Bromley dance school giving people a spring in their step

PUBLISHED: 09:56 11 January 2013 | UPDATED: 09:56 11 January 2013

Annie Parsons and Paul Cannon

Annie Parsons and Paul Cannon


“My mother just had a special birthday, so she asked that, instead of presents, people donate to Magpie.”

Magpie DanceMagpie Dance

Artistic director of Magpie Dance, Avril Hitman, says that donations from anyone and everyone really do make a difference in raising the money needed to keep her inclusive dance organisation alive.

It takes £270,000 to keep Magpie Dance running each year, allowing it to provide community, adult and youth dance sessions for learning-disabled people.

Looking for a change in direction, teacher Avril, 59, started the group 27 years ago with weekly 45-minute dance sessions in Magpie Hall Lane, Bromley.

Today the group is almost unrecognisable, offering a host of facilities for more than 200 dancers and volunteers from its base at The Churchill Theatre – though its roots live through the name.

Avril Hitman, Artistic Director of Magpie DanceAvril Hitman, Artistic Director of Magpie Dance

“I wouldn’t say it’s been all easy,” says Avril. “But it’s something I’m passionate about and it’s important for learning-disabled people to have the opportunities they might not have ordinarily.

“We started with no funds and that was down to me to grow. Slowly we have brought more people in to help run the office and now have about 12 freelancers who help deliver sessions for Magpie.”

Running classes in Orpington, Bromley and Beckenham, Magpie is borough-wide and intent on allowing people to “able” themselves.

Those who take part often see a rise in their confidence or health, and Avril sees dance as an alternative way of communicating for those with limited verbal skills.

She said: “It’s giving people a voice through dance. A lot of it is non-verbal communication and it can help people to be heard.

“Not being able to say what you feel can damage your confidence, but a lot of our dancers say they improve how they communicate here.”

Performances are on an ad hoc basis, but Magpie dancers have graced stages in London’s West End, Trafalgar Square and, more locally, at The Churchill Theatre.

It was at the theatre that Magpie staged their most recent performance, an interpretation of Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands, which was part of the Big Dance Festival.

However, performances and Magpie as a whole rely heavily on donations either from generous individuals or charitable businesses.

“We work very hard to secure donations each year, but it’s getting much harder because of the economic climate,” said Avril.

“It’s very challenging because we never know where our funding is coming from, so we’re very grateful when people run marathons for us, which someone is in April.”

Though each year comes with financial uncertainty, the skills and training offered by Magpie are considered by some to be priceless.

Dancers are taught other life skills in areas such as travel, allowing them independence when getting to and from classes, while training for school teachers or health workers means Magpie’s methods can spread elsewhere.

Avril added: “It can be very rewarding to see the performers flourish and know you’re affecting lives for the better.

“Those who learn and teach are here because they want to be, and get something out of it. We go beyond dance.”

To learn more about Magpie, including classes and becoming a Magpie ‘Friend’, please visit

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