WHEN somebody retires from an important role after many years’ service, it has become customary to talk of the end of an era.

The description isn’t always strictly accurate, but in the case of Marie McCluskey MBE there can be absolutely no doubt.

Her 36 years as artistic director at Swindon Dance have all the hallmarks of an era. Under her leadership the group has risen to success beyond the dreams of countless other dance organisations throughout the country.

In the general run of things, a catchment area the size of Swindon Dance’s being able to produce so much great work, so many top-flight performers, is statistically unlikely to say the least.

Yet that is precisely what has happened. Alumni of Swindon Dance are seen onstage in the West End, on Broadway, on other stages throughout the world.

They are on television, in films; they work magic behind the scenes of major productions in all branches of showbusiness.

Still others pass on the skills they learned in Swindon to pupils of their own. There are also Swindon Dance members who choose not to go into showbusiness as a profession, but who cherish their memories of Swindon Dance and use their skills in amateur productions.

None of this success would be possible without the skill, the dedication and the inspirational qualities of Marie McCluskey.

She was there at the very start, in 1979, has been there ever since, and will truly be a hard act to follow.

Her successor will be fortunate to inherit a legacy including inspired staff, a proud history and a winning ethos.