Theresa Harris is hanging up her dancing shoes after teaching ballet across Wolverhampton and Shropshire for an incredible 60 years.
The 77-year-old began teaching ballet and other forms of dance when she was just 17 – and fell in love with her new career.
She will be retiring from her TK Academy of Dance, formally known as Theresa Kilroy Stage School, after her maiden name, which ran in Tettenhall and Albrighton.
But the bubbly grandmother will be far from resting – and wants to take up yoga, pilates and join a memory group to help people suffering from dementia.
She said: “It’s been quite an emotional decision, choosing to retire. But I thought 60 years sounded like the big one, the right time to go. I kept changing my mind really – I was pretty awful. And then I thought I made a decision and then lockdown happened.
“So I had to ring all parents and students individually and tell them I would be leaving. It was very emotional. But I’ve just had the most amazing time.”
Theresa, who grew up in Wolverhampton but now lives in Boningale in Shropshire, started dancing ballet and tap when she was just four, and trained in Wolverhampton until she was 25.
She started teaching at the age of 17 – and her first school was based in a small room above a pub in the city’s Whitmore Reans.
As the years went on and more students joined she moved to bigger venues to teach, and has put on many shows for large audiences, including several charity performances at The Grand Theatre.
Theresa, who lives with husband Derek, who has also helped out with the dance school over the years, is a member and international examiner for the National Association of Teachers of Dance.
While she will be retiring from teaching, she aims to stay on as a dance examiner and in the past has examined at places such as Kuala Lumper and Milan.
“My mum was a ballroom champion,” she said. “But I was never very good at it. I loved ballet though. At the school we have done ballet, tap, modern dance, freestyle, a little bit of street, and contemporary.
“Several pupils of mine have gone on to set up their own schools, or dance professional. The girls have kept in touch too. I’ve been to their weddings, or the christenings of their children.
"It’s just lovely. I’m actually still in touch with my first ever student, she’s about 60 now. I’ve been so lucky and can honestly say hand on heard I have had the absolute best time. I don’t intend to retire really. I want to do something else now.
“We did a lot of charity work at the school and raised money for Guide Dogs, British Heart Foundation and more. I’d like to do more of that.
“I’d love to try pilates yoga and tai chi as well. I’ve always wanted to but never had the time. And I’d love to do a big celebration with all the girls when we can.”
Recalling memories from her own dancing days, Theresa said she was actually in the very last pantomime at the Wolverhampton Hippodrome before it burnt down in 1956. She was 12-years-old, and played a ‘babe’ in Sleeping Beauty on Ice.
“I have so many memories, so many,” she added. “But the best part has been the people, the friends, the kindness of everyone.
“I remember we actually helped donate money to the renal unit at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton when they opened that.
“One of our girls said she didn’t think she could dance again because of a kidney problem, and there was no hospital locally. So I rang the hospital and asked if they were doing anything so we could fundraise, and they said we were. And we were actually invited to the opening.”
Classes at TK Academy of Dance were most often run twice a week, at The Red House in Albrighton and Tettenhall Hall Special School, but Theresa often ran extra lessons on the weekends and during the evenings, with the help of her co-teachers.
The school will finish in her name, but her fellow dance teachers have plans to carry it on for the benefit of the students.
Theresa added: “I just want my girls to keep dancing and follow their dreams. If someone is struggling with something in a lesson, and then they can do it, the joy in their face. that’s the rewarding part for me. It was never about the money – just watching them believe they can do things. I really hope I see someone’s name in lights one day, I’m sure I will.”