Ballet teacher and former professional ballet dancer Lorna Scott is an in-demand dance teacher, a mentor to fellow educators, a higher education student and a busy mum of two.
Amazingly, she found time to discuss performing, teaching, the benefits of dancing and her thoughts on dance education with Georgina Butler.
Lorna Scott is a former soloist with Scottish Ballet. She joined the company on an apprentice contract after training at The Dance School of Scotland and graduating from The Royal Ballet Upper School. A year later, she was awarded a full-time contract and began working her way up through the ranks. During the thirteen years Lorna spent at Scottish Ballet, she was privileged to work with countless brilliant choreographers including Hans van Manen, Ashley Page, Mark Baldwin, Robert North, Richard Alston, Tim Rushton and Stephen Petronio.
After retiring from her career as a professional ballet dancer, Lorna retrained with the Royal Academy of Dance, achieving the Professional Dancers’ Teaching Diploma (PDTD) with Distinction. Lorna’s first position after gaining the PDTD was working as ballet teacher and junior conservatoire coordinator at Tring Park School for the Performing Arts. This role combined coaching senior vocational students (aged 16 to 18) on the Dance Course throughout the day and teaching junior associates (aged 5 to 16) in the evenings.
Now a self-employed ballet teacher working in Aberdeen, Lorna is relishing being able to inspire young dancers through her teaching. Moreover, having trained as a Royal Academy of Dance Continuing Professional Development tutor in 2015, she is looking forward to having many opportunities to support fellow dance teachers in their efforts to spread the joys of dancing far and wide. Still keen to further her own expertise, Lorna is also currently studying for a degree in Dance Education with the Royal Academy of Dance.
Why dance? What drew you to it as a child and drove you to train and perform professionally?
Guess that is the question … why dance?! It makes me debate the question of “did I choose dance or did dance choose me?”.
I’ve danced since the age of 3 and always loved it. I guess my story starts the same as many little girls. Always dancing around the house, putting on shows, dressing up; so my parents sent me to ballet classes in my local town hall. It was just something that made me happy, I was good at it and over time it developed into a real passion and dream to succeed as a professional dancer.
I don’t remember ever wanting to do anything else. I was focused from a very young age and pestered my parents to take me to anything that could develop my training. My personality is mostly perfect for ballet training! I’m a perfectionist, driven to succeed and pretty resilient when the going gets tough! I suppose these traits can also get you in trouble but I had one goal and I was out to achieve it!
You danced with Scottish Ballet for thirteen-and-a-half years. Were there any stand-out productions or roles for you?
That’s really hard to answer because each production has its own memories for various reasons. Be it a principal role, created on our company, working with a renowned choreographer, being rehearsed by inspirational professionals. Each stands out in its own right.
Every role danced is special and brings with it its own challenges but certainly the three principal roles: Sylph in La Sylphide, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and Lise from La Fille Mal Gardée were the most challenging and rewarding in my career.
I always enjoyed the roles where I played a character and could really involve myself in portraying a story alongside pure dancing and movement.
Did you dance in many contemporary works as well as the classical favourites?
Towards the end of my career the company took a dramatic turn towards a more contemporary look. Ashley Page, as our director, staged many of his own works such as Cheating, Lying, Stealing and a new updated version of The Nutcracker but throughout my career I was fortunate to work with many contemporary choreographers in an array of triple bills.
One such piece was MiddleSexGorge by Stephen Petronio, which was probably one of the most radical works I performed in. Another was Night Life by Tim Rushton. It was created on the company and I played the lead girl. This was the first neoclassical piece in which I was part of the creative process.
Have you worked with, or choreographed for, Scottish Ballet since retiring?
I choreographed a short work for the company while I was with them. They gave dancers an opportunity to try out choreographic skills within a workshop environment. My piece was based on “Tam o’Shanter”, by the Scottish poet Robert Burns. It was then taken into the repertoire for a small-scale tour, which I was really proud of.
I moved away from Glasgow not long after retiring and have never moved back so naturally have lost my roots with the company. I do still keep in touch, however. Many of the dancers I performed with have now returned to work with the company in capacities on the “other side”!
What made you want to turn your talents to teaching?
I did quite a bit of teaching throughout my time training as a dancer with The Dance School of Scotland and various other summer schools, junior associate programmes and master classes.
I always enjoyed teaching and felt that I could pass on my experiences and knowledge well. I liked seeing the children progress and develop so it seemed like a very natural and seamless transition.
What was it like studying for the Royal Academy of Dance’s Professional Dancers’ Teaching Diploma?
It was the perfect course for me to obtain my teaching diploma and get out into the teaching field relatively quickly.
I lived with my sister in London for the three months I was required to be studying full-time at the RAD headquarters. There were only about twelve of us so it was pretty intense but it was good to acquire all the basics and set us up for a teaching post.
You don’t learn to be a teacher in three months but it gave us a sound understanding of educational concepts and, more importantly, the confidence to start a new career based on the years of experience we already had.
Once you had achieved your Diploma, with Distinction, you won the role of ballet teacher and junior conservatoire coordinator at Tring Park School for the Performing Arts. What was the best part of this experience?
I truly learnt to become a teacher! I was dropped in at the deep end and expected to swim very fast. I had a lot of support but it’s the only way to learn. I gained a lot of knowledge over those four years.
Teaching the seniors involved daily training classes, pointework and virtuosity, repertoire, pas de deux and RAD examination classes. The students would also need tutoring for assessment classes, exams, competitions, choreographic workshops and performances. My job was to assist in all these aspects.
With the Junior Conservatoire students, alongside teaching I was in charge of RAD and ISTD examinations, auditions, timetables, workshops, end of year performances and annual assessments.
You are a Continuing Professional Development tutor for the Royal Academy of Dance. What does that involve?
So far, I’m trained for Intermediate Foundation and Intermediate. The courses are for teachers and students to gain further information about the requirements for passing the exam.
The focus is on choreography details, musicality and performance and how to get the best from the students with regards to the marking scheme and the learning objectives and outcomes.
You are now studying for a BA (Hons) degree in Dance Education with the Royal Academy of Dance. What made you take the plunge into academia?
I left school to continue my ballet training with the Royal Ballet School at sixteen. I therefore have no formal qualifications, other than the PDTD, to ultimately back up everything I have done in my life.
These days, students can gain diplomas and degrees alongside their training. I felt the time was now right for me to focus on gaining an academic qualification and develop my learning on a subject that is very important to me.
I enjoy being able to put an academic slant on everything I do in the studio. I also like the focus and routine it gives me but I have a love-hate relationship with my studies. I find it incredibly difficult juggling home life, work and studying, but I can see the benefits and that’s what drives me on.
What are the ages and levels of the students you currently teach?
My main focus is with the older students – Intermediate Foundation and above.
I do, however, teach coaching classes for eight- and nine-year-old students. These classes are to prepare them for the jump into vocational classes.
Occasionally I cover classes for the younger ones (Pre-School to Grade 2). It is not in my comfort zone but I enjoy it when it happens. I take my hat off to teachers who focus on this age group!
What is the best advice you ever received as a student or dancer? What advice would you give to your younger self now?
I’m not sure I can actually remember anything prolific that anyone said to me throughout my training apart from just being inspired by everything anyone said and trying to feed off him or her.
My advice to all my students is not to give in and don’t be afraid to go wrong. The studio is a safe place to try to develop technically, artistically, musically and build confidence. We’re all in the same boat and I’m there to help but I need the commitment from my students.
What would you ideally like dancers to take away from a ballet class that you teach?
I just like and want my students to leave feeling happy, inspired and that they’ve learnt something.
Older students, especially, can become bogged down and despondent if things don’t work and I hate it if they leave feeling stressed and downhearted.
What do you think dance can give a child? What do you think makes dance so important to us?
What dance gives a child for me is endless. Generally though, I think dance provides the attributes to become a confident, focused and intelligent individual no matter what path life takes you on.
How do you feel about dance in education – do you think that children get to do and see enough dance?
No I don’t. I truly believe that children learn so much more through creative learning and moving. It doesn’t need to be a full-on dance lesson, it can be as simple as creating a movement to learn about shape, or a piece of poetry, or a times table! I do, however, understand that a lot of teachers just don’t think this way. It’s maybe easier for them to be creative in an arts and crafts way or with music, so much so that movement gets forgotten about!
Dance in school, although it’s getting better, still sadly has a stigma about it. The only dance my kids do at school is Scottish Country Dancing in time for their school parties where the boys think it’s hilarious. It would be lovely if the teachers felt more confident to ‘dance outside the box’ and make the kids realise that dance is not all about tutus and tiaras but just plain straight forward movement!
With regards to seeing dance, unless it’s brought to them, sadly, parents don’t seem to bother unless it’s a hobby or passion of the child. X-boxes, iPads and new age technology have a lot to answer for.
So we should all be more proactive in going to see dance at the theatre then?
I think that people should go and see as much theatre as possible, no matter if it’s dance, drama or a musical.
It is all too easy to sit in front of the TV or computer these days. People forget what live theatre is about and how inspiring it is. It is therefore the responsibility for all companies to make sure that it is accessible and affordable for everyone to go.
I wanted to take my kids to see something in London and it was going to cost me £300! Needless to say, we didn’t bother. But then my kids missed out on an opportunity that I know they would’ve loved.
How would you describe yourself to a total stranger?
That’s hard! Guess I’m hard working, dedicated, sensitive, impatient, a good listener and generally, or hopefully, fun to be around!
What occupies your time when you are not teaching, studying or coaching other dance teachers?
Being a full-time mum! Otherwise I enjoy running, yoga, camping and being out in the mountains!
Thank you, Lorna, for describing some of your performing and teaching experiences and sharing your views on dance and education.
Good luck with the rest of your studies!
*Production photograph of Lorna Scott in Scottish Ballet’s La Sylphide, courtesy of Scottish Ballet.
*Production photograph of Diana Loosmore, Lorna Scott, Emma Sandall and Jocelyn Giles in Stephen Petronio’s MiddleSexGorge. Photograph by Andrew Ross and courtesy of Scottish Ballet.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.