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Our History

drama group

The History of Northern Dance Centre

It was while working for Northern Command Voluntary Entertainments Services during World War II, and whilst still a student at Skipton Girls’ High School, that Margaret Jaffe (Dixon-Phillip) recruited her first Theatre Group. Her brief was to provide song and dance for the shows, and her first group consisted of eight local girls as dancers, and two singers. During this period of providing entertainment for different nationalities, Margaret’s lifelong interest in folk dance was born, as she collected songs and dances from the Allies to add to the repertoire. Twenty years later, this interest bore fruit as Margaret and her husband Nigel published various books on European Folk Dance.

After the War, Margaret completed her teaching exams in Ballet, Modern, Tap and National dance, also studying pianoforte and composition at the Royal Manchester College of Music, and opened the Dixon-Phillip Stage School in 1948. The first lessons were in Grassington, in the games room at the Town Hall, and were classes in music and dance.

Branches soon followed in surrounding villages, with the centre in Skipton, and pupils were prepared for the examinations of the ISTD, the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) and the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music.

In 1960, Margaret and Nigel took over an old established school in Bradford, and as Braybrooks Academy this became Yorkshire’s first combined educational and vocational school. An extract from an early Braybrooks Academy prospectus reads:

 “It is generally agreed that dancing and dramatic talents exhibit themselves very early in life, and creative musical experience may occur among very young children. It is important that this talent should be recognised at as early an age as possible, and being recognised, directed aright. It should be given a proper place and importance in any well-balanced scheme of education. Too often, the musical or artistic life is smothered under a weight of multifarious school or athletic activities ….. Development of talent should go hand in hand with a sound education…..”

Eventually they drew together the various theatrical branches under the banner of Northern Dance Centre, and established Ilkley Dance Centre. They also started up a Summer Ballet School in North Jutland for the Danish Education Authorities, and thus paved the way for Northern Lights Theatre Group to begin their travels, as they joined the Danish students in their annual productions. Now the Group has travelled extensively, performing in France, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Spain, as well as achieving awards in International Festivals at home and abroad. Margaret became an International Examiner for the National Faculty of the ISTD, and served for many years on the National Dance Committee.

Today, Northern Dance Centre produces a steady flow of high achieving exam candidates, and an inspiring recruitment of future professional dancers with the Theatre Group, ensuring that yet another generation will find enjoyment in dance at all levels.

In 2007 Margaret retired, and “A Gala Celebration of Dance” was staged in her honour on June 14th 2008 at Bradford’s Alhambra Theatre. The sell-out evening included performances from past students, who are now training or performing full time and making their own way in the dance world. In the packed audience were ex-students who have achieved great heights professionally, and of whom the School is immensely proud. One of these was David Gayle, M.B.E., the Founder of the Yorkshire Ballet Seminars and now our Patron, who said:

“Without Margaret, I would certainly not have had a career in Ballet, nor gone on to the Royal Ballet School and Royal Ballet Company. Margaret taught me the joy of dancing, and inspired me to succeed. Not only is she a wonderful teacher, Margaret is a wonderful person. Thank you, Margaret, and congratulations on the 60 years you have given to the dance.”

margaret jaffe

Margaret was delighted that the School is secure in the hands of a highly qualified and dedicated teaching faculty. The Faculty have long connections with Northern Dance Centre, which is reflected in their caring approach and well-proven teaching methods.

As Margaret said in the Programme:

“Here’s to the next 60 years ~ may the School continue to provide the same happiness and fulfilment as it has done in the past. It is good to look back and have no regrets, and I wish you all God speed for the future.”

Margaret Allenby-Jaffe, 14th June 2008

Here follows the tribute to Margaret printed in the Gala Programme by the Principal of Northern Dance Centre, a pupil of NDC since 1972, Amy Addison:

A very special and unique lady, Margaret Allenby-Jaffe is always ready to share her knowledge – always calm, quiet and full of ideas. She is in a class of her own as a teacher, drawing qualities out of children that others cannot, encouraging and nurturing all who come to her …..

 ….. Margaret is the person that teachers and examiners turn to when they have queries regarding international folk dance, and not just the dance itself, but the music, the song, the costumes, the traditions and the details of each country and region. Margaret always has a folklore story to tell about the origins of a dance and the people dancing it, and as children, this is what made dancing so magical and so special; this is how we learnt about the dance world and we are blessed to have been taught by her ….. These children have been taught carefully and precisely, without fuss, and taught to listen, to think and to be aware. This is part of the magic of Margaret’s teaching that makes her so special….. ” 

Amy Addison, 14th June 2008

Margaret Allenby-Jaffe died in March 2015, and we continue to uphold the high standards she set, and will always remember her kindness, passion for dance and generosity of spirit.