The pain and pleasure of a dance career

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MARTIN Howland started dancing when he was seven, left home at 11 to pursue his dream and has only recently retired from the professional stage at the age of 34.

Now living back in his home town of Brighouse, he knows better than most the pain and pleasures of a dance career. That’s why he is keen to pass on his expertise and experience to a new generation of ambitious young dancers through his new venture Renaissance-Arts, a dance college aimed at students who are set on a career in the industry.

It will be based at Northern Ballet Theatre and Yorkshire Dance Centre in Leeds and the first set of auditions will be held on April 10.

“I’m really excited about it,” said Martin, of Huddersfield Road, Brighouse. “There are some very talented young dancers in Yorkshire and the north of England and I want to show them that they don’t have to go down to London to enjoy a successful career.

“Dance can be a very tough business and all the people connected with the new company have a great deal of experience and advice to pass on.”

Working with Martin are choreographer Stillie Dee and musical director and performer Neil Rigg.

“We have been already holding masterclasses and have about 30 students so far. We are deliberately limiting numbers because we want to aim for the highest possible standard and give students the best possible chance of making a career for themselves in the dance and musical theatre industry.”

Martin himself has enjoyed a successful and varied stage career, performing across Europe and in Japan and South Africa and dancing some of the greatest classical roles. He trained in ballet at the Elwyn School of Dance in Brighouse and at the age of 11 he was accepted for a place at the Royal Ballet School in London where he embarked on a tough five-year course in classical ballet.

“Looking back I was very young when I left home and none of it would have been possible without the fantastic support of my family. I suppose it was a bit like Billy Elliot and I have worked on that show in the West End, teaching and coaching young dancers.

“Dance has been very good to me but it is very hard on the body. There have been times when I was performing in 13 shows a week! Luckily I managed to get through without any major injuries but I always said I would retire when I reached 30. I am a bit older than that but I am looking forward to this new venture and to creating something new and positive for dance in Yorkshire.

“We will be bringing in visiting tutors and professionals in the industry - for example, dancers and performers who are on tour to venues in the region - to talk to students and give them encouragement. There’s no point in dance schools turning out a lot of students who haven’t been prepared for the industry.

“I want to inspire the students but I also want to provide them with the necessary skills to be successful.”

The first intake of students will give two showcase performances at Northern Ballet Theatre’s new studios in Leeds on July 1. “I’m thrilled that it’s all come together,” said Martin. “We want our dancers to aim for the highest possible artistic and technical standard but in a creative and nurturing environment.”