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Modest dance school's 35 years of top marks

PUBLISHED: 09:42 25 March 2010 | UPDATED: 17:42 25 August 2010

OLD SCHOOL: Frank Mercer outside his weathered school entrance.

OLD SCHOOL: Frank Mercer outside his weathered school entrance.

FOR the past 35 years, a school has seen some of the best Latin and ballroom dancers in the world take to its floor. The Bickley School of Dance, in St Augustines Avenue, Bickley, will be celebrating the anniversary - the first since it opened in 1975 -

FOR the past 35 years, a school has seen some of the best Latin and ballroom dancers in the world take to its floor.

The Bickley School of Dance, in St Augustines Avenue, Bickley, will be celebrating the anniversary - the first since it opened in 1975 - on April 18.

Owners Frank Mercer, 82, and his wife Kay, 85, converted the dance hall from an old church building and have since attracted scores of dancers from Bexley, Greenwich and Bromley.

Now, he says, it attracts the world's best Latin and ballroom dancers, with many former world champions learning and perfecting their skills there as well as teaching at the venue. And anyone who follows Latin and ballroom dancing will know just how impressive the list of current and past teachers really is.

Donnie Burns, who with his former partner, Gaynor Fairweather, was 14-time World Professional Latin champions - a record for the title - still teaches at the venue.

Undefeated in any competitive dance contest for nearly 20 years, Mr Burns has won most major dance competitions across the world and is a Guinness World record holder for his achievements.

World champions Sergey Surkov and Melia regularly perform at the school and have both been teaching there for the last seven years.

Fellow former World champions Espen Salberg and Tone Nyhagen also put students through their paces, while Anton De Beke - star of BBC's Strictly Come Dancing - had lessons at the school.

Mr Mercer, who had remained a teacher at the venue he renovated after buying it in 1974, said: "We have got a reputation as being one of the best dance schools in the country for Latin and ballroom. Why? Because we are the best, that is the simple answer.

"If you want to do well in Latin American dancing, then you have got to come here."

Mr Mercer, a former professional diver, competed in the Commonwealth Games, took up dancing in 1962 and competed in competitions with his wife.

After purchasing the school, he decided to take on the building work himself, creating a house at the back for him and Kay, he gradually built up its reputation to what it is today.

He added: "It was in a terrible state, the floor needed doing, lots of the windows were broken - it needed completely changing.

"News of the dance school spread quickly. We had to advertise at first, but people started coming to learn and gradually, over time, we attracted more and more dancers. Professionals from all over the world started coming here to teach."

Mr Mercer, who taught groups that won competitions on the BBC show Come Dancing in the '70s, admits to being very "old fashioned" when it comes to his profession.

"The best years for dance in this country were between 1947 and 1970," he continued. "Dancing is nowhere near as revered as it is in other countries. Although these dancers are world famous for what they do. In this country, we don't know them. People over here think anyone can dance.

"It has a lot to do with the dance competitions that are not shown on television anymore. Now all we see is celebrities, people that are famous for doing other things. The old shows are not here anymore and that is where things have gone wrong.

"I am passionate about good quality dancing, that is what I love to see. People that learn here are taught to dance properly."

About 120 pupils aged between 20 and 80 years old are taught to dance at the school, with some visiting from across the South East.

More than 300 people are expected to attend the anniversary show next month, and they will be treated to a performance from Sergey Surkov and Melia.

Mr Mercer added: "We have never done anything like this before. We want to celebrate that fact and we want everyone to know we are here and that we have been here a long time."

Tickets for the event on April 18 between 2 and 6pm are £8. Contact the school on 020 8467 7899 for more details.

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