New book celebrates ballet seminars that drew the famous to Ilkley

Catherine Birch signing a copy of 25 Summers at the launch event <i>(Image: Andrew McMillan)</i>
Catherine Birch signing a copy of 25 Summers at the launch event (Image: Andrew McMillan)

ONE of the first residential ballet schools in the UK has been celebrated in a new book co-written by a Skipton woman.

25 Summers written by Catherine Birch and Helen Bruce, from Ilkley, tells the story of the Yorkshire Ballet Seminars which took place at Ilkley College and ran for up to five weeks of every summer for 25 years from 1973.

Both Catherine and Helen were students of Margaret Jaffe, founder of Skipton's Northern Dance Centre, who in 2014 at the age of 90 received a BEM in recognition of a lifetime devoted to dance. She died the following year.

Around 70 guests recently gathered at the Manor House, Ilkley for the launch of 25 Summers and to remember summers spent dancing or performing at Ilkley College.

Guests included professional dancers who were former students of the seminars and David Gayle MBE from Ilkley, founder and director of the course who was also taught by Margaret Jaffe. The book is dedicated to her, as the teacher who inspired both Catherine and Helen, and also David,  to dance.

On show was a collection of photographs from the 1970s to the 1990s which are included, along with hundreds more, in the book itself.

Mr Gayle spoke about his intentions in setting up the Yorkshire Ballet Seminars in Ilkley and about the international ballerinas and male ballet stars who came to teach and perform there, such as Dame Alicia Markova, Dame Beryl Grey CH, Lynn Seymour CBE, Wayne Sleep OBE and Kevin O’Hare CBE.

He also spoke of how Margaret Jaffe took him to audition for The Royal Ballet School where he gained a place, subsequently going on to dance with The Royal Ballet. His real interest lay in teaching ballet however, and he organised masterclasses in his home town to which Margaret sent her pupils.

As time went on, it became one of the first residential ballet summer schools in the UK and featured demonstrations by Royal Ballet principal dancers, talks by renowned celebrities from the ballet world and exhibitions of ballet costumes from the V&A Museum in London.

This year the Yorkshire Ballet Seminars celebrates its golden anniversary at Ashville College, Harrogate, where the course continues to inspire young dancers.

25 Summers has been released in honour of the occasion and documents the first 25 years of the course at Ilkley College. It includes a foreword by Kevin O’Hare, director of The Royal Ballet.

The book can be purchased at, The Grove Bookshop, Ilkley or the Manor House, Ilkley. An exhibition of photographs from the ballet seminars will run again at the Manor House, on Saturday and Sundays, from 11am to 4pm, from July 8 to July 23.