Monica Dyson: Following in the steps of budding dancers

The Constance Grant School of Dance started 90 years ago.

The Constance Grant School of Dance started 90 years ago.

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In common with many other young girls I desperately wanted to be a ballet dancer.

My father loved the music of Tchaikovsky and I had grown up listening to the beautiful sounds of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker Suite, but really all I knew about ballet was learned from the books by Lorna Hill about Sadler’s Wells which were very popular during the 1950s.

Lorna Hill wrote the Dream of Sadler’s Wells series after her daughter left home to become a ballet student at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School in London. There were to be 14 books about ballet students, in addition to other popular series like The Vicarage Children, Dancing Peel and Patience. She wrote 40 books in all before she died in 1991.

I wasn’t alone in my never-to-be realised ambitions. There were scores of dancing schools in Sheffield throughout the 1950s and 1960s, many more than today.

After much persuading, bearing in mind that I 
certainly didn’t look as if I was ever going to be a prima ballerina, my mother agreed that I could attend the Fayre Daviso School of Dance which was in a large detached house on Barnsley Road in Sheffield and which I dutifully attended for a few Saturday mornings until the enthusiasm worn off.

I found out in later years that it was actually a very interesting school of dance indeed.

The Fayre part was a lady called Zena Fairbotham who adapted her name for theatrical purposes as she had belonged to the Tiller Girls. She was quite intriguing looking, being masculine in speech and in dress. She looked like the television personality of the day, Nancy Spain. Her hair was cropped and she wore men’s suits.

Her ‘significant other’ was called Ninette Daviso. She was small, dark and feminine. She had been born in Portugal in 1908, the daughter of a circus performer called Hercules Daviso and on coming to live in England with her two brothers some time before the Second World War, was naturalised and changed her name from Marie Antoinette to Ninette.

Her family and friends called her Netta. Her dancing school opened around 1945.

The school also taught ballroom dancing and, strangely enough, had PE classes; Ninette also became the dancing mistress of the Ellesmere Operatic Society, then situated in Ellesmere Community Centre, before moving to their present home at the Montgomery Theatre in 1973.

Other dancing schools in Sheffield at that time included Marjorie Fields, Collinson’s and Edith Hirst.

The Constance Grant School of Dance, started more than 90 years ago, lost its Miss Judy a year or so ago, when Judy Sylvester, the daughter of the founder and who had taken over the reins in the 1950s, sadly died. However, the famous name lives on with her two daughters Karen and Tracie continuing the tradition of teaching young people to dance.

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