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Abbie Hastings
Jeffery Taylor, the former dancer and critic catches up with the Birmingham girl who scooped the 2004 Sunday Express National Dance Award for Children
January 2005


It is a classic moment that has epitomised family life since man left the caves. And probably even before that. As her child perches on the edge of her bed, a mother grooms her daughter’s hair into spun silk, the stroke of one hand’s palm adding the sheen, then the brush stroking in the lush texture. But this is not some Laura Ashley idyll of sleepy suburban cosiness at the end of a tiring but rewarding day. This is a wet and chilly Saturday morning on Ward 24 of Birmingham’s Hartlands Hospital. 9-year-old Abbie Hastings is sitting on her mother Louise’s bed making plans for the family trip to London to receive the National Dance Awards Sunday Express Children’s Prize.

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Abbie Hastings receiving her Award from Sunday Express Editor Martin Townsend
Photo: © John Ross

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Louise, 37, who suffers from Severe Brittle Asthma, has spent nine of the past 12 months in hospital but had been told by her doctors that perhaps she would be well enough to travel to the glittering National Dance Awards event at London’s Royal Opera House last Thursday. It was not be. In the grandeur of the Opera House’s Floral Hall, all 3 feet and one inch of little Abbie Hastings, corn coloured hair brushed into place by her father, Mark, was called forward by celebrity compere, Angela Rippon, to receive her Award from Sunday Express Editor, Martin Townsend. The Award, sponsored by The Sunday Express, is in recognition of a child under 16 achieving excellent progress in dance in the face of exceptional hardship, either coping with ill health or other problems at home or at school.

Abbie’s touching story, submitted by her dance teacher, Vicky Richards of the Spotlight Stage School in Birmingham, detailing how the child supports her hospitalised mother by making her proud of her progress in dance, won the hearts of the Sunday Express team of judges. “Abbie’s been with me since I first opened my School’s doors four years ago,” says Vicky. “Out of 20 International Dance Teachers Association exams in 4 years, Abbie has won Honours in all except one when her mother was first admitted to intensive care in the summer of 2003. Abbie’s unique,” she goes on, “she’s the only pupil I know of in the area who consistently wins a 90 points winning score. The national average is 75.”

Abbie knows how proud her mother is of her achievements and in the many weeks Louise has been separated from her, has spent many hours on the telephone. “That’s the way we keep up with all the girlie things,” Louise explains. “She rings me and tells me how she’s doing, like `I made a mistake but no-one noticed` or `I did that number specially for you, Mum,` And that always brings a tear or two.”

Separation has become the norm for the Hastings family, which includes Abbie’s brother Matthew, 14, and sister Amey 16. But the worst moment in their annus horribilis last Christmas. “I came in the day before Christmas,” Louise recalls, “when all the decorations had just gone up and they’ll all be gone when I go home. There were tears all round this Christmas.”

“Dance glues this family together,” says Mark. “The two older children went to Spotlight for a time and the School is our social life as well. We’ve made lots of friends. I pitch in for the shows backstage making props, and I’m gofer cum chauffeur for Abbie, but as for doing her hair? I’ll just say I try.” But with a full time job as a contract cleaner it is not easy keeping the family together. “I come to see Louise every night and look after the kids and my 85 year old father, but that’s what families do.” Louise adds. “We’ve just got to pull together. It gives me strength to know Abbie’s doing something she loves.”

“I help to look after Daddy, too,” insists Abbie. “I load and unload the dish washer, make him cups of tea and talk a lot but I enjoy dancing because you have to work hard. And you’re always learning something new - I only want to be a dancer.”

The moment the ceremony finishes in London, Abbie is on the phone to her mother in Birmingham. “I told her I was very, very nervous about having to say thank you into the microphone,” she says. “But I met Lionel Blair and Dad took loads of photo’s. He’s driving us straight back to the hospital to see Mum and I can show her my Award.

“It was a special day and I’ll never forget it.”

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