This week has been the annual extravaganza that is the Excel shows and it’s changed my life forever. There you go, slightly misleading headline sentence to tempt you in, you may as well stay now. The girls attend Excel Performing Arts in St Albans and have done so for about 6 years. Between them they have classes in ballet, tap, dance and drama. Each year during half term they put on a show in the Sandpit theatre to showcase what they can do. Without wanting to overstate it, the shows are nothing short of incredible. Watching not only the girls grow over the years but also the other children and the production itself has been an honour to watch.
Excel is run by Sam Payton and Steven Houghton and between them they run every single class, 31 a week. I’m pretty sure they’re not human and instead some kind of alien / robot hybrid but I’m still searching for undeniable proof. Seriously, just thinking about the energy they need to run every class as well as putting on the shows makes me feel exhausted. They always look so energised too and Sam in particular never stops smiling so to me it’s very suspicious.
If you thought that was bad, wait till you hear about the costumes. They look totally professional and could easily grace West End stages. Looking at them during the shows you’d imagine they were made by a huge team of award winning seamstresses over a prolonged period. Sadly, you’d be wrong, they’re actually made by one person, Sally, who absolutely cannot be human. Either that or she’s held captive by Sam and Steven, forced to work 24 hours a day. If she doesn’t, she has to listen to the Birdie song and watch Titanic 2 (yes, sadly this does exist) on a permanent loop. Whether she’s human or not, she’s definitely very talented.
During the last few months, the girls have been eagerly showing us their dances bit by bit as they’ve been learning them. Finally it was time to put everything together and do it all for real. The Sandpit theatre doesn’t have designated seating so parents arrive early to drop off their children and to get decent seats. Over the years they’ve started queuing earlier and earlier and I’m expecting tents next year as they camp overnight to ensure front and centre seats!
Jade was first doing her jazz dance and as I watched her glide across the stage with her usual beaming smile, I felt really emotional, almost tearful. I realised for the first time that my little girl is almost grown up. It’s a double edged sword as whilst I love seeing her blossom and mature I don’t want her to stop being my little baby. Next was both the girls in their drama production of The Little Mermaid. Katie was one of Ariel’s sisters and Jade was Auntie (along with an Uncle) Ursula. The younger ones tend to get a few short lines and the older ones a more meaty role.
I never favour either of the girls and obviously love them equally but the Excel shows are the one time of the year I feel slightly guilty. Katie has always been a confident, independent child, going up to waiters aged three asking them for the bill and ketchup. She had tantrums because we wouldn’t let her use the oven and hob to cook dinner, she was four! Jade was the opposite, much more introverted, quiet and never felt comfortable talking to adults. Even other children was difficult a lot of the time. The first few school concerts she sat on the teacher’s lap rather than joining in with her classmates.
We spoke during the day before her performance and she told me how nervous she was and that she was worried she’d forget her lines. I reminded her that she knew her lines and that she should just have fun, enjoy it and be proud of herself. Being nervous is absolutely fine, just don’t let it control you. From the minute she glided onto the stage, she owned it. She was confident, self assured and totally WAS Ursula. I felt so proud I could have cried. Seeing the change and the journey from that meek little girl to the powerhouse in front of me was overwhelming.
Katie was next with her jazz dance and “Swish Swish”. For the first time, this year she was right in front and a tour de force on stage. Although she’s always been a confident girl this was different. It’s hard to explain except to say she had more of a presence and energy. As with Jade, it was emotional seeing the change in her and realising my little girl was growing up. This was exacerbated today when I found pictures and videos of them on a memory card from 9 years ago. She danced again as Wheezy the penguin from Toy Story for her ballet number and Jade tap danced along to “Don’t Rain On My Parade.”
The rest of the show was a complete mix of various tap, dance, drama and ballet numbers with all ages represented. It was a real privilege seeing how everyone else has grown over the years too. The whole of Excel is like a big dancing family, all there to support each other in their journey. The show itself has also evolved so much. Originally it was just the students on the stage, then with various backgrounds. Last year we had background moving graphics and this year video. One dance based around World War Two was so moving there were more than a few sniffs afterwards and not due to hay fever.
As all the children came out for the finale and I saw the girls I found myself waving crazily like Forrest Gump. So proud I wanted to scream out, “They’re our children.” I guess I probably wasn’t the only one. Whilst Excel is for their enjoyment, confidence and lots more it’s also for us parents, grand parents, Aunties, Uncles, other random family and friends. Watching them onstage brought out so many emotions apart from pride. I also realised that these experiences are ones that will stay with them forever. I don’t think I’m overstating it by saying it has changed their lives.
If they had never gone to Excel would they be different? Absolutely. Would they be happy and confident to perform on stage in front of hundreds of people? I don’t think so. Back all those years ago when I first discovered they had to pay to perform in the show and for the costumes I was taken aback. Then I saw the show and all the incredible hard work that goes into it. Having also seen the difference it’s made to them and how much joy it brings them it almost seems irrelevant. You can’t put a price on this. It’s another year finished now and I’m still in hope that next year one of the dances will be to a Kate Bush song. Ballet number to Running Up That Hill seems an obvious choice.
Finally, before I go, if you’d like to check out Excel Performing Arts for your children (or you!) you can visit them at www.excelperformingarts.co.uk
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