by Margaret Chrystall
IT’S likely almost every little girl who learns her first ballet steps dreams of performing on a big stage in front of hundreds of people.
It happened for Jill Ferguson — though maybe a little later than she might have imagined.
One of the Scottish Ballet Elders — Scotland’s first dance company for over-50s — who performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer, Jill will now appear in Inverness on Sunday as part of the first tour of a double bill with Dance Base’s Prime.
There are over 1,800 years of life in both dance groups.
They include dancers who were total beginners when they first joined the groups, right up to former professional dancers.
For Jill, the chance at first to go along to a ballet class at Scottish Ballet’s purpose-built Tramway Arts Centre in Glasgow was an exciting way to rekindle her childhood love of dance.
She said: "I’ve got a background in dance, though I didn’t do any ballet after I was 18 — though I kept fit. But those who came along were a mix, from one lady who danced professionally and others who had done a little, some had done it as children and there were others who had done nothing whatsoever.
"I think Scottish Ballet had done an adult ballet evening class at their original premises and continued that when they moved to the Tramway. And it was around that time that I heard about it on TV when, by then, they had two classes, Regenerate 1 and 2.
"But they had been inundated with calls and then started Regenerate 3 and 4! But I was on a waiting list for about 18 months before I went along and thoroughly enjoyed the class.
"I didn’t know what the standard would be like, but I was just hooked from day one — it was everything I would have wanted out of a ballet class.
"By February this year, they had four classes and they announced they were going to hold auditions from those classes to form a dance company.
"I felt it helped me having done classes whenI was a child — it came back to me. Your arms and legs knew what to do! But the classes took everything from the beginning for those who hadn’t done it before. The first aim is to get posture and your core right — the way you stand and walk.
"There was quite an in-depth audition with the first part focused on classical ballet and the second on contemporary.
"From those auditions they chose the people to form Elders.
"I think for most of us it was a bit like stepping into the unknown — and then the company was invited to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on August 12!"
Choreographer Winifred Jamieson came in to work with the group and form her piece with them too.
Jill said: "Winifred — Fred — came to rehearse not knowing what music she would have and not really knowing at first what she could do with us, so we started from scratch with just a quote from the poet Dylan Thomas.
"One of the dancers says it at the start of the piece — ‘I love you so much I’ll never be able to tell you, I’m frightened to tell you’.
"It’s open to interpretation and the piece we perform is a contemporary piece.
"We didn’t completely finish working on it till the final afternoon of the last day," laughed Jill.
The music chosen by the choreographer is Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnald’s So Close — better-known as the theme music for the hit ITV series Broadchurch.
Families of the dancers came along to see their debut performance at the Fringe.
Jill said: "Some had never seen the ladies performing before – or at all — and hadn’t known what to expect, but were very supportive.
"When I was younger, I appeared in productions with amateur groups.
"When we did the Fringe, I didn’t feel nervous beforehand, but when we were going off the reaction of the audience did give me a lump in my throat. I suppose I didn’t know how it would be received."
Jill still feels she has work to do on her dancingto buildon staminaandstrength , but quoted something she had seen on the front of a T-shirt.
"It says ‘You don’t stop dancing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop dancing’."
Scottish Ballet Elders perform Words Unspoken and Dance Base Prime perform Tarn at Eden Court on Sunday at 4pm. Tickets cost £5. For details: www.luminatescotland.org and www.eden-court.co.uk