Saturday, 15 December 2018

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Mckecknie School of Dance

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At the McKechnie School of Dance in Grangemouth, the love of performance and dance runs in the family.

Nadine McKenzie Judge teaches dance classes alongside her mother, Irene; while Nadine's husband, Chris Judge, provides the vocal lessons.

Dancing has been a huge part of Nadine McKenzie's life ever since she can remember. She was involved in dance lessons from an early age, and at 15 she became a World Champion Highland dancer at the Cowal Highland Gathering, which is the biggest event for Highland dancing in the world. Nadine studied a wide variety of dance styles: she attended the Manor School of Ballet in Edinburgh and went on to train for three years at the Theatre School of Dance and Drama.

Nadine says her biggest influence in the world of dance was her mum, Irene. Irene first began teaching dance classes at the age of fourteen. This was back in the 1960s, and Irene still teaches at the McKechnie School of Dance to this day. In her career, which has spanned almost six decades, Irene has danced on Scottish Television's Thingamajig, toured with Jimmy Shand and was also a three-time World Champion Highland dancer. Now, as a teacher, she continues to produce hundreds of Highland dancing champions. She is also on the Technical Committee for Scottish Highland Dancing; the Official Board of Highland Dancing; and is also a well-respected adjudicator and lecturer.

Nadine always knew she wanted to follow in her mum's footsteps and become a performer. One of her early goals was to entertain passengers on a cruise ship, so she applied at the age of 17, while she was still studying dance at college. People told her she would never be accepted so young, but she proved them wrong when she was offered a two-month contract as a singer/dancer that summer. Nadine says that the experience was phenomenal.

Another mentor to Nadine was Sheridan Nicol, who invited Nadine to audition for a part in a pantomime at the Kings Theatre in Edinburgh. Again, this was while Nadine was still training; and Nadine's peers told her she didn't have enough experience. But Nadine proved everyone wrong yet again by getting the part. Sheridan provided several jobs for Nadine in panto, and Nadine says it was great work experience. She lives by the motto "you learn your craft by doing it."

At the beginning of her career, Nadine did a lot of session work and backing vocals which she thoroughly enjoyed. Her passion was musical theatre as it combined both music and dance, which she loved equally. Nadine also returned to work on cruise ships and even released an album called Queen Nadine. She toured the UK and had an incredible time.

While Nadine was touring, her producer said he was surprised Nadine had never heard of vocalist Chris Judge, who was also from Grangemouth and was based in the same industry as Nadine. At that time she did not realise that Chris was destined to become her future husband.

When Nadine met Chris, she was playing Lady Marian in a pantomime at the Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow. She had arranged to meet friends in Falkirk's Rosie's nightclub afterwards, and went there directly from the theatre in her full stage make-up. She describes her look as "a bit like a drag queen!" Chris Judge was also at the club that night, and he must have loved Nadine's look, as the pair started dating and soon became an inseparable partnership. They have now been married 14 years, and have twin daughters, Ava and Carmen.
As well as dance training, Nadine also took numerous teaching qualifications in advanced tap, modern and ballet dancing. She says that she basically went for any qualification that was available. Nadine first experience as a dance teacher was in her early twenties when she taught lessons part-time during her busy stage career. At that time, Nadine had only four pupils in the tiny studio that she shared with her mum in Grangemouth's South Lumley Street. Her mum had a larger pupil base and the McKechnie School of Dance grew and grew. When the church along the street came up for sale, Nadine, Irene and Chris all knew it would be an amazing dance studio. They took on the challenge of renovating the place, and after five months of hard work, the new McKechnie School of Dance opened in May 2017.

There are many success stories from the McKechnie School of Dance, including  Hannah Howland who, at the age of ten, auditioned for Charlie and The Chocolate Factory in London’s West End and got the part of Veruca Salt. Hannah was a recipient of the Andrew Lloyd Weber scholarship and went on to the Sylvia Young theatre school in London.
One of Nadine's very first pupils, Ashley Russell, has toured the UK with We Will Rock You; has been involved in the Mamma Mia international tour; appeared in Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg in London’s West End and also appeared on the TV show I’d Do Anything.

Another student Nadine is very proud of is Sarah Marie Maxwell who attended Nadine's classes from when she was a baby up until the age of 15. She now has a part in Follies at the National Theatre in London. Nadine is proud of all of her students. So many have won competitions from Regional level, right up to World Championship titles; and many former students have gone on to do great things.

The school now has over one hundred students and offers Ballet, Tap, Lyrical, Acro (an acrobatic style of dance) and Highland Dancing, as well as vocal lessons. Dancers come to the school from all over Scotland, as far as Aberdeen, Dumbarton, Perth and Leven. Nadine says the size of the school is perfect as the classes are still small enough, and the students love their lessons. Irene still teaches Highland Dancing at the school, and Chris now does vocal lessons. Nadine says her favourite days at the school are when Chris is teaching singing upstairs, Irene is next door teaching a Highland dance class, and she is in the studio teaching her twin daughters. Nadine says the studio is a bit like a Fame school. A lot of the dancers are also singers, and so many will be there for hours going to different classes: from Ballet to singing, then to Tap.

The family connection with the McKechnie School of Dance has reached a new generation, as Nadine's twin daughters Ava and Carmen, known as The Curleez, are now involved too. The dance studio has always been a second home to them, and Nadine says they ran around the classes in their nappies with leotards on. They have always danced, because of a passion that they share and Nadine describes them as "a wee team." Between them, they have 96 titles, and they won their first championship at the age of five. They hold current British Championship titles and have earned World Championship titles in song, dance, and Tap. They have a great team spirit, even though they are sometimes competing against one another. Nadine says the girls are supportive of each other, and they have a great time with the rest of their dance team travelling around the country and the world. Outside of the dance school, they are involved in cross country and athletics and also play the violin and piano. The Curleez have also just released their first single, "My Light," which is available on iTunes.
Nadine absolutely loves every aspect of where her career has taken her over the years. She travels all over the world to give lectures, including visiting Seattle, Los Angeles, and Canada. She is also often invited to adjudicate at championships and competitions. She says she wouldn't change a thing, right through from her panto and cruise ship years, to her success with the McKechnie School of Dance. She loves to see her students achieving titles, and watching their careers take off.
But the thing that Nadine loves most is how family oriented the business is: getting to work with her mum and husband on a daily basis, and passing the love of dance and performance onto her daughters. She can't wait to see what the future will hold for the Curleez.

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