John’s keeping on his toes teaching ballet as he nears 80th birthday
11:45 12 January 2014
He may be approaching his 80th birthday this March and had both knees replaced, but dance teacher John Dowson has no plans to hang up his ballet shoes just yet.
Having had an illustrious career spanning more than six decades, including performing with London’s Pavinoff Ballet Company, Mr Dowson, of St Ives, now instructs the ballet stars of tomorrow in his classes at Houghton Memorial Hall.
Many of his former students have secured high-profile roles, inspired by his passion for ballet and teaching that has not waned with the years.
He says that his pupils, aged three to 18, keep his passion for ballet alive.
“About 50 of my pupils have ended up professional and hundreds have gone on to full-time training,” Mr Dowson told The Hunts Post. “I am not a normal ballet teacher, I want to carry on trying to find talent, nurture it and get it to a professional level.
“My class are phenomenal, they’re absolutely wonderful – I couldn’t walk away.”
His classes have not only propelled pupils into the profession but also his children. Antony, 50, is a former principle dancer at the Royal Ballet and is now a ballet master while daughter Belle, 42, was a dancer in West-End musicals including Cats and West Side Story.
She is now a professional singer performing with top musicians while daughter Sam, 43, is a set designer at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond.
Other success stories include 20-year-old Sarah Monkman, now with the Sarasota Ballet in Florida, and Nicky Simpson who became a principle dancer with the Northern Ballet in Leeds.
Mr Dowson said he began ballet by chance, aged nine.
He had started taking his five-year-old sister Anne to classes in order to correct a problem with her feet.
While he initially watched from the sidelines, the dance teacher soon encouraged him to join in.
Before long, he discovered his flair for ballet and by the age of 14 had progressed enough to be sent to a new ballet mistress who helped him to hone his skills.
However, his big break did not come until two years later.
“I was just coming up to my 16th birthday when she decided to send me along to an audition for experience.
“There were about three times as many girls there as boys.
“That was when I got in to the Pavinoff Ballet Company.”
He spent two years touring with the company but duty called when he turned 18 and Mr Dowson put his dancing days aside to undertake military service, spending time stationed at RAF Brampton.
“When I was due to come out of the forces I saw an audition for a musical show in London at The Palace Theatre.
“I was at Brampton then and I went in uniform on to the A1 where I hitched a lift with a man who took me there.”
He persuaded the attendant at the stage door to get him an audition and was then offered a contract in Zip Goes A Million, which starred George Formby.
This was followed by performances in a succession of musicals before he was offered a post with a small ballet company called The Masque – it was there he met his late wife Doreen.
He needed a “small, good dancer” as a partner and it was not long before romance blossomed.
“When you do an emotional ballet you get quite involved with your partner – she was gorgeous and a fantastic dancer,” he said.
The couple retired from ballet, married and had seven children together. They relocated to Hartford when Mr Dowson was 32.
Mrs Dowson began the dance school and he took over when she became ill. She passed away from cancer 11 years ago.
The school has had a number of homes since its was formed – including Hartford and St Ives – but while the surroundings may change, the inspiration is a constant.