Dancing queen Beryl is still a step ahead at 95

Retired principle of the Guildhall School of Dancing, Beryl Manthorp, is celebrating the school's 70

Retired principle of the Guildhall School of Dancing, Beryl Manthorp, is celebrating the school's 70th anniversary. 95 years old, she is still teaching ballet.

When dance teacher Beryl Manthorp was 75 she decided to stop teaching classes. That was 20 years ago, and she's still going strong. GERALDINE SCOTT meets a remarkable woman who has taught thousands of local people to take to the floor....

Beryl Manthorp with guests for her celebration lunch in 1996.

Beryl Manthorp with guests for her celebration lunch in 1996. - Credit: Archant

Twenty years ago, ballet teacher Beryl Manthorp said she was starting to bow out of the career she had enjoyed for more than half a century.

But now, at the age of 95, the dedicated dancer is still teaching classes at the school she founded, as the institution celebrated its 70th year.

Miss Manthorp's dancing career began when she was four years old and living in Colchester.

Beryl Manthorp in 1996, when she had planned to hang up her dancing shoes...

Beryl Manthorp in 1996, when she had planned to hang up her dancing shoes... - Credit: Archant


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She was diagnosed as having a slight curvature of the spine and recommended to take up ballet, and from there she fell in love.

'I knew after just two lessons I wanted to be a dance teacher,' Miss Manthorp said.

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And eventually - after years of childhood lessons - she went on to study at a prestigious dancing boarding school in Felixstowe for two years.

After finishing there, Miss Manthorp had plans to take her career further.

Beryl Manthorp in her ATS uniform during the Second World War.

Beryl Manthorp in her ATS uniform during the Second World War. - Credit: Archant

'I was down to go to London three days after war broke out,' she said. 'But Mr Hitler put his foot in it and the whole thing was cancelled.'

Instead, she came to Norwich after a dancing school here had closed because teachers and pupils couldn't travel during the blackouts.

Miss Manthorp was asked to take over some classes, and soon after in 1940 the Guildhall School of Dancing was born.

On its first site the studio was based in St Giles Street, behind what would have then been Brett's furniture shop.

Retired principle of the Guildhall School of Dancing, Beryl Manthorp, is celebrating the school's 70

Retired principle of the Guildhall School of Dancing, Beryl Manthorp, is celebrating the school's 70th anniversary. 95 years old, she is still teaching ballet. The premises on Newmarket Road.

But Miss Manthorp remembers how the Second World War made things difficult.

'When pupils changed for ballet lessons they had to hang their clothes neatly with their coat on top of the peg and the shoes placed side by side, ready to slip their feet into quickly if the air raid siren sounded,' she said.

If the siren did sound, the class would rush across the road to the shelter beneath the Masonic Lodge, and the girls would learn their ballet theory and play darts until it was safe to emerge.

But despite its early success the business would be put on hold sooner after, as Miss Manthorp signed up to help the war effort.

'We're not counting the years I was serving toward the anniversary,' said Miss Manthorp, who joined the Army as a physical training instructor (PTI) in 1943.

As a PTI, Miss Manthorp travelled all over the country, ensuring soldiers were at the peak of their fitness, a job she enjoyed.

In fact, she said she might have stayed in the Army but she returned to Norwich as she felt her father, who was a managing director at ironmongers Gunton Sons and Dyball, had supported her dancing for so long, she couldn't let him down.

However the war had taken its toll on Norwich, and when she returned in 1948 the school couldn't reopen on its old site, and new premises were needed.

'I couldn't find anywhere to go, so we had to start in all sorts of places,' she said.

'My aunt lived in Park Lane and had two reception rooms with folding doors, we'd open those up and have classes in there, we had classes as the YMCA, until the Arlington came up for sale.'

The school was based at the old NAAFI hall, in Arlington Lane, from 1948 until 1955, where students persevered through post-war problems such as water shortages and power cuts.

The studio was very cold, but the dancers donned an extra jumper and fur gloves, with an oil lamp on the piano to light the room, to continue with their lessons.

Post-war rationing also added pressure, and dance costumes would be made out of old silk parachutes, which had been used for dropping supplies.

During the Arlington years Miss Manthorp also started a branch of the school in Diss. One of the pupils from these classes, Versey Jones, went on to become a member of the Royal Ballet Company - just one of many she has seem flourish.

But by 1955, Miss Manthorp had her eye on a property on Newmarket Road, which had been the home and business of a builder.

However, these were not times of equality, and Miss Manthorp had to ask her father to help her get a mortgage.

'My father bought the building,' she said. 'I couldn't get a mortgage because they didn't give women mortgages those days, so instead my father paid and I paid him back. That was the only way we could do it.'

After a lot of work, Miss Manthorp altered the house - making it into a modern dance studio - and it was an enviable establishment after the war-time and post-war shortages.

With its own stage, and wooden sprung floors, the school's next site on Newmarket Road was perfect, and biennial dancing displays continued to be staged.

Fundraising parties were also held, and a house system was introduced - pupils would be assigned to either Taglioni, Grisi, Grahn or Cerito, named after four of the earliest ballet dancers famous for their Pas de Quatre.

By 1981 Miss Manthorp had cemented her reputation as the city's mother of dancing, and released a book called Towards Ballet.

This was a guide for teachers, to help them with young children, and pupils from the Guildhall School were photographed to illustrate it.

But by the school's golden jubilee in 1996, Miss Manthorp was ready to hand the reins over, and step down from being principal.

She announced her retirement at a birthday party for the school, with more than 100 guests, where the then-literary and arts editor of the EDP, Charles Roberts, gave a toast and past and present pupils looked through old photographs.

Many would feature Miss Manthorp's pet poodles, who would sit in on classes as pupils pirouetted or did their barre exercises.

The same year, Miss Manthorp was honoured when she was presented with the President's Award for services to the Royal Academy of Dancing — one of the highest recognitions made by the organisation.

At the helm since 1997 has been Francesca Waite, a past pupil of the school herself who went onto professional dance training and to become a senior examiner for the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing.

But Miss Manthorp didn't hang up her ballet shoes for good, as she has continued to teach twice a week to this day.

Although now she will only teach adults, leaving the challenges of teaching very young children - such as the odd accident and short attention spans - behind her.

Her most memorable moments through her years include moving into the Newmarket Road premises, and getting students through exams.

But she said there had been challenges, especially when dancing just wasn't a good fit for some children. 'Some children are gong to be professionals,' she said. 'But some people are not naturally dancers. And it could be difficult for the not-so-able to reach the other students. Sometimes we couldn't help it.

'But that's also a problem because it can put people off who are very good.'

It is clear the school still holds a special place in many people's hearts, as pupils past and present came together for the diamond anniversary celebration last month.

Pasty Martin, a former pupil, said: 'I went to someone else before for a couple of years, but this gave me the love of movement for the rest of my life.

'I loved everything about my weekly class. The teachers, Miss Manthorp and Miss Smith, the pianists, the challenge of preparing for exams and shows - it was the highlight of my week.'

Current principal Mrs Waite, said returning to the school 19 years ago almost felt like coming home.

Mrs Waite, 62, danced at the school from the age of two to 18. She said: 'I know the school, I know the building, and yes we had changed some bits to keep up to date but lots was the same.'

When she retires - although she's not sure when that will be - she'd like to hand over to her son and daughter, Daniel and Abigail.

She added: 'They both danced here as children, and they both dance professionally, one of them is already teaching.'

So the school will remain in the hands of pupils who know the ethos, and the history.

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