There was a show at the Kings Theatre, Southsea, last Saturday night which you might not have caught. However, 500 people did.
It was called Aspire, Achieve, Amaze! and was produced by a young woman who might well have adopted those three words as her own personal mission statement. Click here to see a video of the performance.
Amber Leigh Mitchell is a dancer and businesswoman who, by her own admission, is driven by the need to succeed.
She currently runs five different classes at five different venues across Portsmouth for the performing arts – dance, drama, singing and music. Next month that will rise to six.
She has close to 200 students attending classes regularly. Their ages range from 20 months to 55.
Last weekend she hired the historic old theatre to showcase the work of her pupils.
All this at the tender age of 22.
Born and bred in Portsmouth, Amber knew when she was 16 exactly what she wanted to do in life. ‘There was never any doubt. All I ever wanted to do was run my own dance school,’ she says when we chat in the Kings Theatre.
She lives at Cosham, went to Medina school there, followed by Purbrook Park and Havant College. There she got A-levels in dance (of course) and the far less predictable: chemistry, maths and accountancy.
‘I always loved maths and science, but dance was my number one love. I couldn’t survive without it.
‘And I’m so pleased I studied accountancy. It’s really helped me set up and run my business.’ Lord Sugar would be impressed.
Her A-levels got her in to the University of Winchester for a degree in choreography and dance and that’s where her dream put down some solid foundations.
‘There was a point at uni when I thought I might teach dance in schools,’ she adds. ‘I went out and did some teaching practice in Winchester, Totton and Portsmouth, but that helped me realise there was really only one direction in which I wanted to go and that was to set up my own dance school.
‘I wanted the freedom to teach what I wanted and have the variety to teach all different styles of dance.’
She continues: ‘In my third year at Winchester I spent my entire summer holiday planning everything, putting together a business plan.
‘Then I went back to uni for my final year and started running the classes at weekends.’
This was 2011 and she was knuckling down to her dissertation on the theme of abstract dance, but she still found time to take three classes in three different dance styles at Highbury College, Cosham, every Saturday.
‘Of course it was tough, but when I set my mind to something I’m absolutely determined, very driven, to achieve it.
‘And there was nothing else I wanted to do. My life would be empty if I didn’t dance every day. I don’t know what it is inside me, but I’ve felt for many years that dancing is the reason I exist.’
She left university last summer and then launched her school, called Abstract after her favourite dance genre. It now occupies her every waking minutes, seven days a week.
Amber, like countless other little girls, was taken by her mum to her first dancing classes when she was two.
It was conventional – ballet, tap, modern and jazz – but eventually she became hooked on baton twirling. ‘It’s very dance orientated and I did it 24 hours a week and had to give up everything else.
‘But then I started doing GCSEs at Purbrook Park and that was the point when I went back to dance.’
In less than a year she has built the business and is continuing to grow it.
‘I started the school when I was 20. I’m now 22 and, yes, people do tell me I’m very young to have achieved what I have in such a short space of time. But I’ve got so much energy and drive and love what I do.
‘It’s all so worthwhile when something like last weekend’s show happens and you see the excitement on the children’s faces, and the adults’, when they perform somewhere as grand as the Kings.
‘It’s what I tell them: if you really aspire to something, not only can you achieve it but you can amaze yourself and those around you.’
n To see a video of Amber explaining the ethos behind her dance school and a clip from last Saturday’s show at the Kings Theatre, Southsea, go to portsmouth.co.uk/video.