By Kaelanne Jordan
This is exactly how Averil Potter summed up the last 50 years of Bentley Potter School of Dance’s existence.
“It has been a passion of my whole life,” she told Catholic News via phone on the school’s upcoming golden anniversary in September.
Born and raised in England, Potter, married to a Trinidadian, has been living in T&T for 56 years.
In 1970, Helena Dunn, the owner of a “well-established” dance school, had plans to leave Trinidad.
Helena Dunn, however, had one request.
“…she wanted to have her school continuing in this country. She invited myself and my dance colleague ‘Eve’ Bentley to take over the school which is exactly what we did,” Potter shared.
Bentley taught for The Helena Dunn school for nine years before she and Potter took it over.
During this time, owners, Potter and Bentley operated dance sessions in various locations.
After acquiring land, a studio was built in Cascade in 1994—the present location of “the Bentley Potter School of Dance and its company the Cascade Festival Ballet”.
What began with 20 students when they “inherited” the school has now flourished to 200 students under Potter and Bentley’s tutelage.
Bentley Potter School of Dance aims at giving children from four years of age a “very firm grounding” in the classical techniques of dance. “From that base it is possible to do many forms of dance very well,” Potter said.
The school has six experienced teachers including Potter’s daughter, Caroline Potter-Vilain.
Potter-Vilain who began dancing with the school at age five is founder of the Cascade Festival Ballet, the ballet company belonging to the school.
“We have very good teachers and four of them are registered teachers of the Royal Academy and so our staff is a very good team,” said Potter, who, like Eve has received training in ballet and other forms of dance from professional dance schools in the UK.
Potter explained that the school follows the “excellent regime and guidance” of the UK based Royal Academy of Dance (RAD)—one of the world’s most influential dance education organisations—syllabus.
Annually the school participates in exams organised by RAD for candidates who wish to have an “unbiased professional evaluation of their work”.
Of the importance of participating in the exam, Potter explained “We hope in that way to project discipline and challenge the students we have.”
To highlight the student’s training, the school performs on stage once a year or as often as possible.
Of her past students, Potter shared that many have continued their love of dance.
On the question of how the artform enhances one’s life, Potter asserted that it provides quality, discipline, single-mindedness of purpose and a great joy.
“The girls that have come through our school in many later years have come back to us and told us what it did for them in various situations of their life, how it helped them with confidence and poise …” she shared.
With physical classes at a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sessions have since been transferred virtually via Zoom.
As the Bentley Potter School of Dance looks forward to celebrating 50 years, Potter revealed that the school’s initial plans for a celebration were cancelled due to COVID-19.
However, they plan to celebrate the golden anniversary over a period of time.
When it comes to the school’s longevity Potter asserted that the present team of teachers are proving “wonderfully competent” to continue its operations.
“So we are not thinking of the end of the day; we are thinking of the future.”
Potter continued, “The love of the school… it has been my life and I’m sure Eve Bentley’s life too and the joy of dance that we can continue to give to the present students of Bentley Potter School of Dance and those to come ….”