Dance school celebrates its 40th birthday with old friends
PUBLISHED: 11:43 26 February 2019
The French and English founders of a dance school in Kilburn joined pupils past and present for a special dancing tea party.
Patricia Woodall, founder and honorary director of Chantraine Dance of Expression in the UK, celebrated the school’s 40th anniversary with friends.
Her teacher, Francoise Chantraine, who first created Chantraine Dance of Expression 60 years ago in Paris with her husband Alain, made the hop across the water to be at Sidings Community Centre, in Brassey Road, on February 9.
Ms Woodall, who stood down at the end of last term, set up the school in Kilburn in 1978.
She pioneered her approach after training with Francoise in France.
Now in her late 80s, she stood down from teaching just last term.
Kate Green, Ms Woodall’s 70-year-old former pupil, has been made UK director.
She said: “It was all quite emotional. Francoise came especially to pay tribute to Patricia. She felt it was so important she had to be here to let us know how much she values all of Patricia’s work and her friendship.
“Francoise just celebrated 60 years and Patricia 40 years so 100 years is a good long number.”
Since the 1970s, Ms Woodall has taught in community halls and educational institutions across Camden, Hampstead, Kentish Town, Kilburn, Marylebone, Swiss Cottage and West Hampstead.
She has hosted annual performances at the award-winning folk art centre, Cecil Sharp House.
Over the last 40 years Patricia has directed dance performances at many at many of the capital’s theatres, including the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Logan Hall, Shaw Theatre, LSO St Luke’s and The Lilian Baylis Studio.
She has also raised considerable donations for children’s charities and more recently for the Grenfell Tower Fire Charitable Fund.
Last year a dozen of her adult dancers joined a major Chantraine celebratory event in Paris. “There were a lot of rehearsals at the Champs Elysee Theatre,” she said. “It was a big deal – a really big deal.”
Mrs Green became involved with the school through her own children, who were Ms Woodall’s pupils.
“Patricia would take large numbers of dancers to France,” she said. “My children were involved in the 25th anniversary celebrations.
“After seeing that I thought I’d like to have a go so a year or so later I got involved.”
With the onset of exams her children stopped but Mrs Green continued from pupil to teacher to director.
The Chantraine Expression of Dance focuses on the artistic, the educational and the human dimensions of dance.
Techniques have been developed so that each movement and gesture can become fully inhabited and each dancer may be fully present in each moment of dance.
“The basic values have not changed,” said Mrs Green. “The approach has evolved slightly around the edges but it’s essentially the same.”
Classes start at the age of four but there is no upper age limit. They have had pupils in their 90s.
There are no exams like other dance schools. Teachers encourage a free style and for dancers to become the best they can be.
Lessons are still taught in the Sidings Community Centre and also in the nearby Kingsgate Community Centre, in Kingsgate Road, but they are for adults. “We have had several pupils in their late 80s and early 90s. The classes at Sidings focus on older people,” said Mrs Green. “It is so inspirational to see them.
“They live for dance even though their bodies are not what people think of as dancers’ bodies anymore. They may not be standing very straight and have arthritic features but they are dancing and inspiring other people.”
Past and present pupils, their families and old friends came to celebrate her legacy at the Dance Tea Pary with a programme of dance choreographed by Francoise Chantraine and directed by Mrs Green and fellow teacher Sam Stepaniuk.
“People unable to attend the party sent video messages which were projected onto a big screen in the community centre,” said Mrs Green.
“They included a message from all the teachers in Paris so she could see how the classes are valued by everyone.
“Patricia is a pioneer in the world of dance and has brought has much joy to communities through her teachings and performances.”