A former dancer with the Janice Sutton Theatre School has taken a trip down memory lane as the curtain rises on the latest production in Skegness - Million Dreams. The annual show that follows the panto at the Embassy Theatre is always a popular attraction for families after Christmas. Debbie Jenner has paid tribute to her former and much-loved dance teacher, recalling her time in the local spotlight and how Janice helped her pursue her professional career and make her own dreams come true...
“I was born in Skegness in 1959 and attended what was then known as the Janice Sutton School of Dance from the age of six, gaining theatre experience by performing in summer seasons at the Derbyshire Miners’ Holiday camp as a child.
It was a safe, happy childhood. When I wasn’t outside playing on the beach, I was ‘at Janice’s’ taking classes or rehearsing for the next production.
We did dance competitions and panto.
My first television appearances were made on ITV’s Junior Showtime, an invaluable training platform for my later career. I was one of Janice’s first pupils to go into showbiz on leaving school.
I knew from the age of ten that I wanted to make it my profession and Janice encouraged and supported me all the way. Before leaving Skegness Grammar
School, I started attending auditions in London to gain audition experience – always quite a harrowing process, with thousands going for just a handful of jobs and for which you often need to develop a thick skin – gaining experience in being turned away early-on was deemed to be helpful.
I also successfully auditioned for Top of the Pops’ famous ‘Legs & Co’ dancers. However I had to turn them down as I was still only 15!
Later during this period I was accepted into the London Contemporary Dance Theatre School which I declined as it would have meant going back to school for a year.
So upon leaving school I spent six months working abroad to gain my full Equity (Union) status and performed with a Dutch dance troupe in Spain, Turkey, Egypt and Iran – shortly before it closed to foreigners.
On returning to the UK, and still just almost 17, I auditioned for Dougie Squires’ Second Generation. It had been my childhood dream to dance with ‘The 2-
Gs’ who did all the major television shows in the 1960’s and 70’s. Dougie took me on and I spent several summer seasons in the Les Dawson show, and did two
Panto’s understudying Wei Wei Wong as the princess in Aladdin.
Inbetween jobs I also featured in several early videoclips with amongst others Mike Oldfield and flutist James Galway and took part in numerous television shows
including a season of the BBC’s ‘The Good Old Days’ in the late seventies.
Employment was irregular in those days so I also worked as a part-time telephonist and model for Anne Aston from ‘The Golden Shot’ fame in her clothing-line
showroom near Oxford Circus.
Having kept contact with my old employers in Amsterdam I moved to The Netherlands for what was supposed to be for a period of six months, really to break
the summer season – panto cycle but I ended up spending the next 35 years in Amsterdam where I became a household name.
To begin with I was in high demand thanks to Janice’s thorough training and I taught dance, performed in several musicals and provided choreography for film, television and theatre. And then by accident I spent a five year stint in the recording business as lead singer in a very successful girl band who toured Europe and Japan picking up several gold records on the way.
I brought several of Janice’s girls over to join me in this. If only we had had Facebook in those days! The good folk of Skegness could have followed
My last job as a performer was playing Demeter in ‘Cats’ in 1988. Later I was appointed Dance Captain under Gillian Lynne, and then became Company Manager
to the Amsterdam production of the show, and so transitioned into a second theatre career, behind the scenes.
I have been involved with the UK’s Original Tribute to the Blues Brothers (approved by Dan Ackroyd and Judi Belushi) as choreographer and assistant director since 2001. I was also responsible for the choreography and direction of ‘Songs from the Movie Sister Act’ with The London Community Gospel Choir during a very successful run in Amsterdam and Munich in 2010. There are several new productions in the pipeline where my involvement will be assisting the director and providing the choreography.
I’ve really lead a bit of a double life since 1981 when I introduced aerobics into the Netherlands. Since then I’ve has had one foot in showbiz and one in the fitness industry introducing the latest trends and teaching training courses. I was also was the owner of Hollands’ first stand-alone aerobic studio which I ran for twenty years before shifting my focus to the Pilates method. I subsequently owned and ran several fully-equipped Pilates-studios and became a teacher trainer of the method in the year 2000.
I currently live in the Lincolnshire Wolds, but still travel to The Netherlands at least four times a year to teach the teachers. Between these stints I administer courses and workshops live and online to instructors all over the globe.
I did a stint as choreographer/movement coach and singer in the Louth-based ladies acapella/barbershop chorus Zero Degrees Chorus, and still sing for fun with a spin- off quartet called 4 Degrees More.
Since moving back to the UK I’ve been in charge of fundraising activities in the ‘Tennyson’ villages of Somersby and Bag Enderby, and as project manager helped
secure HLF funding for the restoration of Somersby church. I enjoy the rural life, walking daily with my dog in the beautiful countryside and leading Tennyson-based walk and talks around the Somersby area. I’m also gaining a reputation as a local historian which would have pleased my dad, Maurice Jenner (aka Pop Jenner) who taught history and geography at the Morris School from the late fifties, until his passing in the mid-eighties.
I am thrilled to have worked for Dougie Squires once more in 2017, performing with seventy of Dougie ex- Young and Second Generation dancers at Dame Vera Lynns
100th birthday celebrations. Rehearsals in London were great fun with most of the dancers being in their 50’s and 60’s and many not having seen each other since we were teenagers.
One of the other dancers was Julie Kirk another of Janice’s protégées; it was also the first time Julie and I had danced together in 44 years! We
had a ball.
Janice has done so much for the youth of Skegness. I really don’t feel this is fully appreciated by enough people. Everyone knows of her, but I wonder whether they realise what she really does. I have never known her to ever lose her temper, she has always been so positive and encouraging of children to be the best they can be.
Dance under her tutorship gave me self-confidence, I was mortally shy when I started. It gave me poise, taught me to respect others, to work hard and however
difficult things might seem, never to give up. These were invaluable life lessons learned at an early age through my dance training with Janice.
I went to see the last summer show she put on at The Embassy and was totally blown away by it. The standard of the productions she puts on is so high. They really are up there with the best, and I know what I’m talking about. Skegness should be extremely proud of Janice and her team. Janice made my childhood dreams come true, and though we may not be in the millions, she has done the same for countless others. ”
* Janice Sutton’s Million Dreams is being performed at the Embassy Theatre on New Year’s Day, January 1, at 2.30pm January 2 at 2.30pm, January 5 at 7.30pm and January 6 at 2.30pm. To book visit embassytheatre.co.uk