“I want to end the struggle for every dancer with a dream!”
Love It Local speaks to Athena Burns, director of the local business Athena Theatre Works and Productions.
Athena Burns is an well qualified dance teacher, who has opened a number of internationally successful dance schools for youngsters. Now she is bringing her amazing experience to local youngsters in Wool and Wareham.
How did ATWP begin?
After marrying a British Soldier and relocating to Germany, I thought my professional dance career was over. However, I soon realised that kids of military families, uprooted to different countries every year, often miss out on classes in the arts. From that moment, I decided I had to open my very first school!
I opened ‘ABPA Bad Fallingbostel’ in the local school gym hall. With no mirrors or barres and no budget, all I had was the passion and drive to succeed. While my husband was in Afghanistan, I ran ABPA on my own. Heavily pregnant with my first daughter at the time, I was the teacher, as well as the receptionist, show director, costume director, and organizer! Luckily ABPA began to grow and I managed to create a team of student teachers around me. We even began to teach student IDTA Graded Studies (International Dance Teachers’ Association). The Team in Bad Fallingbostel were amazing and I fond memories of them.
Where else have you opened Schools?
I opened a second school at another British Army Camp called Hohne. We instantly registered over one hundred and fifty students within one day. The two schools came together for a spectacular showcase and competition. For most of the students, this was their first real taste of performing. After I moved to Paderborn Germany I opened a third one, ABPA Sennelarger in 2015, just eight days after I had given birth to my second daughter!
We had such a fantastic response from British Army Children and the local Germany Community that I took a chance and entered the students in the International Dance Championships at Disneyland Paris. Only one of my students had ever had dance classes before but ABPA wowed the judges and were awarded the overall Best Performer Award for 2016.
Sadly I had to leave Germany and move to Canada. I left my schools to be managed by others and they have continued to flourish.
After giving birth to our third daughter, I started work at the Medicine Hat College and went on to become the Program Administrator for the dance department. I enjoyed my time in Canada very much and soon opened ABPA Canada!
2017 was a wonderful year for the ABPA empire as I also developed a college and diploma program and introduced a casting agency into my school.
ABPA was the very first school in all of Canada to be accredited as an internationally recognized performing arts school. My students worked with some of the industry’s finest, with choreographers coming from all over the world to guest teach.
Why return to England?
Returning to England in 2019 was very difficult, but a decision made to benefit our daughter Darcey who has Kleefstra Syndrome. This has inspired me to embark on a new journey into the unknown as I had never thought about dance in relation to disability before my experiences with Darcey.
In 2019 we started the Darcey Foundation, which raises funds for professionals to visit local schools to give workshops on mental health and disabilities. How we can be inclusive, understand a person who is struggling, and ultimately accept.
Tell us about the local ATWP?
We opened the Dorset school in 2019 but shortly closed until 2021, due to the COVID 19 Pandemic. Undeterred I created Zoom classes for local students for Free! Called ‘Dancing around the world’ participants and parents worked throughout Covid online. Each week we would ‘travel’ to a new country to learn a new dance style. It was a lot of work but worth it. Coming out of the Covid restrictions ATWP has continued to thrive. We have over 100 students and are opening our second studio at Carey Hall in Wareham from September 2023.
The ATWP Studio 2 Wareham will also offer an adult class and overs 50s Class. I am also excited to be opening our accredited college program from September. This will allow locals, who wish to train in dance and performing arts, a place that is both accredited and financially affordable.
What has made you so determined to succeed?
I come from a working-class family, where I struggled to have the right equipment and attire. I fought for every scholarship and opportunity. Each year ATWP gives away thousands of pounds in scholarship funds to aid local dancers with their studies.
I want to end the struggle for every dancer with a dream! I love what I do and there’s not a day I won’t do it.’ ATWP will always be a supportive, happy place that allows students to express themselves and ultimately feel valued and free.
Miss Junior Teen Dorset Great Britain 2023
Each year ATWP awards dancers who have shown incredible dedication, passion, and progression in their craft. Offering a range of prizes from tickets to MOVE IT in London to Sponsorship for tuition and other major opportunities. in 2022 ATWP gave away over £6000 in sponsorship and awards along with £3000 of tuition.
Miss Elleigh Smith was ATWP Student of the Year 2022 and with this the sponsorship to enter the first round and entry into Miss Teen Great Britain. Not only did Elleigh progress through eh first rounds she is now the title holder of Miss Junior Teen Dorset 2023 and in the grand finals held in Lancashire in October this year. Elleigh is a committed and passionate student and takes all classes within performing arts, she has represented her performing arts school Athena Theatre Works & Productions Nationally and in 2024 will be traveling to Spain to dance Internationally. Elleigh also successful auditioned for ATWP Temple team which is a production company traveling internationally to take part in major events, enabling students to experience vital roles within the industry.
Along side her schools and extracurricular activities, Elleigh dedicates her weekends with some 18 hours of being one of ATWP’s leading teaching assistants and is working towards her Level 3 examinations. Elleigh has volunteered and even raising money for several charities. Elleigh dedicated her time in 2022 to work with one of ATWP younger dancers to help them with their confidence on stage and danced alongside them in an inspirational duet, winning 1st place wasn’t the best outcome but the encouragement to her younger team member was overwhelming. She is a keen supporter for children within the forces and an advocate for those in performing arts who are often taken away from the communities they love. Elleigh is also the daughter of a serving solider here in Bovington and knows only too well how hard it is to stay in arts when you must move so frequently.
Elleigh is looking forward to representing Dorset in the upcoming finals and has been working with Athena Theatre Works & Productions who has also provided all her dresses and outfits for the event and full sponsorship.
If you are interested in joining ATWP you can register on their website: