Ballet legend’s half-century milestone

Susan Richards remembers her years of dance.pic Richard Ponter 145107a
Susan Richards remembers her years of dance.pic Richard Ponter 145107a

There is a name in Scarborough that has been synonymous with ballet for the past 50 years - Susan Richards.

Susan, 72, set up her own ballet school half a century ago and has never looked back - or stopped dancing.

Born in Warrington and raised in Cambridge, Susan moved to Scarborough with her parents when she was in her early twenties.

Having learnt ballet from Russian teacher Nina Hubbard in Cambridge, Susan dreamt of being a professional dancer.

But a knee injury at the age of 18 meant missing out on nearly two years of training at what was a crucial time in Susan’s career.

However, with great determination - and the encouragement of her beloved mum - Susan spent a year in London.

She said it was a real experience, but left her disillusioned, so she decided to move to Scarborough with her parents as they began their retirement.

Susan said: “My brother was already working here at the wireless station and he said ‘they won’t want ballet here - and you’re a foreigner’ - but luckily they did.”

After working at GBL Cafe in Huntriss Row, Susan decided she missed ballet so much she needed to go back to it.

She arranged a demonstration of Russian classical ballet at the Roscoe Rooms and worried whether anyone would turn up as it was pouring with rain.

Susan said: “I took 30 names that day and I was so pleased. By the next week I had 50. I never thought I’d get so many.”

Susan began teaching at Christ Church Hall, which is where Iceland is now.

The building became unsafe and Susan moved to the YMCA, which was at North Street and later moved to its current home in St Thomas Street in 1988.

Susan said: “We had around 350 pupils by then so it was great as the YMCA was much bigger.

“But the floor was parquet on top of concrete. I thought we’d have to move again, but one of my pupils was the daughter of Charles McCarthy from McCain.

“He offered to pay for a new sprung floor and it was such a joy afterwards.”

Susan also taught classes in Burniston, Filey and Ayton, taking on assistants - usually former pupils - as the school continued to grow.

Susan has faced personal battles over the years, but it has never stopped her dancing.

She had a hip replacement and was back at work a couple of months later and also beat breast cancer - taking just one week off following surgery.

Susan says her motto has always been “bash on” and she has managed to do so with the support of her pupils, their families and her husband Richard “Beanie” Bean.

Susan and Beanie have staged shows at the YMCA, Spa and Futurist, but their favourite venue was the Royal Opera House in St Thomas Street.

She said: “I loved the Opera House - it was terrible when it closed.”

The school’s 25 and 30 year anniversary shows were held at the Futurist and with 30 being “Pearl”, Beanie made a huge pair of Pearly Gates as part of the set. The show was to become one of their favourite productions.

Other shows throughout the years have included Swan Lake, the Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty.

The school has now been passed on to Helen Held under the name of the Yorkshire Coast School of Ballet.

For the past few years Susan has been giving private lessons and after stepping down recently, has decided to keep teaching a ladies’ class on a Wednesday afternoon.

She said: “I’ve been very, very lucky to have a career I love and I’m still passionate about ballet now.

“I’ve got arthritis in my legs but I’m still good from the waist upwards!”

With more free time on her hands, Susan is looking forward to spending more time in the Lake District with Beanie, where they have enjoyed many holidays over the years.

She will also be involved as a patron of the Yorkshire School of Ballet and is a board member at the YMCA.

Susan said she has enjoyed teaching every group over the years and watching the youngsters grow up - then often teaching their children or members of the same family.

She said: “It’s funny, pupils always call me Miss Richards, but when they leave I tell them to keep in touch and call me Sue.

“It’s lovely to see past pupils - they’re a marvellous lot. They keep in touch with each other on Facebook too, which is wonderful. They’ve become our extended family .”

Susan added: “I would say that ballet is a wonderful hobby for any child and Helen is doing a great job.

“I shall enjoy watching them all grow up - I certainly won’t desert them. It’s not just about the dancing - it’s about the friendships that develop, which can be quite awe inspiring.”

• A special show and get-together is being held to mark 50 years of dance tuition by Scarborough ballet legend Susan Richards.

The former Susan Richards Ballet School - since 2006 the Yorkshire Coast School of Ballet - is hosting the event at the Spa Ocean Room on Saturday December 27.

Organisers are inviting people to come and enjoy the event, particularly any former pupils, and guests are expected from as far afield as Australia.

Former pupil and event organiser Katrina Flynn said: “We are trying to contact as many of Sue’s girls and boys as possible to be part of the evening and meet up with old friends. I myself was one of her first pupils until leaving to pursue my own professional dance career.”

Part of the show will be a “Dance of the Decades”, with rehearsals for this already under way.

There will also be a performance by present pupils, plus music from The Richard Adams Band.

Katrina said: “It’s too late to take part in the dance, but we would love to see as many people as possible who have attended the school over the years.”

Tickets are £5 from Carole Priestley at the YMCA in St Thomas Street.

Please call (01723) 374227 for details.