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Excellence Scholarship winner Grace Burbidge in the Catalyst building.Excellence Scholarship winner Grace Burbidge is using her extensive performance experience to help her on her path into primary school teaching.

Belfast-born Grace, who attended the city’s Model School for Girls, is in the second year of her Primary Mathematics Education with QTS studies at Edge Hill University.

“I was unsure if I wanted to pursue musical theatre professionally or go into a different career, which is when I decided to follow this path,” Grace said. “I was limited in my options at home and was keen to move away. I had always heard that Edge Hill had good teacher training courses.”

An experienced singer, dancer and choreographer, the 20-year-old has worked and toured in India, helping raise money for local charities.

“My involvement in dance and musical theatre is unique as it is something I have been exposed to from a young age, performing in my first show aged three.”

Performance runs in Grace’s family. Her grandfather is William Cairns, a well-known musical director and pianist throughout Ireland while her mother, Sharon, is a highly-skilled dancer and choreographer, who performed for global superstars such as Diana Ross and Johnny Cash at the Super Bowl.

“Participating in dance classes from a young age was a given and then once my family identified that I also had a natural flare for dance and musical theatre, my training expanded alongside the opportunities I was given.”

Grace moved into dance teaching in her early teens, quickly relishing the extra responsibility and opportunities it provided.

“I realised that I loved both teaching and performing. Once I became known within the amateur dramatics scene, I would find myself recapping routines with performers and ensuring cast members knew what they were doing.”

This led to an opportunity to move into choreography for the first time in Northern Ireland, assisting a production of ‘Cats’ while also studying for her GCSEs.

“The journey was not plain sailing. The main challenge was being able to meet the needs of the children and their abilities. I had to thoroughly prepare and decide what age range and ability range I wanted in each routine, and from there it was easy enough to choreograph a routine to fit these needs.”

The experience allowed Grace to become more independent and creative in terms of her choreography and teaching – and resulted in the opportunity to visit India with ‘Toccata Musical Productions’ performing and travelling alongside choirs, soloists, dancers and medic teams.

“We performed at local schools and theatres in a variety of towns and cities such as Bangalore, Mumbai and even the jungle.”

Money raised from shows was given to local schools, theatres and orphanages, while the medical teams donated equipment and treated patients. But it was the children that made the biggest impact on Grace.

“Going to the orphanage was an experience that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I was only 16; going to the orphanage really opened my eyes.

“Initially, I was taken aback and wasn’t sure how to communicate with the children, I didn’t really know what to talk about. However, I soon realised that they were full of love and life and just wanted to feel cherished.

“I took the time to speak to them and find out their interests; we then made up a short dance routine, which we performed to the performers and medics.”

Inspired to continue working with young people, Grace is keen to travel and teach overseas before returning somewhere closer to home, incorporating dance into her primary school teaching.

“I intend to teach young professional performers, offering them education whilst still being involved in musical theatre or, alternatively, opening up my own dance/musical theatre weekend performance academy. I would be very happy to carry out either route as a career.”

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