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Dame Beryl Grey
Margaret Willis talks to Dame Beryl Grey about Strictly Come Dancing - a programme she appreciates so much she gave it her own National Dance Award,
December 2006


When Dame Beryl Grey accepted the role as Patron of the Critics’ Circle’s National Dance Awards, little did she think she would be waltzing around the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing studio with compere-host Bruce Forsythe. But there was a very good reason for her appearance in the studio. The highly successful and popular programme has been recognised by the Critics’ Circle Dance Section for its great contribution to the multifarious world of dance, and Dame Beryl has chosen to present Strictly Come Dancing with the first ever Patron’s Award in this year’s prestigious National Dance Awards.

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BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing:
first recipients of Dame Beryl Grey's National Dance Awards Patron's Award

Photo: © BBC TV

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“Strictly Come Dancing is a wonderful programme and it certainly deserves to be honoured in this way,” enthused Dame Beryl. “It has done so much to raise the image of dance and has reached out to millions of people around the country-- people who knew nothing about the art before. Suddenly the elegance of ballroom dancing and the thrill of Latin American dancing have generated a great appeal, and the excitement of the series has been tremendous. It has been cleverly devised as it offers an element of anticipation, getting people to tune in each week and participate in the voting. Now the viewers understand what is involved in order to become a dancer. They have seen the sheer hard work, the dedication, the physical demands made on those amateur dancers who spend all day in the studios learning and polishing their steps with the professionals who have generously given up their time to train them. And they also see the frustrations and exhaustion the dancers have to overcome, including, each Saturday night, having their performances get pulled apart by the row of judges. The programme has attracted a wide viewing public, from carpenters to refuse collectors who know that to win is not a question of luck but the result of real hard work. And dear Bruce is just wonderful with all the competitors, as is his compere partner Tess Daly. That’s what makes it all so special”

Beryl Grey is one of Britain’s most loved ballerinas. She was just 14 years old when she made her debut as Odette in the second act of Swan Lake with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet. On her fifteenth birthday, she danced the full ballet in the dual role of Odette/Odile. She was the first British ballerina to perform in Russia and the first western ballerina to work in China. After dancing to rapturous acclaim all over the world, she finally hung up her ballet shoes and, in 1968, became the first female artistic director of London Festival Ballet, (now English National Ballet). She was made Dame of the British Empire in 1988. Today, she continues to play an important role in coaching the talented younger generation of dancers both here and abroad, and she serves as Patron to many ballet organizations and committees.

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Dame Beryl Grey in 1954 at the height of her dancing career
Photo: © Dame Beryl Grey & courtesy of English National Ballet

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Describing her visit to the Shepherds Bush studios, Dame Beryl said, “I was told to put on an evening dress and when I arrived at the studio, I was whisked by the floor manager onto centre stage with the audience all around. Bruce Forsythe had his back to me and I went

up to him and said ‘Hallo Bruce’. He turned round very surprised. He embraced me and we were both speechless for a moment. He then told the audience who I was and that he had introduced me many times at the London Palladium in the past when I had been invited to perform. I told him that I was there to give him an award and handed it over. It was a beautiful moment and the audience’s response was really exciting. Then suddenly he swept me up and we danced together around the stage. It was wonderful –he really should have been a dancer. Bruce is a remarkable man. I’ve always been struck by the happy atmosphere that he creates around him wherever he works. He is a real professional and feels from the heart. It was quite special to be able to give him the Patron’s Award for Strictly Come Dancing.”

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Dame Beryl Grey in the studio coaching Daria Klimentova of English National Ballet in Giselle
Photo: © Patrick Baldwin & courtesy of English National Ballet

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“To me, the Critics’ Circle Dance Awards are something quite unique. It’s absolutely wonderful to have them because now there is a goal for dancers. In any area of dance whether it is classical, contemporary, modern, musical theatre, and now ballroom, wherever there is dance, the critics are there looking, and they all meet and analyze what they have seen-- the quality of the dance, and of course the personality of the dancer. Some of the awards they give are for choreography, some are for directors. And my award, the Patron’s Award which has come in for the first time this year, is really for helping the development of dance in the country. In my days there were no awards. I started ballet at school in 1937, and joined the Sadlers Wells Ballet in ’41 – and one had to rely on the critics to be noticed at all. So it’s rather wonderful for me now to be invited by them to be their Patron. I’m really touched and very thrilled, as we older dancers owe the critics an enormous debt for their writing and for their encouragement -- and discouragement. If you had a bad notice, you might pretend that you hadn’t read it but you knew jolly well what they were saying was right and it made you work even harder. It’s the same on Strictly Come Dancing. The dancers all have to learn to accept and cope with criticism. But there’s Bruce Forsythe being absolutely wonderful to all of them as he tries to make amends for some of the comments.

The reason I have chosen Strictly Come Dancing for the Patron’s Award is because I think it has done an enormous amount for our art. Dance has gripped the imagination of millions of people in their own homes through the television screen, and they have become caught up in it and have begun to understand its challenges. I think the programme has shown the dedication it takes to reach any sort of standard. Yet, with all that hard work, not one of the amateur dancers I’ve watched has complained when they have been eliminated. They’ve all said how much they have enjoyed the experience. And of course, the programme shows the elegance of dressing well and of good deportment, which are so often sadly lacking in today’s world.

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Dame Beryl Grey in the studio coaching Daria Klimentova of English National Ballet in Giselle
Photo: © John Ross

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Dance is about disciplining one’s body and I think you’ll find that those amateurs who have come through the competition are all in good trim-- they’re athletes, sportsmen, people whose bodies are already trained to some extent. Movement is so vital to life and dance gives you a feeling of well-being and an inner confidence. Overall, this programme has really raised the profile of dance in this country and for this I am most grateful. Dancing is a shared enjoyment between the dancers and the audience and Strictly Come Dancing certainly has achieved this.

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© Dame Beryl Grey &
English National Ballet