Thoughts on 40 years of Central School of Ballet from Carole Gable

“The school came about because Christopher Gable, my late husband, was asked to teach dance classes at Rambert Dance School. He had at this time already been a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet – where he and I met – and had also started acting with some success.  Christopher realised very soon that he had a strong rapport with the young dancers, and that he enjoyed teaching. The students themselves approached Christopher and a friend of ours Ann Stannard, who was also working at Rambert Dance School, about the idea of setting up a professional dance school in central London. This is when Rambert School decided to move to Twickenham to the west of London. Central School of Ballet started in just one studio and one office at The Place (a centre for dance and creativity) in London 40 years ago.

Christopher and Ann believed that student dancers should receive an all-round training on top of core skills in ballet, to make them more employable in dance companies and in the theatrical world.  They believed in broad dance skills, meaning that students were offered contemporary dance, drama, singing lessons, and choreography, as well as ballet classes.  I soon became a regular teacher too, teaching first year ballet.  Christopher was charismatic and a great teacher and we found students receptive to different ideas and willing to learn this new approach.

Very rapidly, we had many more students wanting to take our classes, so we found new premises in Clerkenwell between the centre of London (the West End) and the City. The address of the new school was Herbal Hill so that’s what we always called it – at the heart of London’s Little Italy.  It was wonderful, with such potential – so many studios across four floors.   This was an exciting time but also nerve-wracking.  We had to use our houses as guarantees, and I had two small children at the time!  It was a great deal of hard work, getting the school established at Herbal Hill, but then Central really took off and our graduates soon found good jobs and success in the dance world. The word spread. We had arrived. 

After a couple of years, Christopher established Ballet Central, the school’s dance company, for all Central students in their third and final year of training.  Christopher was able to offer professional touring experience by creating a small tour where the students performed to ticket-buying audiences in mid-size theatres.  He knew that providing more performance opportunities was essential for dance training, but he also wanted them to learn about the full production process to make them more appreciative of every aspect of life in the theatre. Students were taught about setting up before a performance, the lighting, costumes, and they had to take it all down again at the end of the evening in each venue. By making this part of their training, Central graduates would be able to transition straight into dance companies on graduation. It was an approach that worked and still does today 38 years later (Ballet Central started two years after the school was founded). Ballet Central performs in many more theatres now compared to those early days but the principles were set then and are still followed today.  

After teaching First Year ballet, I taught Second Year students and became Rehearsal Director for the tour, making sure that the repertoire was performed to perfection. I was then Ballet Mistress and taught Third Year students.  I did a bit of everything!  Christopher joined Northern Ballet Theatre (NBT) in July 1987 and was appointed as Artistic Director.  For a time, we thought about moving Central to Halifax where NBT was then based before the company moved to Leeds, but it was too complicated, and we stayed at Herbal Hill – a good decision.  Sadly, Christopher died from cancer in October 1998, but the school carries on and his legacy – creating professional dancers with all-round skills – continues. In later years, I joined the Board of Governors at Central and helped to drive the ambition for new premises, this time bespoke state-of-the-art studios in Southwark between Waterloo and Blackfriars Stations.  We opened the new building in 2019 with our Royal Patron the Countess of Wessex and named the premises in her honour, in February that year.  I retired soon afterwards.  It was extremely rewarding, watching the school grow into the dynamic training dance hub it is now where dancers from age 3 to 83 take classes alongside the professional dance students.”

Carole Gable, 2022