washington.
“It is wonderful to be able to offer opportunities to pupils, but I couldn’t achieve such high standards without the dedication of the pupils and the support of parents.
“The time and encouragement they give to their children contributes tremendously to their success.
“It’s an important triangle of commitment and co-operation which needs to be in place if students want to dance professionally.”
Her own ballet career finally got off to a proper start at the age of 12 when, with encouragement from her late mother, she was bitten by the dancing bug.
“I started quite late really, having tried a couple of lessons in a big class with lots of people when I was just three but didn’t like it,” she explained.
“But by the time I was 12, I could think of nothing else I wanted to do and couldn’t imagine my life without ballet.
“I worked extremely hard and practised every morning and lunch time and went to classes in the evening, to make sure I was the best I could be.”
Auditions for London’s Royal Ballet School saw a 15-year-old Miss Affleck gaining a place and leaving her home and family behind to achieve her dream as the youngest dancer there.
Dame Ninette de Valois, who was widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the history of ballet and as the “godmother” of English ballet, was among Miss Affleck’s teachers.
“Dame Ninette was a hard task master, but because we were constantly being assessed, she was one of the few who would fight behind the scenes for students that she believed showed promise,” she explained.
Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev were among the classical ballet stars Miss Affleck pirouetted and plied alongside during her training.
“It was such a magical time in dance history,” she said.
But after a fractured foot brought Miss Affleck’s own career to an abrupt end in her early 20s, it was the Royal Ballet’s principal dancer at the time, Barbara Fewster, who convinced her to begin teaching.
“She said to me that good students were 10 a penny but good teachers were worth their weight in gold.”
As well as travelling the world to examine for the Royal Academy of Dance, Miss Affleck went on to open her own dance schools, first in Tynemouth and Birtley and then in Hexham.
She said: “I’ve been teaching for more than 30 years now, so we’re talking about generations of young dancers that have come through.
“And still today I get so much enjoyment from watching the transformation.”
Mari Hill (17) is Miss Affleck’s most recent rising star after securing a place at the world famous Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow.
The weekend saw her last performance in Tynedale before her gruelling four-year training course begins on September 1.
She appeared in the Affleck Academy’s latest performance of Beauty and the Beast, alongside Chollerford’s Gabrielle Guest (15) who played the principal role of Belle.
“Gabby came to me when she was just four and rose through the grades to achieve a distinction in her first professional exams at the age of nine,” said Miss Affleck.
“She works so hard and has a bright future ahead of her.”
Stocksfield’s Rebecca Matthews is another Tynedale dancer who trained with Miss Affleck for nine years up until the age of 15 when she gained four scholarships, including one to the prestigious Birmingham Royal Ballet.
Former student Ian Burdon from Chester-le Street went on to dance with K Ballet in Tokyo and Julia Burton Roberts from Jesmond won a £27,000 training scholarship at London Studio Centre before going into musical theatre.
James Henson from South Shields only began training with Miss Affleck at the age of 17 and within two years won a place at the Central School of Ballet in London before going on to tour with the English National Ballet.
Published by http://www.hexhamcourant.co.uk
This week in... 1928Saturday, December 8, 1928...
The Miners' Hall at West Wylam was officially re-opened after undergoing extensive renovation.
Built as a cinema with a sloping floor 15 years previously, a ladies' cloakroom had been added and the floor levelled to turn it into a dance hall.
The work cost £500, half of which came from the Northumberland Miners' Association.