Spotlight on Angela Kirkham-Raine

by Marianne Long
Published: Last Updated on

Co-founder of Kirkham Henry Performing Arts CIC and Ryedale District Councillor

Angela celebrated 50 years of teaching dance in Ryedale in 2021. She has trained thousands of students, some to professional level, as well as older adults and those with Parkinson’s Disease. She promotes dance for whole health and well-being for all ages.

Angela, Age 8

Q What’s your background?

I was born in Middlesbrough and dance was absolutely my life. At 12 years old, I won the English Junior Ballet Championship, and, in the same year, I was also in the final of the Tap Championship. That had never happened before.

Q What in particular do you enjoy about dancing?

Don’t get me going! Everything! The music, being in the moment, everything! I love the ballet. I still teach the vocational ballet pupils. I love children joining the vocational classes even if they are not going to take it up as a career—everyone is welcome if they love ballet. If a child wants to do a class, we allow them—whether they have ability or talent. That’s my passion.

Q Has teaching at Kirkham Henry changed over the past 50 years?

Years ago, we were taught to give children criticism, but this has changed to correction and our students support each other with peer-to-peer review. Things are much more positive. As a teacher, I often watch pupils being taught at the Royal Ballet School, and things have changed positively in all aspects of dance.

There are children with wonderful talent, and we can only help nurture that, and there are children who struggle, but they make it in the end because they are so determined. Of course, most children come here because it’s a hobby. For many of our students, it becomes a serious hobby, and they take their final dance, drama or singing exams. When they leave for university or a job, we find that they keep in touch, and many are still involved in the arts. The self-discipline and communication skills of dance that we develop help them to go forward in life.

Q After 50 years of teaching dance and musical theatre what keeps you motivated?

Oh, the children. Of course, the last few years have been extremely hard. In the first lockdown, we were all furloughed, but we found the children still wanted to do something. We took advice and started a restricted timetable of classes on Zoom to help with our children’s well-being. We ran our ‘Golden Gliders’ and ‘Dancing for Parkinson’s’ class on Zoom too which we renamed ‘Musical Chairs’, because we knew they had to stay seated for health and safety.

I couldn’t have done it without my staff and directors but especially Michaela Kemp, who has been teaching for 35 years—I’ve known her since she was 4! Over the pandemic, we all supported each other. I lost my husband in February 2020 and without this place, I don’t know what I would have done. It kept me going.

It was exhausting to teach dance over Zoom, and I really thought that it was such a shame that we were losing time, but when the children came back, it was emotional because I could see that the time hadn’t been wasted and they had all improved. We had so many emails from parents thanking us for keeping their children going.

The Friends of Kirkham Henry was set up officially as a charity in 2020. Our parents were determined to keep us going, which was just wonderful, and they used fundraising to buy new windows so that our ventilation could comply with the Covid rules. We are currently fundraising as the building is in desperate need of refurbishment.

Dancing with Parkinsons class

Q Have you got any notable alumni at the school?

I don’t like to pick any out, but I am personally proud of all our students when they get a job and it’s something they want to do. In performing arts, we are immensely proud of the talent coming out of Ryedale and that so many have made it to the West End, touring and into teaching performing arts globally. I give full credit to my amazing staff.

I sat and watched my youngest daughter yesterday—it was World Ballet Day. She is Senior Ballet Mistress at The Royal Ballet Company and was rehearsing Giselle Act 2, putting the dancers through their paces. My eldest was in West End Musical Theatre and people always say: “I bet you are so proud of them.” Every parent is proud if their children are happy and doing what they want to do.

Q You teach dance classes for senior citizens with Parkinson’s – how does it improve the quality of life for those affected?

Dance appears to be very helpful in improving gait and balance in Parkinson’s patients. It also can provide social stimulation and support, which can be helpful in reducing depression and improving quality of life. Plus, dance stimulates cognitive functioning, an area that Parkinson’s Disease patients often struggle with. The people who come to our classes say that being in that moment, they can forget they have Parkinson’s. What we find, and I’m sure they won’t mind me saying, they come shuffling in with walking sticks and then they put the sticks down and start dancing and they all say they glide out! We have classes in York too with twenty-six members. The classes started back in person in September, and it was very emotional to see everyone again.

Q What are the challenges of working with young people particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds? How do you help those children?

Jennie and I, from the start, were proud that there was an entire range of children from diverse backgrounds at Kirkham Henry. We did not want any child to feel any different to anyone else; we want to make every child feel special. It’s about giving people options, and these are challenging times, so we have a discount for families that are struggling. We are an inclusive school, and we have a care alert between the staff. If parents let me know about an issue, family problems, mental health, physical health, the staff are all informed and the kids know they can go to their teachers—we are mental health trained and first aid trained.

Q What is your all-time proudest moment?

Marrying my wonderful husband and having my two girls. There have been so many moments. The year we opened here in 1989 we won the All-England Competition for classical groups. We couldn’t believe it! Then Kirkham Henry was invited to the Gala at Sadlers Wells—it was wonderful!

Q What influenced you to stand for Ryedale District Councillor 3 years ago?

I’d always tried to help a lot of people—parents, for example, with the traffic outside Kirkham Henry— and I think that’s how it started. There was an independent place available on the Council and my husband, John, was ill at the time but he felt it might do me good. It’s hard work! I do all my council work in the mornings before going into Kirkham Henry. I’m just trying my best to help local people in the town but I’m still learning.

Q&A

Q What’s your favourite musical?

So many! One of my favourite musicals is Crazy for You. It’s got a bit of all sorts.

Q Samba or Waltz?

I love both!

Q How do you think you would you fair on Strictly?

Terrible!

Q Who would you have at a dinner party and why?

Dame Margot Fonteyn – she was my idol as a child. My teachers will laugh at this, and the seniors will know; Carlos Acosta CBE—he was the principal of the Royal Ballet and a young man from Cuba. He is now the Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet and has family in Yorkshire on his wife’s side. What Carlos has done for dancers of non-white background and the underprivileged is wonderful. And of course, to watch him dance as well.

Q Any hobbies?

No, I’ve never had a hobby. Currently, I work about 60 hours a week! When lockdown came straight after John passed away, I walked miles with wonderful friends (when it was allowed).

Q What have you missed and what have you enjoyed during the pandemic?

It’s my husband John before anything else. I’ve also missed my grandchild—my whole family. It’s been tough, especially being on my own but the support from my eldest daughter Pip who has been home, phone calls from friends, including from the Golden Glider’s class, have been wonderful.

Q What have you found out about yourself in the last year?

I’ve got stronger, I think.

Q I couldn’t get through the weekend without….

Knowing me, checking to see if everything is ok here!

Marianne Long
Latest posts by Marianne Long (see all)

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Cookies Read More