Popular dance teacher steps down after 34 years of running Watlington dance school

Tying up the laces of one of her younger ballet dancers, Penny Cooke had no idea that she would hand over her beloved dance school to the same pupil 24 years later.

But last week the 63-year-old did exactly that when she stepped down from running Watlington School of Dance, near King's Lynn, and handed it over former student Emily Law.

The 27-year-old (pictured aged three) was taught by Mrs Cooke until she left the dance school at 16 and went on to perform abroad and on cruise ships before returning to the village.

The Watlington resident said: 'When I returned, Penny offered me a full-time role here and then after a while she asked me if I wanted to take the school on.

'I was shocked that she wanted to step down because I just thought she would go on forever and this school has been her life for decades.

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'As a child she was one of my heroes. She was always kind, patient, had lots of energy and just loved her dancing - she is still exactly the same today.

'She has inspired so many children over the years and everyone just loves her. She created such a great atmosphere for children to learn to dance in and, although her shows always ran like clockwork, we always had fun.'

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The school, now called The School of Dance, has 150 students and was founded by Mrs Cooke in 1977 after she moved to Watlington and was given the idea by villager Barbara Harkness.

Mrs Harkness said: 'We got talking and she was telling me about the different things she had been in and I put it to her that she should start up a dance school in the village and she did.

'She never looked back from that moment and has put so much into the village - entertainment wise - and really has been an inspiration to so many children over the years.'

Her daughter, Julie Evitt, was one of the first to enrol at the dance school in 1977 and her granddaughter Olivia, 11, has been a pupil she the age of three.

The youngster said: 'I have always really enjoyed the classes. I do ballet, tap and Jazz three nights a week and Penny has given me a lot of inspiration.'

Around 150 people also gathered at Watlington Village Hall on Saturday for a surprise party to thank Mrs Cooke for all her work.

The grandmother-of-five, who still lives in the village, said: 'I loved every second of my time running Watlington School of Dance and I wouldn't have given it up if it hadn't been for someone like Emily coming here - she is brilliant and will do a fantastic job.

'I think what I enjoyed the most was being able to watch the children grow up. Some of them I first taught when they were three and some of them stayed with me right until they turned 18 so I consider a lot of my students to be part of my family.'

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