‘Co-op Juniors helped transformed me from bullied schoolboy to star of Royal Ballet’ says world renowned Gary Avis

Dancer Gary Avis. Photograph Simon Parker

Dancer Gary Avis. Photograph Simon Parker - Credit: Archant

Renowned Royal Ballet star Gary Avis has said that Suffolk-based theatre group Co-Op Juniors took him in as a bullied young boy and helped turn him into the man he is today.

Gary Avis in one of his many Co-op Juniors outings. Photo: James Fletcher

Gary Avis in one of his many Co-op Juniors outings. Photo: James Fletcher - Credit: Archant

Gary Avis is who he is because of The Co-op Juniors. Bullied as a young boy for being seen as different, they gave him the chance to be himself.

“I was 12 or 13 and used to have to find different routes to get home from school because I knew there were certain people who would be waiting for me at street corners,” he said. “I used to cycle home and I was spat at.

“I would walk in the door and my mum would have to take my coat off immediately and put it straight into the washing machine.

“It was a time of my life when I wasn’t necessarily sure of who I was, what I wanted from a career. It was really difficult, also with all the pre-conceived ideas and prejudices that go along with being a dancer; nobody could see the bigger picture, they just saw I was Gary and I was ‘different’.”

His mum had taken him to disco dancing lessons as a youngster and he went on to appear in a couple of shows at his comprehensive school when a parent suggested he join the Juniors, an amateur theatre group.

“I started in 1981,” he said. “My first show was Babes in the Wood when I was 11. It was at The Gaumont, now the Regent.

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“I was just in the chorus and was thrilled to be part of this amazing group of people.

“It was really strange because I was the only boy who was a dancer. All the other guys involved were slightly older and taking on parts... It’s really interesting when I look back at photos, it’s just one boy standing in the middle of all these girls,” Avis laughs.

Quiet and withdrawn during his school days, the dancer – who has remained at the pinnacle of world ballet for almost three decades – puts much of his confidence and success down to his early experiences on stage, in particular with the Juniors. He found a new group of friends and a place he could fit in.

“I loved dancing at the Co-op Juniors. They gave me a chance to broaden my horizons. Every Friday night, every Sunday I was allowed to be me. It was so immense the opportunity the Juniors gave me just to become Gary. It was a great bunch of friends I had, those were really special times and times I wouldn’t want to ever change or give up.”

Avis, now principal character artist and ballet master with The Royal Ballet, remained with the Ipswich-based group until leaving for performing arts college in 1986, although he came back at Christmas to perform in their pantos until 1988. He’s still in touch with former members from those days.

For the full story, pick up a copy of today’s Ipswich Star.