Bird College

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Bird College - Dance, Music & Theatre Performance
Bird College - Official Logo.png
Motto When Performance Counts
Established 1946 (1946)
Type Independent further and
higher education college
Principal &
Chief Executive
Shirley Coen
BA (Hons), FRSA
Deputy Principal &
Artistic Director
Luis de Abreu
Chairman Geoff Pine
Founder Doreen Bird
Location 27 Station Road
DA15 7EB
Coordinates: 51°25′42″N 0°06′20″E / 51.428467°N 0.105655°E / 51.428467; 0.105655
Local authority London Borough of Bexley
DfE URN 50701 Tables
Ofsted Reports
Staff >50
Gender Mixed

Bird College of Dance, Music & Theatre Performance, commonly known as Bird College, is an independent performing arts school and college, based in Sidcup in the London Borough of Bexley.[1] The college is officially the Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts Ltd and is a subsidiary of the Doreen Bird Foundation, a registered charity.

The college was founded as a dance school by Doreen Bird in 1946[2] and now provides specialist vocational training in dance and musical theatre, at further and higher education level. The college also comprises a junior dance department and a music department run in partnership with the local council.[3]

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.[2] Key areas of study include ballet, tap, jazz and contemporary dance, singing, voice craft and drama.

Bird College is an accredited college of the Council for Dance Education and Training. Full-time students at the college study for either the Diploma in Professional Musical Theatre, validated by Trinity College, London, or the BA Hons in Professional Dance and Musical Theatre, validated by the University of Greenwich. The college is also an approved dance centre of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD), and students can study towards the ISTD dance teaching qualifications.



See also: Doreen Bird
Doreen Bird Hon MA, FISTD, ARAD, founder of Bird College

Doreen Bird first founded the Doreen Bird School of Dance in Sidcup in 1945.[4] 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,[4] 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.

Doreen Bird pictured with her first six full-time students outside Vicarage House.

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,[5] 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 country's 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.


Montage of promotional images used by Bird College since 2006

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[edit]

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.[citation needed] 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).[6] During its previous inspection on 21 November 2011 it received an Outstanding (Grade 1) for Overall effectiveness.[7]

Pre-Vocational Music & Dance[edit]

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




Studio House
In house theatre facility at Studio House
The Centre

Birkbeck Centre[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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 male and female changing rooms, toilets and showers. 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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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.


  1. ^ "Bird College - Dance and Drama Theatre Performance : Directgov - Directories". 2009-03-20. Retrieved 2012-03-11. 
  2. ^ a b "Press release". University of Greenwich. Retrieved 2007-10-08. 
  3. ^ "Press Release" (PDF). Bexley Council. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  4. ^ a b "Student Information - Doreen Bird | University of Greenwich". Retrieved 2012-03-11. 
  5. ^ "Doreen Bird Obituary - see page 6 of document" (PDF). Bexley News Shopper. Retrieved 2007-10-08. [dead link]
  6. ^ "Bird College: Inspection of colleges participating in the Dance and Drama Award scheme (2012)" (PDF). Ofsted. 2012-05-31. Retrieved 2012-08-14. 
  7. ^ "Bird College: Inspection of colleges participating in the Dance and Drama Award scheme (2007)" (PDF). Ofsted. 2008-01-01. Retrieved 2012-08-14. 
  8. ^ "RoyalOperaHouse - Artists of The Royal Ballet - Principal Character Artists". Retrieved 2012-03-11. 
  9. ^ "Warren Carlyle at". Retrieved 2012-03-11. 
  10. ^ Mel C Singer Biography
  11. ^ a b "The Big Olivier Awards Interview: Gavin Lee". London Theatre Guide. 2005-02-17. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2007-10-08. 
  12. ^ " Star File: Gavin Lee". Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  13. ^ Miss Saigon - UK Tour


External links[edit]