Fourteen young dancers who made it to California to dance for their dreams arrived home on 13 April after a emotional and exhausting ten days.
Emotional return to meet Bobbi again. Photos above and below Richard Wintle of Calyx. www.calyx.com
On 2 April the girls from Bobbi's School of Dance and their parent chaperones turned up at Heathrow expecting to fly to Los Angeles to take part in the International Dance Excellence Competition. They had been planning, rehearsing and fundraising for over a year. But to their horror no tickets had been booked and they returned home in shock and turmoil. But their parents were not to be defeated. After an anonymous business man put up the money for the flights, an appeal through the media and a phone blitzto family, friends and business contacts raised enough money to help pay for the parents to go as well.
The girls flew out on 6 April, missing one day of workshops. They performed at Disneyland and in the Dance Excellence competitions returning with superior awards for their ballet and lyrical dance interpretations.
Dance school owner Bobbi Newman, right and below, was so distraught at the disappearance of the funds raised for the trip that she was unable to make the trip. However she joined parents for a tearful welcome for the dancers. Bobbi said, “I’m so proud of them and it’s wonderful to see them all again. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the people who helped the girls make the trip.”
Mum Maria Rejek, who took over teaching duties in California, said, “the girls were fabulous – they were tired and arrived a few days after the other groups but they really threw themselves into it.
“When they discovered they could go after all, but Bobbi wasn't going to join them, they set themselves the aim of winning for Bobbi and for themselves.
“It was so emotional when they collected their award. We've all gone through so much and they did us proud.”
She said the girls’ plight had received media coverage by the time the group arrived and they were given a big welcome and help prepare them for the competition. “The support we received was out of this world – from the Dance Excellence organisers and also from the other dance groups," said Maria. "Teachers gave up their time to help the girls out and the dancers from Missouri did some fundraising to pay for the girls to go to Disneyland. Their kindness was wonderful.”
Mum Helen Thomson, the driving force behind organising the emergency fundraising to get the girls to Los Angeles, said, "they've had a fantastic time; we're so glad they had their big chance and they are back safe and well."
The six parents who went with the dancers are still out of pocket by about £1,100 each as they paid for their trip and accommodation a second time after their contributions were stolen.
Bobbi's mother Mandy Williams, from Westlea, who acted as dance school administrator, has been arrested and remanded in custody on the grounds that she stole £27,000 raised to pay for the trip. She was found in a Weymouth boarding house on 3 April.
10 April 2009 – Swindon girls show off their dance moves at Disneyland
A group of dancers are showing off the very best of young people from Swindon on the west coast of America.
Having managed to fly out to Los Angeles on 6 April, after an anonymous businessman paid for their flight, and donations contributed to the costs met by the parent chaperones, (see story below) the girls are having a fantastic time at workshops during the Dance Excellence week, and have been wowing the crowds at Disneyland, below. (The trip was nearly cancelled – click here to find why)
First it was horror, then disbelief followed by inconsolable misery, followed by hints of hope, determination, confidence, and joy.
A group of Swindon dancers aged 13 to 18 years have been through every emotion since Thursday 2 April when they turned up at Heathrow airport expecting to board a plane for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Los Angeles. But the flights had not been booked by Mandy Williams, their dance school administrator.
She was arrested on Friday and has been detained about the disappearance of £30,000 raised from fundraising events and parental contributions over the last year – click for the story.
After the initial shock and anger had faded a bit, the girls' parents decided they were going to do everything they could in a very short time to make sure the dancers had their big chance. And at 5am on Monday 6 April the girls and their chaperones left Swindon to have their week at a dance festival in sunny California.
Since Friday the girls' plight was heavily publicised in national and local media and a Swindon business man unwilling to be named came up with the cost of the flights for the 14 girls.
In a 24 hour phone call blitz, the parents and dancers contacted everybody they could think of to seek cash donations to help pay for the cost of parent chaperones. The parents had already lost money in the apparent embezzelment but had committed to pay for their flights and accommodation to ensure the girls were able to make the trip.
"It's been an absolutely amazing roller coster ride," said parent Helen Thompson. "From disbelief, devastation and despair to seeing the girls get on the bus has been an incredible experience. We were not going to let them down; after those first hours of complete shock, we told ourselves we would do everything in our power to get them to Los Angeles.
Carole Morris said, "we've all aged about ten years and need some sleep, but we're overwhelmed by how people have helped us make an almost impossible task come true. The girls now call us supermums."
In about 36 hours, including the anonymous donation, the parents raised around £12,000. Carole added, "Dance Exellence in Los Angeles have been wonderful in waiving the $15,000 course fees to ensure the girls could attend their festival and they have provided accommodation. Helen said that Kevin and Brian at Polani Travel also did an amazing job to work all weekend to secure the flights at very short notice and hold onto them whilst the money was raised."
Swindon Link advertisers the Bombay Lounge and Mansfield Begbie Associates mortgage brokers contributed to the fund and Swindon Link donated the fee from the Daily Mail for the use of the photograph of the girls in costume below.
In the dark waiting for the bus to arrive to take the troupe to Heathrow and Gatwick airports, dancer Melissa Treen from Middleleaze said she could not believe the trip was on. "On Thursday we were in tears; we couldn't believe somebody has stolen all that money. Then our parents told us not to unpack, we would be going. It's amazing what is happening."
The airlines aware of the trials and tribulations the group has gone through were given VIP treatment while they waited their flights. Because of the late bookings, one group flew from Heathrow in the morning and the rest travelled on two separate flights from Gatwick in the afternoon. Some of the chaperones had to travel on a later fourth flight from Gatwick.
The dancers will only miss one day of workshops and return on Easter Monday. Dance school proprietor Bobbie Newman was unable to make the trip with the girls for which she has prepared for over a year as she was too unwell after the shock of her mother being arrested for stealing the money raised for the trip.