A 12-MONTH record of high achievement has been scored by the Megan Blower Academy which celebrates its first anniversary in April. 

The Megan Blower Academy Song & Dance Quartet ‘June Bride’ that won the Trophy for highest mark, 1st place, 90 in the Inter 14 Years & Under category. Left to right: Imogen, Tabitha, Olivia and Charlotte

“We did amazingly well at the Godalming Festival,” Academy Administrator Gayle Sabharwal told the News & Mail. “We came 1st with 90 and won a cup for our Song and Dance Group performing Annie, and Charlotte Deegan won Adjudicators Choice Cup for her performance of the leading role. We were also 1st with 90 and a cup for our ‘June Bride’ Song & Dance Quartet.  

“Other milestones in the academy’s first year were the first exams in July 2018 which produced excellent results, and further exams in December, January 2019 and February that also produced very high scores – up to 96,” she said. 

In October last year, the academy moved its venue to Jubilee High School in Addlestone. In December, a Christmas showcase, This Is Me, took place. “This was an amazing showcase of talent, and proceeds went to cystic fibrosis and breast cancer charities,” said Gayle. 

Megan Blower Academy pupils’ performance of Annie at the Godalming festival

The academy has also now added Acro (Acrobatic Dance) for all ages and abilities under teacher Annabelle Turner. “Acro is a style of dance that combines the classical dance technique with precision acrobatic elements,” said Gayle. 

“It is a popular dance style in amateur competitive dance as well as in professional dance theatre and in contemporary circus productions such as those accomplished by Cirque de Soleil.”

The academy welcomes newcomers and offers three free trial lessons to prospective students, see www.meganbloweracademy.co.uk for details.

For the full story get the 28 March edition of the News & Mail

THIS year sees local dance, drama and singing school, Julie Sianne Theatre Arts, celebrate 35 years of performance.

The story of JSTA began with 17-year-old Julie Evans, an avid dancer from Byfleet who dreamt of a future on stage. But with awards under her belt and prospects ahead, she was devastated to discover she had curvature of the spine and would not be able to sustain the physical efforts required as a professional dancer.

WICKED PERFORMANCE: The school’s bewitching show in 2007

Although heavyhearted, young Julie was not deterred. Instead she opted to put her passion for dance into teaching with her own dance school. Using her middle name, she launched the Julie Sianne School of Dance in June 1983.

Julie wanted to inspire dancers, helping them realise potential and prepare for the next stage of life:

“We make everyone believe they can perform, we’re for everyone being the best they can be.”

By the end of 1983, Julie’s students were already entering competitions and winning gold, and starting preparations for exams. In 1984, they took to the stage with the school’s first Dance Variation concert, held in Byfleet Village Hall, allowing students to experience all the elements involved in producing a full stage production.  

The school was renamed Julie Sianne Theatre Arts when they began developing acting classes. Julie’s husband Ray Franklin, known fondly as “Mr Ray”, joined the team as head of drama in 2005, bringing vast theatrical experience and administrative skills.

FOUNDER- Julie Evans

From 1983 until today, students have competed in competitions, put on countless shows, been cast in many pantomimes at the New Victoria Theatre, been in touring theatre productions and this February were seen in the Woking Festival of Dance. They once even performed at Downing Street.

Julie’s work over the years is not only shown by the awards won but by the number of students who return as teachers, guest choreographers and parents of new students.

“We are proud that so many of our students who go on to teach chose to return to JSTA either as permanent or guest teachers and help pass on their experience to the next generation,” said Julie. “It’s a nice family atmosphere to perform and it’s why people bring their children.

For the full story and picture spread, get the 21 February edition of the News & Mail

CHRISTMAS is over and the cold weather is here to stay, but it’s not the end of the festive period just yet.

On February 10, the Old Woking Community Centre in Sunridge Road will come alive with the chants of mantras and the reverberation of music and dance as Prabashi, a registered local charity, hosts its annual Vasant Panchami celebration, now in its eleventh year.

Dancers perform as part of the Vasant Panchami celebration

In India, Vasant Panchami marks the arrival of spring and is celebrated across the country in different ways. In Woking, this event is celebrated with prayers, music and dance, and warms hearts at the peak of winter.

Forty-year-old Sumana Ghosh, who has been a voluntary cultural secretary for Prabashi since 2010 and is also a well-known face among Woking’s Indian community, talked to the News & Mail about the event.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about the Vasant Panchami celebrations in Woking? How and when did it all start?

A: The festival of Vasant Panchami usually falls between January or February and marks the arrival of spring. It is also a time to honour Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, music and art. In many parts of India, especially Bengal and the North East, families with school or college-going children pray to Saraswati.  

The word Prabashi means a person living away from homeland. In 2008, a small group of around 10 people, most of whom worked in the IT department of Petrofac’s Woking branch, held the first Vasant Panchami event in Woking as we wanted our children to learn about our culture. Around 200 people attend this event now.

Sumana Ghosh, cultural secretary for Prabashi

Q: Could you provide some details about the event?

A: The event starts with a prayer, followed by prasad distribution and lunch. This is followed by a cultural programme, which is the main attraction of this event as it is all about singing, dancing and rejoicing. For over three hours, we see musical, drama and dance performances from children as well as adults. We have had children as young as two-year-olds and grown-ups perform Bollywood and classical dances in front of a hall full of very enthusiastic audience. We would like more children to participate in the programme.

Q: How is the event funded and when do the preparations begin?

A: The event is funded through tickets, which are used for paying the hall rent, arranging food and stage decorations. Until a few years ago, some of us ladies used to cook the food in our kitchens but as the event grew we outsourced this to caterers. We start preparing at least a month in advance. As the cultural secretary, I along with other Prabashi members, voluntarily teach dance to kids and ladies.

For more details, visit www.prabashi.org.uk.