WHEN Pat Bennett founded the Estelle School of Dance in 1958, she had yet to see her 18th birthday.

She has been its principal ever since.

“Apart,” she said, “from four days in intensive care – and even then they reckoned I came out of it kicking my legs around!”

The school, as the Adver has already revealed, was originally due to celebrate its 60th anniversary last year, but Past suffered a twisted bowel.

The anniversary was finally marked with a performance of The Slipper and the Rose - the musical version of the Cinderella story - at the beginning of this month. Like countless previous Estelle shows, it raised money for good causes.

Taking the role of the wicked stepmother, not to mention producing and choreographing the whole performance, was the indefatigable Pat - or Miss B, as she has been known to generations of dancers.

Her students are aged from two to adult, and some have gone on to professional success in London and farther afield.

Pat, who offers classes in ballet, tap and modern, doesn’t believe there is any complicated reason for the continued popularity of dance.

“I think it’s just something many people enjoy in one form or another, either doing it themselves or going to watch performances.

“My enthusiasm started because my dad played in the theatre orchestra at the Empire.”

Reginald Bennett played cello and double bass, not just at the old Swindon theatre which stood at the town centre end of Groundwell Road but also at other venues including the Locarno in Old Town, where he helped to provide musical accompaniment for silent films.

“He was a piano tuner by day and a musician by night. We used to have complimentary tickets to the shows and off we’d go.”

Pat’s mother, Margaret, was a piano teacher and Pat herself studied the violin.

The future founder of the Estelle School of Dance saw dancers in variety shows at the Empire, but also saw many other performers.

Her memories of the theatre range from a visit by Laurel and Hardy to thrusting swords into a box containing Jasper Maskelyne, an enigmatic stage magician who claimed to have used his skills to hide important British military sites from Nazi bomber crews during World War Two.

Pat added: “I saw the dancers at the theatre and that probably did inspire me.

“The love of music was always there. Even as a two-year-old I used to do my little performances every Saturday night, but I never went to dancing until – I think – I was about nine.

“My parents would never let me. I think my dad saw a bit of the seedy side of the theatre. But then, suddenly, they decided that I could go.”

Attending classes, Pat knew she had found her vocation. She was to perform on the Empire stage herself, as well as those of other venues such as the Playhouse at the Mechanics’ Institute.

“I always did like performing, although I always used to get quite nervous and still do.

“Although half of me absolutely loves it, the other half is always wondering whether everything will go alright. But then, that’s me!”

On leaving school, Pat took an office job at the Railway Works, whose staff enjoyed concessionary train fares. Every Saturday morning she would get up at 5am and travel to London for classes at the Rambert ballet school.

Friends there included the late Diane Clare, an actress whose credits included classic films Ice Cold in Alex and Whistle Down the Wind.

There were also trips to Bristol to train for teaching qualifications: “I suddenly had a desire to teach. I started with two pupils – I still remember their names.”

Over the years Pat has seen changes in dance, notably a greater emphasis on sheer physical prowess, but her basic principles for success remain the same.

“You’ve got to really want to do something to do the practice.

“I always maintain the bar work is very important to do at each class. It’s like the pianist doing their scales – it builds stamina.”