'I cannot believe we've all been dancing for 50 years'
SINCE 1962, Florrie "The Governor" Lancaster has provided a club for the young and old to enjoy dance in West Horndon.
Now to mark the anniversary of the FL Toppers, the 85-year-old grandmother-of-two plans to put on a spectacular show celebrating 50 years in the community at the end of this month.
She started the club in the village hall in Thorndon Avenue with just a handful of pupils and now devotes seven days a week to her 126 members.
"I've always danced," said Florrie – real name Florence.
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"It was my dream to become a professional dancer. That didn't happen so instead I started a club for the village children to learn how to dance.
"It just grew and grew.
"I can't believe 50 years has gone by in such a flash."
The club is not just for children – the ages range from three to 85 – and many of her members have been there nearly as long as Florrie.
"I feel so lucky that all my senior dancers have been with me since they were children," she said.
"I see them off to university or they get married, but they all come back."
Lorraine Coutts, who now runs the school and has danced there since she was three-years-old, said people come back because they love it.
"Florrie wanted everybody to be able to afford to dance," the 46-year-old bank worker said.
"The club is not for profit and the teachers don't get paid.
"We do it because we love it and because it's fun. Anyone is welcome, the young and old, the good and the bad – warts and all."
The club plans to mark its anniversary in front of an audience of 500 at Queens Theatre in Hornchurch on Friday, June 29 and Saturday, June 30 and will feature all its members, including 85-year-old Florrie, albeit from a sitting-position.
The show, Florrie says, will pay homage to 50 years of life in the community and has been a year in the making.
"It's a great club," said Ryan Ellis, 28, from Hornchurch, who has been coming to the school for 20 years. "My mum used to dance here and she got me into it.
"It really is like one big family here."
The club teaches tap and ballet and even prepares its students for British Ballet Organisation-accredited exams.
Opposite the village hall, where the sessions run three-times-a-week, the club has hired a shop where Florrie and her army of helpers make and decorate the performers' costumes.
Claire Hoskin, 42, has been coming to the club for 15 years and now teaches the youngest troupe.
"The reward is seeing the kids progressing, seeing the enjoyment they get out of it or figure out what a step is."
Sharon Reynolds, 58, joined the club from the beginning and returned ten years ago after a brief hiatus to get married. She now teaches the ladies troupe.
"We do it because we love it. This club is Florrie's life and her legacy."
The show on June 29 will start at 8pm. There are two shows on June 30 – at 2.30 and 7.30pm. To book tickets, call Margaret Coutts on 01277 810 033. Tickets cost £14 and £10 for concessions.