Claire Oconnor With Mum, Barbara, And Some Of The Babyballet Team

Claire O'Connor (centre) with mum, Barbara, and some of the babyballet team

The Yorkshire company behind an international dance syllabus for pre-school children inspired by the UK’s oldest ballet dancer is celebrating 15 years in business and further global expansion.

Halifax-based pre-school ballet franchise, babyballet, was founded in 2005 by Claire O’Connor after growing up with her dance teacher mum, Barbara Peters, who is believed to be the UK’s oldest ballet dancer, aged 82.

The company, based in West Yorkshire, now has 83 franchises in the UK as well as licenses in Singapore and Australia.

This month it appointed its first-ever master licensee in New Zealand, who will work to grow the brand across the country through the recruitment of new dance studio owners as licensees. 

Speaking about her mum’s influence on the development of babyballet, CEO, Claire O’Connor, said: “Ballet has always been a huge part of my life. My mum started dancing when she was nine years old. She’s now 82, still dancing and passed the RAD’s grade eight exam only last year.”

She continued: “We grew up with ballet, and my mum encouraged me to attend traditional ballet classes from the age of three to 14. However, by the time I got to my teens, I started to go through a period of low self-confidence and felt I wasn’t the right shape for ballet.

“I didn’t want other children to feel that way too, so years later, working alongside my mum for her knowledge and advice, I began offering babyballet classes in Halifax. The emphasis of the classes was, back then, as it still is now – all about building confidence and having fun.”

babyballet now delivers around 2,000 classes a week attended by around 25,000 children in the UK alone.

Trained ballet dancer, Emma Payne from Auckland, will now lead the expansion of babyballet in New Zealand in a strategic move to boost international business growth.

After graduating from the Auckland City Ballet Centre in 2001, Emma went on to dance professionally around the world.

She said: “I instantly fell in love with how well the babyballet syllabus has been created to make learning to dance at such a young age fun, educational and focused on developing the little ones and their confidence.

“With babyballet, there is a very clear path and progression for every age group, highlighting the need for the expansion of the syllabus in dance schools across New Zealand, without the competitiveness of exams. I only wish there had been something like this when I was a little one.”

Claire concluded: “I’m very proud by how far babyballet has come in the last 15 years, but equally I’m excited about what the future holds for the brand both in the UK and globally.”

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Neina Sheldon
Article by Neina Sheldon
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