Five years of persistence has finally paid off for Alex Craig. “Now I can work my butt off for three years without the worry about struggling to pay the training fees,” he says. “Then I can go out into the big wide world and get myself a job as a dancer.”
Alex has been awarded this year’s Stage/Stella Mann Scholarship. Worth £28,350 it will enable him to train for three years at the Stella Mann College of the Performing Arts on the college’s prestigious full-time dance diploma course.
“I am so grateful to everyone,” adds Alex. “To my mum, my grand-father, to Lorraine Hastings, the dance teacher who has always supported me, to absolutely everyone who has helped me – and a big thank you to The Stage.”
Stella Mann College is located in peaceful Bedford, not too far from London and accessible by road and rail. Most students live within 10 minutes walk of the college. The buildings it is housed in were purpose built for the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing and then became the dance campus for Middlesex University.
Alex, who is 22 and from Walton-on-Thames, did not start planning his chosen career until he was 16. “It was during in my GCSE drama, we were focusing our module on physical theatre and our drama teacher took us to Woking theatre to see Matthew Bourne’s Car Man, to show us how we can deliver a story without the use of words. I remember coming out of the theatre feeling inspired and knew that was what I wanted to be.
“It was the next day at school when I spoke to my drama teacher and she told me about Rambert and other professional schools. People in my year were applying for schools and I decided to try – but funding was always going to be a problem.”
The past five years have been very busy. Alex did a dance foundation course at Millennium Performing Arts in Woolwich. He spent time preparing for auditions, taking lots of classes at Pineapple Studios in Covent Garden, working in a children’s nursery for an NVQ level two in childcare and taking a part-time foundation course at Arts Educational Schools London to help with his singing. After receiving the good news of his Stage/Stella Mann scholarship award Alex went off to Greece but not for a holiday. He had spotted an advert for an extra dancer to join a group at a hotel on Kos.
“Getting the job really boosted my confidence. When I am dancing – I feel really free,” he says. “It’s a good way to express my feelings. A life without dancing would destroy me.”
Alex has spent the past few years preparing to take the next step in his dance training. “I want to do musical theatre as a dancer,” he says. “Since I left Millennium when I was 19, I’ve been auditioning for schools every year and every year I’ve been offered places but they weren’t funded. Now the next stage of my life has begun. If I hadn’t been awarded the scholarship, I would be doing the same thing all over again next year, until someone said, ‘You’ve got it’.
“At Stella Mann I liked the fact that all the students were treated as individuals,” he adds.
That last remark will please Mary Breen, the college’s principal and owner. She has always kept the intake low, ensuring her staff know the students and the students get personal attention. Year groups mix together and, if the college notice board is anything to judge from, there is.