The dance school bringing people of all ages and abilities together to share in a passion
Visiting Middlesbrough’s Thornton Academy of Performing Arts brings one word to mind more than any other – family.
A quote on the wall of the centre in Linthorpe Village – above the Co-Op on Linthorpe Road – reads “To the world we are just a team, to each other we are family”.
And it’s a theme that runs through its core. The school was founded in 1993, then in a scout hut just along the road at St Barnabas Church, by Sue Tyler, who had herself started dancing when she was only two, inheriting a passion for dance shared by both her grandmother and mum.
That passion was shared with her own sister – a fellow qualified dance teacher – and now Sue’s daughter Rachel who also teaches at the Thornton School of Arts. Fellow teachers Mel Philo, Trudy Daly and Gemma Thompson are also part of the family.
And the wider community of the school showed they were part of the group’s extended family when in 2017 Rachel give birth to her son Billy Daniel who was unable to breathe on his own and very sadly died at one-day old.
Rachel and her now-husband Dan then went through the trauma of staying with Billy in a bereavement room which was like any other delivery suite – a clinical room located in the Central Delivery Suite, where they could hear other expectant mothers giving birth.
Since then, in Billy’s memory, the community has rallied behind the Thornton Academy and helped it raise nearly £70,000 which has been used to create Billy’s Room at James Cook – a calm and comfortable room which has been fully soundproofed.
Sue said: “It’s a big family thing. Everyone has been really supportive. The wider community has been brilliant, people gave us gifts for auctions, shops offered flowers, people donated breaks away.
“The parents all went round the shops with a letter and the amount of people that it reached who had maybe lost a child and would message us and say that they understood and would like to help. They were amazing.”
Pre-Covid the school would welcome around 150 people through the door every week. Children can join at two and it has welcomed dancers up to 80-years-old. It also does lots of work through its Shine Team with people with learning and additional needs.
Sue, a proud Boro girl, says she loves everything about what the school offers people and being able to do it in her hometown.
The school offers people a chance to build a future. There is hope here and ambition passed from generation to generation.
“I think for me, I was born here and I never really wanted to leave – it’s home and the people here are great and I have always found everyone is really supportive,” she said.
“We have a good community and I’m very family orientated. The same ethos my family gave me about looking after each is what we have here and that’s really important and we have that in Middlesbrough.
“Anyone can walk up our stairs and all that matters is they want to dance.”
We are words by Andrew Pain.
We are photos by Mike Sreenan.