Talented Ashleigh a step closer to dream

MOST young girls dream of becoming a ballerina, but few get the chance to live the dream...

For schoolgirl Ashleigh Cooper the dream is quickly becoming a reality after she secured a prestigious scholarship to the Elmhurst Ballet School in Birmingham.

The rising talent from the Pickering Academy of Dance in Chapeltown, Sheffield, was one of only six girls and 12 boys from all over Europe to be selected this year for the school, which has close links with the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

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"I'm so excited," the 11-year-old beamed. "I was a tiny bit nervous at the audition, but once I was dancing everything was okay."

Proud mum Misty, aged 31, dad Scott, 37, and brothers Christian, nine, and Tyler, five, as well as grandparents Pamela and Joseph Cooper from Firth Park, are all thrilled with Ashleigh's achievement.

Her passion for dancing started at the age of three and, by the time she was five, she was dancing with the Pickering Academy and fast-tracked to advanced classes.

Her potential was spotted by the Dance Technique ballet shop on Southey Hill, Southey Green, who have used Ashleigh's picture in their brochures and have now pledged to sponsor her with ballet shoes throughout her time at the school.

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Ashleigh's aunt Helen Cooper, 39, is a dance teacher in Austria and recognised Ashleigh's talent when she was a toddler.

"Everybody is extremely excited and proud," she said. "She's done it all from her own will. I could see she had a lot of natural ability. There was always something a little special there.

"She sets up her own runs and sit-up regimes to gain extra strength. She's so dedicated it's unbelievable. And she is such a hard worker. If she wants something she'll work endlessly until she gets it."

Ashleigh danced her way through two stages of gruelling auditions last November, pitted against hundreds of international hopefuls. There were physio tests to examine whether her body could face the intense training, as well as an academic test and ballet classes.

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Not only did Ashleigh manage to be accepted at Elmhurst School for Dance, she was also offered a place at the Royal Ballet's White Lodge School in London.

But Ashleigh - who used to live in Ecclesfield, Sheffield, and in Wentworth, Rotherham, before moving to Leicester this year - chose Elmhurst, a decision that pleased her aunt.

Helen said: "I would rate it as the best school in England, and one of the top schools in Europe. It has such great facilities and great opportunities."