Centenary

CELEBRATING 100 YEARS OF ELMHURST BALLET SCHOOL

Over ten decades, Elmhurst has firmly secured its place amongst the top ballet schools in the world, attracting local, national and international dance students to Camberley (1923-2004) and Birmingham (from 2004) and we are thrilled to celebrate our 100th anniversary in 2023!

We will commemorate our momentous milestone during the 'Elmhurst 100: More Futures to Shape' campaign, with centenary performances, alumni and fundraising events throughout the 2022-23 academic year.

We are proud to be a world-renowned centre of excellence and train talented young dancers aged 11 to 19 to become dance professionals. We are an independent school and typically around 80% of pupils benefit from Government support as a result of the Department for Education Music and Dance Scheme and the Education and Skills Funding Agency Dance and Drama Awards.

Her Majesty The Queen Consort – formerly HRH The Duchess of Cornwall – has been our Patron since 2006 and last visited our Birmingham site in January 2020, marking her fourth visit to the school. We enjoy a close association with Birmingham Royal Ballet, the UK's premiere touring ballet company under the Directorship of Carlos Acosta CBE, and an on-going partnership with the award-winning Studio Wayne McGregor, strengthens our contemporary dance offer.

Elmhurst Ballet School started life as The Mortimer School of Dancing in Camberley in Surrey in 1923. Founded by Helen Mortimer in the grounds of a local preparatory school, it had a small in-take of young dance students before the school expanded and a senior school was added. By 1933, student numbers hit 60. The school survived the Second World War years – students danced in 59 shows for the troops – and in 1945 it was recognised by the Ministry of Education. It became Elmhurst Ballet School in 1947, taking its name from the Elmhurst building that housed the school. Student numbers had now reached 240.

During the decades to follow, glitterati of the ballet world, many dancers turned dance educationalists, made their mark on the school and Elmhurst’s international reputation went from strength to strength. The late Bridget Espinosa, a successful dancer and Elmhurst alumna was Artistic Director from 1966-75, and Alfreda Thorogood, a former Principal dancer with The Royal Ballet was Artistic Director of Dance from 1994-2004. Today’s Elmhurst also benefits from two former dancers at the helm: Jessica Ward, Principal since 2010; and Robert Parker, Artistic Director since 2012 following his retirement from Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Stars of stage and screen trained at the school during its Camberley years, including Dame Merle Parke DBE, Hayley Mills, Juliet Mills, Jenny Agutter, Susie Blake, Fiona Fullerton, Sarah Brightman, Helen Baxendale and Hermione Norris.

More recently, students have reached the finals of the BBC Young Dancer Competition and, on graduation, alumni continue to join professional dance companies in the UK and overseas, or some chose to secure university places to enhance their academic achievements.

Our high-profile relocation to Birmingham in 2004 was overseen by the then Principal John McNamara and supported by the UK Government, Birmingham City Council and Birmingham Royal Ballet. The aim of the relocation was to meet the growing demand for professional dance training, education and research outside of London. The invaluable link with Birmingham Royal Ballet was also initiated.

Mick Mortimer, grandson of the school’s founder, began working at Elmhurst in 1979. When he retired in 1992 his tenure ended an almost 70-year family link with the school. On behalf of the Mortimer family, Mick commented: My brothers Lawrence, Christopher and I were born to Elmhurst…but not to dance! In our very early years, we lived at the school and there was dance everywhere…we were never short of entertainment!

In those early years, the late forties into fifties, we could not have realised how influenced we would be by our extraordinary background. As we grew up it became clear how special Elmhurst was to us, and not just as our home. Almost without noticing, we were introduced to the lasting beauty of movement, music, grace and drama. Everything Elmhurst!

Our grandmother’s vision was always best served by the possibility of a new vision for the school. Now Elmhurst is about to celebrate its centenary in its wonderful, built-for-ballet premises in Birmingham. How proud our grandmother Helen would be! We would like to say congratulations Elmhurst on your achievements and all good wishes for your celebrations. May your success always continue.”

Jessica Ward, the school’s ninth and current Principal, added: Elmhurst at 100 is a very special moment in the school’s history and we are thrilled to mark the occasion with a number of centenary events. There will be plenty of nostalgia and memories and we will also think about what a future Elmhurst looks like.

Helen Mortimer’s original aim for the 1923 school was to prepare students for the demands of a career in dance and drama. 100 years on and we are extremely proud that her founding principle still stands.

Beyond our centenary, we aim to continue to be student-centric – our students are at the heart of everything we do. We want to continue to deliver dance and academic excellence in a caring environment, and lead the way with dynamic research through our brand-new Research and Performance Department. We will also continue to challenge and question sector norms and move with the times so Elmhurst remains relevant for an ever-developing dance sector.”

To express interest and support during the centenary year please email development@elmhurstdance.co.uk

Elmhurst Ballet School (EBS) Centenary Events 2022 – 2023: 

Monday 3 October 2022
Launch EBS 100: More Futures to Shape

Wednesday 2 November 2022
Commence with 100 Years of Elmhurst on World Ballet Day

Thursday 15 December 2022
EBS Centenary Winter Sharing Performance
Elmhurst Ballet School Studio Theatre, Birmingham

Friday 16 December 2022
EBS Centenary CHRISTMAS SERVICE
St Bartholomew’s, Edgbaston, Birmingham

Monday 13 – 17 February 2023
EBS Centenary Alumni Week
Elmhurst Ballet School, Birmingham 

Saturday 13 & Sunday 14 May 
EBS Centenary Elmhurst Ballet Company Performances
Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler's Wells, London

Friday 19 & Saturday 20 May 2023
EBS Centenary Elmhurst Ballet Company Performances
Elmhurst Ballet School Studio Theatre, Birmingham

Friday 7 – Thursday 13 July 2023
EBS Centenary Summer Performances
Elmhurst Ballet School Studio Theatre, Birmingham

Tuesday 11 July 2023
EBS Centenary FUNDRAISING GALA EVENING
Elmhurst Ballet School, Birmingham

Details and booking for these events will be announced throughout the academic year. To express an interest and support with these events, please contact development@elmhurstdance.co.uk

Key moments in Elmhurst Ballet School’s 100-year history:

  • Founded in 1923 by Helen Mortimer, Elmhurst started life as The Mortimer School of Dancing in a studio in the grounds of a Preparatory School – for pupils up to age 11 – at ‘Elmhurst’, Heathcote Road, Camberley, Surrey.
  • In the very early days, the school had 12 dancing students who would participate in local galas and performances.
  • A senior school was added and by 1931 Helen Mortimer becomes Joint Principal of the school (with Violet Crisp, Principal of the Prep School).
  • By 1933, dance student numbers increased to 60.
  • During the 1939-45 war years, the Mortimer dancers appeared in 59 shows for the troops.
  • In 1942, Violet Crisp retires and Helen Mortimer is named sole Principal.
  • After the end of the war, the dance training provision of the school continues to go from strength to strength and new buildings are acquired to accommodate an increase in senior school students.
  • In 1945 the school receives recognition by the Ministry of Education.
  • The school is renamed Elmhurst Ballet School in 1947.
  • From the late forties, Elmhurst quickly becomes known for its teaching of dance and drama locally, nationally and internationally with pupil numbers at this time increasing from 90 to 240.
  • By Helen Mortimer’s passing in 1958 the school has 350 pupils, four dance studios, residential accommodation and its international reputation goes from strength to strength.
  • In 1960, Patrons include Dame Ninette de Valois, founder of The Royal Ballet companies, and Prima Ballerina Assoluta Dame Margot Fonteyn.
  • In 1961, the school receives its charitable status thanks to the establishment of the Elmhurst Ballet School Trust.
  • In 1979, Princess Margaret visits the school.
  • In 1981, Elmhurst sees its first male residential students, just two boys at the time.
  • Princess Diana visits the school in July 1983.
  • In 1995, John McNamara is appointed Principal of Elmhurst and sees the school through its relocation to Edgbaston, Bristol Road, Birmingham in 2004.
  • The 2004 move to Birmingham secures the school’s association with Birmingham Royal Ballet.
  • In 2010, Jessica Ward, the school’s current Principal, is appointed.
  • In 2016, ballet star Carlos Acosta CBE, now Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet opens Elmhurst’s state-of-the-art Health and Wellbeing Centre.
  • Launched as a pilot scheme in September 2017, Birmingham City University’s Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and Elmhurst Ballet School’s 'Placement for Pianists Programme' inspires music students to experience the working life of a professional ballet pianist.
  • In 2018, Elmhurst launches Elmhurst Ballet Company, an annual graduate year initiative that bridges the gap between school and professional life.
  • In 2019, Elmhurst pioneers The Young Performers’ Health Trust Scheme, a unique and bespoke healthcare provision for its students. The offer, believed to be a sector first, allows the school to provide specialist healthcare which responds to the specific needs of young dance students.
  • In 2019, Elmhurst announces its new Vice President, Wayne McGregor CBE, Artistic Director of Studio Wayne McGregor and Resident Choreographer of The Royal Ballet, Covent Garden. The appointment marks the commencement of an exciting and ongoing partnership between the school and Studio Wayne McGregor.
  • In July 2022, 24 Elmhurst students perform in the Opening Ceremony of Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
  • On 9th September 2022, Disney Original Documentary for Disney+ announces MADU, its new film project featuring Nigerian ballet student Anthony Madu as he continues his training and boarding at Elmhurst.
  • In addition to the full-time training, education and boarding opportunities at the Edgbaston site, the Elmhurst’s Young Dancers’ weekend programme can be accessed in Birmingham, Manchester, Plymouth and Sunderland.

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