Superarts has been our way of life for decades,
a way of relating to young people and their families,
and a platform for community and fellowship.
A new timeline revealing the history of Elephant & Castle has been unveiled at Elephant Park.
Irene is honoured to be a part of this.
The timeline can be viewed at the entrance of Elephant Park.
Turn off the Walworth Road, walk down a residential street designed like the hind leg of a dog, pass a school and a church, turn left, right ... keep going ... right and left again, phew you’ve made it!
Now you see double black doors. Entering through the doors of St. John’s Institute, Larcom St, can change your life, as has been the case for thousands of children and young people for many decades. Behind the black doors you’ll find Southwark’s biggest secret: a powerhouse, a fiery, passionate, dedicated and inspiring woman called Irene Hayes, and she will be there to welcome you.
The Irene Hayes Superarts School of Performing Arts was established over 50 years ago. With her late husband Michael always at her side, organising the financial aspects of the business and helping her manage the school, Irene has worked tirelessly for the children of the local community. She has seen thousands of young children enter through the doors to take their first dance class, some tentatively, whilst others run in eager to start. Returning as adults, either to say hello or bring their own children to join the school, the students of the past speak with great fondness of their memories of Superarts. Each person further confirming the contribution Irene has made to their lives. In July 2013 many of our ex-students participated in the bi-annual Superarts production to celebrate Irene’s 50 years plus, as dance teacher, mentor and inspiration.
What began as a hobby has thrived for over 50 years. Irene still runs the school with a clear intention of care and of instilling the love of dance and the performing arts into all the children who walk through the doors. Irene gives them all an experience they will never forget.
Superarts is a family run Performance Arts school. Irene and Michael worked tirelessly to build and maintain the reputation of Superarts as a centre of excellence for young people in Central London, and now the Managing Director is their daughter Susan Hayes, with plenty of input still from Irene. Susan has a long and solid platform of decades of experience in the industry; agency work, auditions, performance, choreography, international show productions, dance, and working with, teaching, preparing and managing young people.
Susan began training in performance dance in the 1960's, and for over 40 years has danced, choreographed and produced fashion and commercial shows all over the world, performed in four Royal Command performances, was in the original cast of 'EVITA' and other West End productions. She has also worked extensively with young people, taught in UK vocational colleges and teaches and manages Superarts. And in terms of caring for her young students, Susan is also a qualified psychotherapist, having practised for nearly 20 years in London, and has almost 20 years experience of practising and teaching body work such as dance, massage, ballet floor barre, pilates, yoga, taiji and qi gong.
Part of our family are Karen Willis, who began her training with Irene at the tender age of 5 years old and who has taught at Superarts, for over 25 years. Likewise James Owen studied with Irene & Susan from the age of 6 yrs and has now been teaching for Superarts for over 10 years. Both Karen & James have much experience in performance work as well as educational skills. Their contribution and support of Superarts is invaluable.
For the first few years of her teaching career, Irene taught at nearly every hall in Southwark, including Manor Place Baths, which was where Irene attended her own first dance class at the tender age of three. She has been dancing a long time!
As a child alongside her father, Irene entertained the public by dancing in the tube shelters during the Second World War, and by joining Carlos’ Discoveries, a group of young performers . As she grew older she worked alongside stars of the day such as Bud Flanagan, Tommy Trinder, and Jimmy Durante with The Crazy Gang. Following her career as a dancer, Irene wanted to share her love of dance with the children in Southwark. After taking her daughter, Susan, aged five to a local dance school, Irene decided to open her own part-time school and thus began her teaching career.
Beginning with seven students soon growing in numbers, Irene’s constant perseverance and commitment was evident in her initial regime of teaching 49 weeks of the year. She would not only teach, but also design and make all the costumes & props for the annual productions, which initially took place at The Manor Place Baths. Her unlimited energy went into the school and eventually Irene and the children found a permanent base at St John’s Institute, Larcom Street SE17, where the school has evolved over the past 40 years.
Irene has watched the school develop into a community base of great importance to not only those who attend but also by making a difference to the local community with the help of the following people:
Her late husband Michael Hayes, who managed the administration and financial aspects of the business, plus being Irene’s constant support; her daughter Susan Hayes, a professional dancer, (appearing in the original production of ‘EVITA’ and four Royal Command Performances), turned choreographer and body worker; Karen Willis who joined the school aged three, and has now been teaching for Irene for over 20 years; James Owen, who joined Superarts aged four who has now being teaching at the school for over 10 years; plus various parents/carers who have given their time and total support to their children.
This part-time, non-profit organization has developed from a couple of classes per week to 23 weekly classes in dance of various styles; from street dance to ballet, from tap to acrobatics, from contemporary to Zena Rommett’s Floor Barre, and jazz to musical theatre. Guest teachers such as Carole Todd, (choreographer of the West End hit ‘Buddy’); Tommy Franzen, (star of ‘Some Like it Hip Hop’ & runner-up of ‘SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE’, and Rebecca Giacopiazzi (assistant choreographer on the current musical ‘A Chorus Line’) plus others, have also been brought into the school to give the students new experiences and challenges.
Examinations are taken annually with the British Association of Teachers of Dancing, helping to assess each student’s development, and the young people love the big theatrical productions held bi-annually to promote their creative talent and development.
After The Manor Place Baths, and needing a bigger venue, Irene had to move the annual school production to The Broadway Theatre, Catford. As the school grew and the shows became more and more accomplished, Irene took the decision to produce the shows bi-annually, and for many years they have taken place at The Greenwood Theatre, near London Bridge. Originally built for the local community, this is the only venue local to the school that has adequate stage space and can hold over 120 children backstage. Performing in a professional theatre gives the children a rewarding and affirming experience they never forget.
With over 130 children currently on the register, the school offers classes two evenings a week after school, all day Saturdays, plus extra rehearsals for specific events.
We believe at Superarts that we offer a valuable service to the local community and young people. The parents/carers also gain a sense of community by being part of Superarts.
Irene’s dream to offer dance and musical theatre classes at affordable prices has always been high on her list of priorities, often resulting in her subsidizing the school herself.
Superarts has always thrived through word of mouth and perhaps because Irene has never applied for financial assistance or funding of any kind from local government or companies etc, her consistent hard work has remained under the radar. With the current regeneration of The Elephant & Castle area, and the desire to expand on her wonderful legacy, we would welcome any assistance you can offer to further maintain and develop this much needed service and well loved organisation, for the local community.