Bird College

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Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts, commonly known as Bird College, is an independent performing arts school and college, based in the Sidcup, south-east London. The college was founded by the dance teacher Doreen Bird in 1946<ref name='pressrelease'>Template:Cite web</ref> and provides specialist vocational training at further and higher education level in dance, drama and musical theatre. Since October 2007 it has also been the provider of pre-vocational music and dance services for the London Borough of Bexley.<ref name='Press Release 2'>Template:Cite web</ref> The college is a Limited company owned by the Doreen Bird Foundation, a registered charity.

The college prepares students for a professional career in the performing arts and has a history of feeding artists into West End and Broadway theatre, dance companies, television, film, pop music and other high profile areas of the entertainments industry.<ref name="pressrelease"/> Key areas of study include ballet, tap, jazz and contemporary dance, singing, voice craft and drama. The college is accredited to the Council for Dance Education and Training <ref name='Accredited Courses'>Template:Cite web Template:Dead link</ref> and it offers Qualifications and Curriculum Authority recognised qualifications validated by the University of Greenwich or Trinity College, London.



Template:See also thumb Hon MA, FISTD, ARAD, founder of Bird College]]

Doreen Bird first founded the Doreen Bird School of Dance in Sidcup in 1945.<ref name="">Template:Cite web</ref> It would be the predecessor of today's Bird College. Bird initially taught pupils in her parents' living room, rolling up the carpet to provide a suitable dance surface, although she later used a local church hall. In 1951, she establishing a full-time performing arts course with six students,<ref name=""/> which became known as the Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts, today's Bird College.

In 1954, Doreen Bird acquired a former vicarage, which was renamed Vicarage House and would be the college's first permanent premises. In 1964, it moved to Studio House, which is still in daily use by the college today and was later extended to include purpose built dance studios that double as a performance space. To enable the college to expand, it became necessary to seek larger premises and in 1979, Bird was successful in securing the ownership of a former Victorian school, which was converted into dance studios and was renamed Birkbeck Centre. It was officially opened by former Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath and continues to be the college's main campus to this day. In 2007, as part of the college's contract to provide pre-vocational music and dance services on behalf of Bexley Council, Bird College was granted residency of the former Bexley Centre for Music & Dance. The college have since renamed it The Centre and it is now used extensively for various college activities.


The Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts first offered a nationally recognised qualification with the introduction of a National Diploma validated by Trinity College. In 1997, the college became the first of its kind in the United Kingdom to offer a professional dance degree, with the introduction of the BA Hons Degree in Dance & Theatre Performance. This course was specially devised for the college as a collaboration between Doreen Bird and the University of Greenwich who validate the qualification. In 2004, the National Diploma course was regraded to Level 6 on the National Qualifications Framework, becoming the National Diploma in Professional Musical Theatre. The college has further expanded its range of courses with the introduction of the Foundation Degree in Creative Industries: Acting and the MA by Research in Dance & Theatre Performance, both validated by the University of Greenwich. A one year pre-vocational foundation course has also been established, which offers an intensive course of study for students who need extra preparation before applying for a place on a full professional course.

Doreen Bird was principal of the Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts until her retirement in 1998, when she appointed Sue Passmore as Principal and Executive Director. It is also around this time that the name Bird College was first introduced, replacing the full title that had previously been used. Bird continued to be a trustee and Governor of the college for the rest of her life and In 1999, she was awarded an honorary Master of Arts by the University of Greenwich, in recognition of her achievements. Prior to her death, she had also been studying for a Ph.D. She died of Leukaemia on 4 February 2004 and a memorial service was held at The Actor's Church in Covent Garden.

Prior to becoming Principal of the college in 1998, Sue Passmore had previously been Head of Theatre at the former Bush Davies School of Theatre Arts. She joined the Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts in 1988, as Artistic Co-ordinator and Head of Drama, becoming Artistic Director in 1989. She founded the Bird Theatre Company in 1991 and was also appointed to the Executive Council of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing. After becoming the college's Principal and Executive Director in 1998, she held the post for seven years. Passmore retired from Bird College in 2005.

Since 2005, the college has been managed by Shirley Coen as Principal & Chief Executive and Luis De Abreu as Vice-Principal. De Abreu is an alumnus of the college, serving as Executive & Artistic Director. In 2007, Bird College became the providers of pre-vocational music and dance services for the London Borough of Bexley, working in partnership with Bexley Council. The college is now responsible for a large proportion of performing arts provision in the local community alongside its professional training courses.


Live performances are an integral part of the curriculum and the college perform in public under the title of 'Bird Theatre Company', staging productions both in the UK and Internationally.

Bird College productions have been staged at the Whitworth Theatre, the Bloomsbury Theatre and from 1982 at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley,<ref name='newspaper obituary'>Template:Cite web Template:Dead link</ref> then for a number of years at the Peacock Theatre. Bird College have also performed at the Shaw Theatre, Sadler's Wells and the Royal Opera House and currently perform regularly at theatres in the Kent region, particularly the Orchard Theatre in Dartford. The College also have an active programme of providing theatre in education, working with schools and other organisations.

As one of the countries leading performing arts colleges, Bird College take part in the annual event, 'Move It Dance London', the largest dance exhibition in the UK. Bird students perform in the showcase and give demonstrations, with staff of the college teaching workshops and giving lectures. Having an international reputation in the dance world, Bird College have also performed overseas, including appearances in Portugal, Austria and Singapore.



Over 300 students currently attend the college, which occupies four sites in Sidcup, with two dance facilities, a large multi purpose music and dance complex and one office building. Other sites are used for a variety of classes including Bromley Valley Gymnastics Centre. The current name, Bird College, has been in use since the 1990s.

As well as training girls, Bird College specialises particularly in the training of male dancers, with one senior member of staff lecturing and writing articles on the subject for various dance organisations including the Royal Academy of Dance. The college has numerous Patrons, Trustees and Friends, including Matthew Kelly, Gillian Lynne, Phrosso Pfister and Siân Phillips.


As a specialist vocational college for dance and musical theatre, the college has the following accredited courses.

  • BA (Hons) in Professional Dance and Musical Theatre (validated by University of Greenwich)
  • National Diploma in Musical Theatre (validated by Trinity College, London)
  • Foundation Degree in Creative Industries: Acting (validated by University of Greenwich)
  • MA by Research: Dance and Musical Theatre (validated by University of Greenwich)
  • Pre-Vocational Foundation Year in Dance and Theatre Performance

Entry Procedure

Entry to one of the college's full-time performing arts courses is by audition only and the college can receive up to 1,200 applications per year for a very limited number of places. Due to the demanding nature of undertaking a full-time dance and performing arts course, most applicants will have danced from a young age and have achieved examination passes with a recognised dance teaching organisation such as the RAD, IDTA or ISTD. Applicants are normally expected to have achieved either an Intermediate or Advanced 1 examination pass from one of these organisations, or be able to dance at a similar standard in one of the core dance disciplines of Ballet, Tap, or Jazz/Modern. It is not always essential for an applicant to have extensive prior experience of singing, dancing or acting however and exceptions are made if an applicant demonstrates an exceptional degree of talent or natural ability during the selection process. In particular, many male candidates join the college having no prior training in dance or performing arts.

The audition for entry to the college includes assessments conducted and observed by senior teachers at the College. The audition is intended to assess potential skills in dance, singing and drama, as well as suitability for a career in the theatre profession. Auditions take place between January and May.

A typical audition for the college normally begins with an introduction by a member of staff, who will make a presentation about the college to all the candidates and their parents or teachers (if present). This presentation offers an insight into what life at the college is like, what the demands of the training are, and what will be expected from those who are successful in winning a place at the college. The introduction is followed by a ballet, jazz and drama class for all the candidates, watched by an assessment panel of senior college tutors. After the classes are completed, there will normally be a recess during which the panel will deliberate, with some candidates being asked to leave and some being invited to perform individually for the panel. Candidates who are recalled will normally perform a solo dance, song and drama piece of their own choice, which they have prepared for the audition beforehand. Through individual interview, personal qualities such as motivation, communication and flexibility are assessed and career aspirations are discussed before a place is offered.

The college awards a number of scholarships and also allocates places funded by the government Dance and Drama Awards (DaDA). If a candidate is being considered for a scholarship or a DaDA award, they are normally invited to attend a second audition. Commonly referred to as a 'scholarship audition', this takes place after all other auditions have been completed and brings together all the candidates who are being considered for an award, so that they can be assessed against each other before the offer of a scholarship or DaDA place is made.


As part of its requirements for providing the government funded Dance and Drama Awards, Bird College is required to undergo regular inspections by OFSTED, the government appointed organisation that is responsible for monitoring educational standards in England. The college received its latest inspection on 2 May 2012 and overall effectiveness was rated as Good (Grade 2) and Capacity to Improve was rated as Good (Grade 2). During its previous inspection on 21 November 2011 it received an Outstanding (Grade 1) for Overall effectiveness.

Pre-Vocational Music & Dance

In 2006 a decision was made to close the Sidcup based Bexley Academy of Music & Performing Arts, which provided pre-vocational music and dance tuition in co-ordination with the London Borough of Bexley Council. The Council consequently looked for a new organisation to replace the Academy, with Bird College being chosen for its international reputation and specialist experience in performing arts education. The new service was officially launched in October 2007. Bird College now provides a variety of pre-vocational music services throughout the Bexley region, with the former dance service being redeveloped as the Bird College Junior School. The College has also taken residence of council owned buildings (formally occupied by the Academy) at 27 Station Road in Sidcup, which have been renamed The Centre.


  • Free instrumental and vocal tuition in schools, for pupils at Key Stage 2
  • Individual and shared instrumental/vocal lessons
  • Progressive choirs, bands and orchestras
  • Hire of musical instruments
  • Independent shop on site "Soundheart ltd" for all musical needs
  • Regular public performances
  • Lessons in ballet, tap, and modern dance
  • Lessons in jazz, contemporary dance and musical theatre


  • Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music
  • Trinity Guildhall
  • Royal Academy of Dance
  • Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing


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  • Elgar Wind Ensemble
  • Intermediate Band
  • Symphonic Wind Band
  • Bexley Band
  • Little Big Band
  • Brass Tacks
  • Whirlwinds


  • First Strings
  • Purcell Strings
  • Concert Orchestra
  • Bexley Youth Orchestra
  • Light Orchestra


  • Junior Choir
  • Intermediate Choir
  • Bexley Youth Choir
  • The Bexley Choir



File:Bird College - Studio Theatre.png
In house theatre facility at Studio House

Birkbeck Centre

Birkbeck Centre is a former Victorian school situated on Birkbeck Road in Sidcup. The two-storey building was acquired in 1977 and after extensive renovations, was officially opened as the college's main campus by former Prime Minister and Bexley MP, The Rt Hon Sir Edward Heath. The building houses dance studios, a canteen, kitchen, physiotherapy clinic and a gymnasium for weights training and body conditioning. There are also changing rooms for both boys and girls with lockers, toilets and showers.

Admin Cottage

Admin Cottage is a two-storey, former residential property adjacent to Birkbeck Centre. Maintaining its traditional exterior, the building houses the colleges administrative, marketing and finance team, the Principal's office and a teachers rest room and kitchen. To the rear of Admin Cottage is a large pre-fab type building, housing another large dance studio.

Studio House

Studio House is a two-storey, detached, former residential Georgian property occupying the corner plot of Station Road and Crescent Road in Sidcup. Acquired in 1965, the building was later modernised and comprises a library, staff room, 'media' room and offices. There are changing rooms, toilets and showers, for both boys and girls. A large, single-storey extension to the rear houses the colleges main dance studios. There is one large space which can be divided to form two fully equipped studios. Designed as a studio theatre, raked seating and lighting are used to form a performance space for various in-house presentations.

The Centre

The Centre is a former school located on Station Road in Sidcup. It is now a music and dance complex owned by the London Borough of Bexley and was previously known as the Bexley Academy of Music and Performing Arts. It is used primarily as a venue for pre-vocational dance and music training. Since becoming the officially approved provider for music provision in the London Borough of Bexley in 2007, Bird College has taken residency of the building and is responsible for the management of the site. The College has, however, used the facilities at the site for some time, holding classes for its full-time performing arts courses. The Centre offers (within the main building and annexes on site) a range of dance studios with sprung flooring and installed sound systems, tuition/practice rooms and performance opportunities in the larger studios.

Other facilities

Due to the limited space in the College's own facilities, use is made of other buildings when required. St. John's Hall is situated within walking distance of the Centre, on Church Road, Sidcup, adjacent to St. John The Evangelist Church and is used to facilitate a full timetable for students.

Bromley Valley Gymnastics Centre is situated on Chipperfield Road, St Paul's Cray, approximately 2.5 miles from Sidcup. The Centre is a fully equipped training centre for Artistic gymnastics and other gymnastic sports and has a staff of specialist gymnastic coaches, training a number of world class athletes. Bird College students attend classes at the Centre where the staff teach various gymnastic skills that can be adapted for use in dance. The College also uses dance studios at the site.

Notable students

Template:See also Bird College has a number of well-known and notable alumni. Former students are working worldwide in all areas of the entertainments industry, particularly dance and musical theatre, including West End and Broadway shows. Many also work as directors, choreographers, producers, agents, personal managers and teachers.

  • Helen Anker - began training at the Royal Ballet Lower School, later training in musical theatre at Bird College. She is noted for performances in the musical Beautiful and Damned and Susan Stroman's dance musical Contact. Most recently, she has played lead roles in the English National Opera production of On The Town and the first major London production of Parade at the Donmar Warehouse
  • Gary Avis - trained at Bird College and the Royal Ballet School. He joined The Royal Ballet in 1989 and was promoted to Soloist in 1995. In 1999 he was a co-founder of K-ballet in Japan, also appearing in the Channel 4 documentary series "Ballet Boyz". Avis later joined English National Ballet as First Soloist in 2002, returning to the Royal Ballet in 2004. He was promoted to Principal Character Artist in 2005 and Assistant Ballet Master in 2007.
  • Warren Carlyle - was Associate Choreographer for the Broadway and West End theatre revivals of the Mel Brooks musical The Producers, working with Choreographer, Susan Stroman. He was Associate Choreographer for the 2005 film revival, also performing as a cast member in both the London and New York theatre productions. He also danced in the film Center Stage
  • Melanie Chisholm - trained at Bird College before becoming a member of the Spice Girls.<ref>Mel C Singer Biography</ref>
  • Sue Hodge - trained at Bird College and has subsequently worked extensively in theatre and on television. Best known for her portrayal of Mimi Labonq in the long-running BBC sitcom 'Allo 'Allo!, her credits also include numerous West End and touring theatre productions and other television series' and appearances such as Noel's House Party, Royal Variety Performance and Children in Need.
  • Gavin Lee - most noted for creating the role of 'Bert' in the West End premiere of Mary Poppins The Musical,<ref name='gavinlee'>Template:Cite news</ref> a role which he later re-created for the new Broadway production of the show. He has received both Olivier Award<ref name='gavinlee' /> and Tony Award<ref name='gavinlee2'>Template:Cite news</ref> nominations for this role.
  • John Partridge - has performed a number of critically acclaimed roles in West End musicals and throughout Europe. He is most noted for his performance of 'Rum-Tum-Tugger' in the official film of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats, but Partridge has also played leading roles in musicals such as Starlight Express, Notre Dame de Paris, Rent and Taboo. Since February 2008, Partridge has been a cast member of the long-running British soap opera EastEnders.<ref>Miss Saigon - UK Tour</ref>
  • Lara Pulver - trained at Bird College, graduating with a BA (Hons) Degree in 2000. She has appeared in a number of productions including Into The Woods at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, Honk!, High Society and A Chorus Line. In 2008, Pulver received a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for 'Best Actress in a Musical', for her performance in the West End production of Parade at the Donmar Warehouse. Her television appearances include the BBC drama series Robin Hood and HBO's True Blood.
  • Aaron Sillis - trained at Bird College gaining the National Diploma in Professional Dance. Has performed in many award winning productions by the choreographer Matthew Bourne, including Swan Lake, Nutcracker!, The Car Man and Dorian Gray. Has also worked as a dancer and choreographer for Kylie Minogue, Take That, Sugababes and Victoria Beckham. Winner of The Times Breakthrough Award sponsored at the 2009 South Bank Show Awards.




External links


Template:Performing Arts Schools in the United Kingdom Template:Schools and colleges in Bexley