Gina Pierce can still recall the first time she danced in front of an audience.
“I was really nervous,” she smiles. “I’d been rehearsing with my dance troupe for months and, as I stood on that stage, I felt a wave of anxiety wash over me.
“The audience were seated all around us - my family were there too - but then the lights went down, the familiar music started and we were off.”
What makes Gina’s bravery even more impressive was that she was 65-years-old at the time.
“I’d never done any performing before, and no dancing,” confirms Gina, a former nurse from Nether Edge.
“Some former work colleagues has persuaded me to join a local adults dance club so I went along and it was so much fun.”
It’s over a decade since that first performance and in the years since, Gina - now 76 - has taken to the stage many other times, along with the rest of her troupe - the St Francis Dance Club.
“It’s kept me physically fit and mentally alert and I really enjoy the weekly rehearsals,” Gina adds.
“If anything, I just wish I’d started sooner.”
The St Francis Dance Club launched in Sheffield in 2003, founded by local dancer Grazyna Swales. Today, the group of 13 women are proud to be, according to choreographer Sarah Bennett, all shapes and sizes, all ages and from different backgrounds with differing levels of dance experience.
“Many of the women are in their 50s and 60s, but we also have some older and some younger ladies,” says Sarah, who joined Grazyna to help lead the group three years ago.
“They’re a fabulous and very dedicated group of normal ladies - business women, mums, grandmas - who meet up every week. We rehearse for 12 months and then put on an annual dance show.
“Our shows feature about six routines - ballet, tap, show numbers, one of the women even does a lift in one of this year’s routines! - they’re a brilliant bunch. Two of the ladies have made all the costumes for the other dancers, so it’s a real team effort.”
At just 21, Kay Ullyatt is the group’s youngest member and says she decided to join after watching her mum Joanne perform in the show last year.
“I thought it was such a brilliant evening, and the women just looked like they were having so much fun,” says Kay, a full-time mum.
“Everyone was in such high spirits and I remember thinking ‘this is what dance is all about.’
“I’d danced for years, from being very young to about 17 - but that was all about shows and exams - this was just about fun.
“Everyone gets on really well and we have a good laugh. I really enjoy the break the rehearsals give me, a couple of hours a week that are just about me, having fun and blowing off some steam.
“I’m looking forward to the upcoming show too. My family and friends, including my son, will all be in the audience.”
The group’s 2017 dance and musical show, ‘Putting on the Ritz,’ kicks off next week, at the Church of St Francis Assisi, on Sandygate Road, where the group meets to rehearse each week. And, as well as giving the group’s dancers a chance to shine on stage, the annual show also has a charitable purpose.
Sarah, aged 49, of Worrall, adds: “Each year we raise funds for a different cause. Last year we raised £8,000 towards the Ebola crisis. This year we’re supporting the charity Cafod, in aid of the Syrian crisis and we’re hoping to raise as much as we did then, if not more. Every single penny we make goes to the charity. Also, the government has promised to match anything we raise, meaning our total from the night will be doubled.”
And spirits are high among the St Francis dancers as the show approaches.
Gina adds: “I’m no prima ballerina but I do love the ballet routine we’re doing, and I’m really looking forward to our tap number to ‘Putting on the Ritz.’
“I still get nervous before the shows, and I never feel quite ready for them, but they’re a lot of fun and the culmination of a lot of work throughout the year.
“My husband and my children will be attending again, and they love to video the shows and then pull them out at family gatherings and play them,” she laughs.
“I think the shows are great, and at the end of the day we’re raising some serious money for charity, which is just fantastic.”
As well as the St Francis Dance Club, ther will be a number of local solo artists, bands and young dancers performing at the show, which opens on February 25, and will also run on March 2, 3 and 4.
Sarah, who also teaches at the June D Gill School of Theatre Dancing, said: “We bring it all together in a big dress rehearsal just before the big event.
“It’s incredibly satisfying to work with these lovely ladies all year, and then see them finally step into the spotlight. I get so much enjoyment out of it - we all do.”
Call Grazyna on 0114 2308196 for tickets.