Avril Hitman BEM
Founder Magpie Dance
After graduating and working for 10 years teaching ballet, modern and tap, Avril was looking for a new challenge in her work. After experiencing a session and some mentoring from Wolfgang Stange, founder of AMICI, Avril began working with different groups of people with learning disabilities in social service centres, community venues and special schools.
There was a very open honesty from each person, which Avril respected and wanted to experience more – so she set up a group of 10 adult dancers at Astley Centre in Bromley. Avril began delivering creative dance sessions for adults with learning disabilities who were all new to dance at the Astley Day Centre in Bromley for just 45 minutes each week. She worked pretty much alone for the first seven years with two very good volunteers, exploring movement concepts and encouraging people to express themselves creatively.
The aim from the outset was to encourage all people, regardless of their ability, to take a full and integrated part in the artistic life of the community. At the time there was very little creative arts activity for people of any age with learning disabilities in which to participate, let alone perform.
"Avril Hitman has shone a light on learning disability through her visionary creativity and determination that dance be open to all." Magpie Dance parent
Following a successful first residency with the London Contemporary Dance Trust in 1992, Avril then secured a £40,000 grant for one year to kick-start Magpie Dance's work. In 1996, Magpie Dance was established as a Company Limited by Guarantee and in 1997, it became a registered charity.
Avril's unwavering dedication to Magpie Dance and to the continued development of inclusive dance, the community and dance industry was recognised through several awards; Avril was awarded with a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the 2017 New Year Honours List. Avril was shortlisted for a Lifetime Achievers Awards with One Dance UK and won the prestigious Lifetime Achievers award at the National Diversity Awards 2017. Read her interview at The National Diversity Awards.
Avril remains committed to Magpie Dance as an honorary patron since her retirement in 2017.