ONE of Swindon’s best known dance academies will be celebrating its 40th birthday with a host of performances this year.

Funded by the Arts Council to run shows and to provide a service to residents and artists, Swindon Dance attracts more than 40,000 dancers a year.

Artistic director Viv Slayford said: “We have been enriching people’s lives through dance since 1979.

“I myself arrived at Swindon Dance in 1983 to attend a summer school and never left!

“Since starting the school we have developed a national reputation as an organisation that specialises in talent development, artist support, show-casing and personal engagement, instilling loyalty among our team, our users and artists.”

To kickstart the celebrations the school, which was officially opened by Hollywood film director Richard Attenborough in 1983, will be staging a closed performance for funders, friends and supporters at its historic Regent Circus base, which used to be the town hall.

The show will be an evening mix of performance previews, films and discussion with some of the UK’s emerging artists and performers.

Other events planned for the year-long celebration include Window Wanderland, where windows on the historic building will be lit up by live and static window displays from youth and community groups.

The Jam Festival, which is normally a day event will instead be a week-long occasion marking the special birthday. This will see dancers from across the country come together to compete in different classes.

There will also be a gala held in the summer at the Wyvern theatre, as well as many other events.

A common theme throughout the years is that pupils of the school who learn their craft there, go on to spread their wings elsewhere in the world but always come back to perform or teach at the school.

Over the years there have been many artists who attended the academy and went on to achieve stardom in the industry.

One person who went on to achieve fame was hip hop dancer Richard ‘Banksy’ Banks who won an MTV dance award.

“We see our role as supporting and guiding - that it is about the people and artists, it is their pathway, their dream and no one else’s,” said Viv.

“That dream, that pathway may take many different routes and that is fine. People are allowed to follow a different path and see where it leads them.”

The charity has experienced many knock backs in its history - the most recent being funding cuts.

But Viv said it has always bounced back better and stronger.

Swindon Dance relies on the generosity of their audiences and funders to sustain the work they do.

It has just launched a fundraising appeal to support the school into its fifth decade and is hoping to raise at least £40,000.

If the target amount is raised the money will be split to provide support in three different areas - £8,000 will go towards a talent development fund, £24,000 will help to make the building into a state of the art venue, and £8,000is intended to support dance opportunities for all.

The centre has strived to be able to deliver great opportunities and is the first to run a Diploma in Dance Pedagogy outside the Imperial Society for Teachers of Dance. The level six diploma is a regulated qualification equivalent to an undergraduate degree.

Clare Fantini-Stephens has been the marketing officer at the academy for 26 years.

She said: “To be celebrating 40 years is tremendous and a real achievement in spite of the funding cuts and hurdles we have overcome.

“This is a special place for so many of our dancers and also members of the community. The support network we have created here is second to none and is accessible to all.”