Carry on Dancing

9 November 2022 Related Tags
By Judy Adams, Christine Thynne and Agnes Ness Dancers 24 Carat Gold and PRIME

Jill (centre row, right) began 24 Carat Gold to give class members a chance to try their hand at choreography, teaching and to perform.

Photo: Eoin Carey

Gene Kelly said: “You dance love, and you dance joy, and you dance dreams.” This was completely personified by Jill Knox who danced all her life and passed on the love of dance to so many. Sadly Jill died in 2022 aged 82 years. 

Maybe Morag Deyes MBE, the artistic director of Dance Base in Edinburgh had Gene Kelly in mind when in 2009 she began a class called Golden. The only condition was that class members had to be aged 60 or over and the response to Golden was explosive. Proving you are never too old to dance, the class was packed, all kinds of dance styles were taught and all sorts of exciting performance opportunities and ideas were generated. 

Jill Knox was one of the first to join the Golden class. She recognised the value of older dancers being in the studio together – not only to dance but to offer friendship and support and a safe place for those facing personal challenges. With Morag’s blessing she began a spin off group named 24 Carat Gold whose aim was to give all class members a chance to try their hand at choreography, teaching and to perform. 

Jill organised everything: studio hire, finances, performances, costumes. She was tremendously encouraging to new choreographers and knew just when to involve professional teachers. The Carats flourished under Jill’s expert direction and over the years built up a varied repertoire which they performed at Luminate festivals, Dance Base, Scottish Dance Theatre at Dundee, Care Homes and Day Centres. Those working in the Luminate office knew that Jill would be first in line to suggest a performance by 24 Carat Gold for the next Luminate Festival. Jill loved dancing and her enthusiasm inspired so many people.

The last performance she arranged was ‘Song and Dance Through the Agesat the Canongate Kirk in April 2022 shortly before she died. This was a true celebration of all kinds of dance along with music from the Vocal Vibes Singers.  Jill once said: “We like to join forces with other groups – The Great Feats (teenage group from Dance Base) was a very happy collaboration – and we often invite audiences to dance with us so that we can share the fun of learning together.”

The success of the Golden class encouraged Dance Base to offer more classes in all disciplines to those over the age of 50 and 60. Entering Dance Base is a joy as it is full of babies, wheelchairs, professional dancers, children, teenagers and adults of all ages. They have a policy of including everyone whatever their age and ability, along with a welcoming atmosphere and superbly talented teachers. 

In 2015 Morag Deyes formed PRIME – Dance Base’s Company of Dancers over the age of 60. Jill Knox was one of the founding members and she personally donated to Dance Base to help keep PRIME classes free and to add to the overall budget for elder dance. Jill also supported young dancers at Dance Base. She donated collections at the end of 24 Carat Gold performances and proceeds from a jumble sale held when she moved house to the Great Feats fund at Dance Base. PRIME offered fantastic performing opportunities with many different companies and choreographers who appreciated the value of working with older dancers.  

Individual PRIME dancers took part in various projects as well as dance works for the whole company. The company travelled widely including to Singapore, Bournemouth, Inverness, Glasgow and Dundee. Once PRIME dancers were invited to work individually with different choreographers to create a two minute solo. Jill was delighted to be paired with Vincent Hantam, an ex-Scottish Ballet dancer and now a much revered ballet teacher. Jill adored his ballet classes at Dance Base and Vincent created a beautiful solo for her to the Pearl Fishers Duet music. Later the solos were incorporated into a piece called ‘Moving’ which was performed for Lindsay Kemp at a special ‘Illuminate’ showcase. 

Outwith the company PRIME dancers worked with a variety of choreographers including  Natasha Gilmore, Bridie Gane and Robbie Synge and Lucy Boyes whose piece ‘Ensemble’ was performed as part of the Dance Base Fringe programme in 2019. Recently Christine Thynne, a PRIME dancer who had performed in Ensemble, was awarded a Luminate bursary to continue working with Robbie Synge on a new dance/film piece. Their work in progress was performed to great acclaim in this year’s Dance Base Heads Up section of the Dance Base Fringe programme. The support Dance Base gives to professional dancers, young or old, especially those just beginning their careers is immense.   

During lockdown Jill knew it was impossible for the Carats to meet in person so she sent regular emails full of encouraging ideas, future plans, photos and thoughts to raise everyone’s spirits. Thanks to Zoom PRIME did manage to keep dancing with classes led by  Jack Webb followed by a series of working sessions with Christine Devaney. Jill’s generous funding allowed Christine and her company Curious Seed to produce a special film and booklet from the Zoom sessions called ‘Captured Soft’. In August 2021 PRIME performed with Curious Seed in ‘Field’ – an open air Edinburgh International Festival event in Holyrood Park. 

This year is the tenth anniversary of Luminate and as part of the celebrations Luminate will be presenting “Creative Ageing Heroes” awards. It feels entirely appropriate that one of these awards is to be presented in memory of Jill. She had a strong association with Luminate and her creativity and consistent inspiration to dancers of all ages and abilities was so highly valued.  

Steinvor Palson choreographed a work for PRIME called ‘Carry on Dancing’.  Jill Knox, along with every member of PRIME,  loved performing this piece. “To dance is to live – and to live is to dance.” Jill certainly proved this. And thanks to Dance Base anyone who wants can also Carry on Dancing.