As the island’s oldest dance school celebrates its 35th anniversary, its managing partner, Zilia Monteiro, tells us about its past and future.
Bahrain Ballet Centre (BBC) was started in 1982 by an Italian-American mother married to a Bahraini who wanted something for her kids to do. Zilia explains: “The centre was the only professional place for anything performance-related. It mainly promoted ballet and other classical dance forms along with some folk dances. It also hosted music, karate and boxing classes for a while. You could say it was the first performing arts studio on the island.”
The core activities of the school were under the Ministry of Education until the end of 2015 when Zilia and her mum, Rosemarie, took over. They found themselves facing various problems, some due to new regulations.
“Our existence was covered in years of dust ‘neath the records of the Ministry of Education! We could see immediately that our challenge presented itself right there – that we were forgotten!” she says.
So began the 18-month process of transferring the business to its new owners, which revealed that it should be under a different ministry. High-level meetings followed and a new licence to operate was granted at the start of 2017.
Over the years students have studied everything from imperial ballet and tap to modern theatre and jazz. Teachers are trained and certified from the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD), UK. Once a year pupils take to the stage to display their talents in an annual dance show. The next one will be in January 2018.
With the transitory nature of Bahrain’s expat population, many students have continued their studies in other countries with some going on to teach and others even dancing on Broadway.
Zilia adds: “We also have many parents, who once used to study at our studio as kids, now bringing their own children – and to me this is a testimonial!”
Zilia herself has a background in media, and once worked at Bahrain This Month. So, what took her into this field? She explains: “My family decided to pursue a business that was based on our passion and would allow us to work and empower the children of today.
“I have always wanted to be a ballerina since I first remembered tippy-toeing around the living room furniture whilst watching musicals like The Sound of Music. As my parents couldn’t afford it, at the time, I remained a ballerina in the bedroom but I had no clue I would one day run a ballet studio! I have to put a disclaimer here: my mother handles a lot of the daily operations. We are a mother-daughter duo. We took over the studio in early 2016; it was a business desperate for a new lease of life.
“At the time I was working in the media field, which was and still is my passion, and we came across this opportunity to buy. I come from a family and culture that are highly enthusiastic about music and anything arts-related, so doing business in this line was inevitable. My parents are both talented in vocals, my dad notably in playing the harmonica, and he has acted in community dramas back in India – so my sisters and I — we are three girls — were destined, I suppose, to be born with some kind of talents. We each play an instrument, and music has been part of our cultural lifestyle and childhood in Bahrain – I cannot remember a family party that was without a lot of singing, dancing and acting.
As well as having new owners, the school’s premises have been given an upgrade. Zilia says: “The studio has always been housed in a villa, with a garden, in Barbar. It’s been a very homely place to nurture talent. We have recently upgraded the whole villa’s interiors and exteriors to give it a more professional look. We have incorporated fresh and brighter colours in theme with our branding and we’ve renovated the dance studio, the music room and the reception space. We have had some amazing reactions from our students who were surprised with the new look upon returning from summer vacations. We really did this for them!”
And, with eye to drawing in more adult learners alongside the youngsters, BBC has introduced several new adult classes including ballet, salsa, ballroom, zumba, Afro-Latin dance, Pilates, music lessons and contemporary. “If you can move your muscles, we can teach you to do some real fun stuff! Dance is a great mind and body workout,” says Zilia.
Kids’ classes include imperial ballet, tap, modern theatre, contemporary jazz, and piano lessons with vocals soon to be added to the list. BBC is the only studio on the island offering the ISTD syllabus and exams. It also has a summer creative camp of dance and activities, so there’s something to do all year round.
For the future Zilia hopes to form collaborations and possibly some international projects, saying: “After all, our motto is ‘Making the Stage Your World’ and, if we have to make that happen, there’s plenty of work to be done!”