She swapped the classrooms of some of London’s toughest comprehensives to take over a prestigious Birmingham ballet school.
But Elmhurst School for Dance principal Jessica Ward isn’t quite ready for the quiet life just yet.
The former dancer-turned teacher is on a now on a mission to put the Edgbaston school on the map by working with other schools and in the community.
Elmhurst School for Dance, in association with Birmingham Royal Ballet, is the UK’s oldest vocational classical ballet school, and moved from Surrey in 2005. Only the cream of Britain’s young ballet talent make it through the doors of the school, where students combine dance lessons and academic study six days a week.
The school, in Bristol Road, is renowned for the quality of its dancers, many of whom go on to join the Birmingham Royal Ballet and other companies across the globe.
But despite the school’s standing in the international dance community, Ms Ward said she was keen to dispel the myth that independent schools were “ivory towers”.
Ms Ward, who has been at the school for almost two years, said: “I’ve come in and opened it up. My test is when I get in a cab from New Street and ask if the driver has ever heard of Elmhurst.
“You can be in Germany and people know us but you can go into the city centre and they don’t.
“I think we are becoming less of a hidden gem and are becoming better known but there is still more work to be done.”
Ms Ward’s dance career was cut short due to injury and she went on to teach after earning a BA and postgraduate qualifications. In 2000, she was offered a job as head of dance at the notorious Islington Green School in London.
Students from the comprehensive featured on the 1979 Pink Floyd hit Another Brick in the Wall and Tony Blair refused to send his sons to the school when they lived in the North London borough.
Ms Ward said: “Although it was surrounded by million pound houses it recruited from one of the biggest council estates in Europe. I was appointed part-time head of dance, and it was absolute madness – attendance was awful.
“I remember seven teachers left in my first week, I cried every day.
“When I got there the kids had half-hour dance lessons. They would come into my studio, which was one of those black drama boxes with a carpet over a concrete floor, and it was really challenging.”