Bingo nights to bright lights: a Blandford school’s magical Disney debut


During February half term, one group of children from Blandford was dancing on the main stage at Disneyland Paris. Rachael Rowe reports

Blandford School of Dance performing on the main stage at Disneyland Paris. All images: Blandford School of Dance

Disneyland is a place that most children dream of visiting – but imagine having the opportunity to dance on the main stage and take part in the famous Disney Parade! That’s what has just happened to a group of youngsters from the Blandford School of Dance.
School principal Gemma Davis worked with a travel company to arrange the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some of her students. The school runs classes for a range of age groups from toddlers through to adults.
‘The group we took had an average age of eight years old. The youngest was five and we also took one of our adult students – 13 dancers altogether. We had to raise funds to go and we held quiz and bingo nights. Some families used the trip as their annual holiday.’

The Blandford group was among the youngest of the dancers taking part, with an average age of eight – Ada, the youngest, is five

The preparation begins
There are benefits of dance for children and young people, both physical and psychological. It improves physical health and mental well-being. Children learn balance, posture, and creative skills. With the hard work involved in learning a routine, they also develop discipline and teamwork skills, and an understanding of the effort needed to achieve something. All the work paid off when the preparation for Disney started.
Unfortunately you can’t just rock up to Disneyland Paris and dance on the main stage like an impromptu TikTok video. The young dancers had to prepare for more than a year and also to audition. Disney only takes the best for their performances. It was a remarkable feat for the young Blandford dancers. Gemma described the preparation: ‘They practised for hours and hours, week in, week out, for more than a year. Then we had to audition for the parade and the dances. Some of it was done on video and of course we had to start all over again if there were mistakes. The children were very patient. We also had to send two dancers to audition in person for Disneyland Paris.
Considering how young they are, they all did so well.’

Taking part in the pre-parade through the streets of Disneyland Paris, just before the main character parade

In Paris
When the group arrived at Disneyland Paris the children were amazed.
‘It was lovely to see their faces. They were so excited,’ says Gemma. ‘We were among 330 dancers from various groups. Some were French, others came from across Britain. The Blandford group was among the youngest there. We had practised the routine for the pre-parade, which is just before the main Disney parade with all the characters, and we also had six dances to perfect for the show.
‘We were on the Disneyland Paris main stage, and had 20 minutes to do our six dance routines. Each one involved a costume change – we had to split the group up so they could get changed quickly and go back on for the next song. They did a mixture of jazz and ballet routines. The Disney stage managers were also on hand and looked out for any child struggling with a costume or looking a bit anxious. The show wasn’t just for the parents of the dancers. It was for the public, too. When it was over, Ada, the youngest dancer said: ‘Can we do it again?’

The group performed six routines in a 20 minute slot on the main stage

Ada’s mum, Louise Billingsley, was in the audience watching.
‘It was such an amazing opportunity. Ada’s only five – she’s a huge Disney fan and adores her ballet. She just loved the whole experience and it massively built her confidence. But the dancers did the work and put in the hours to get there. Ada never once said she didn’t want to go to ballet class.
‘It was so emotional when they first came on stage, I just welled up! Then as the show started I thought “I have to watch this, I can’t cry now!”’
For Gemma, the best moment was at the end: ’When they took their final bow, the look on their faces said it all. They were all so proud of what they had done. ‘Suddenly it was all over. The group all came from different classes, and some were worried they wouldn’t be together again – they had become almost a family group over the year of hard work. But we’re looking at ways to bring them together.’
Proud parent Louise was thrilled. ‘The memories made from this will last a lifetime. They will never forget the time they danced on the Disney stage.’


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