Epic trip to let dancers tread the boards

Volunteers drive old coach 3,500 miles to take special floor to Chechen youngsters

Julie Hemmings

WHEN a dance company from troubled Chechnya came to his North Yorkshire school, headteacher Mike England was happy to offer them help.

But a donation of some old gym flooring has turned into a 3,500-mile goodwill road trip.

Members of the Daimohk group spotted the old wooden flooring in storage at Woodleigh School during their visit last summer and asked if they could have it for their dance hall in Grozny, which had been bombed.

Mr England said they were welcome to the 1,658sq ft of Swiss Cedar if they could arrange for it to be shipped to Grozny.

"Sadly this cost 1,500 – 1,500 which they didn't have," he said.

But he hopes the story will have a happy ending after plans hatched over a post-cricket match pint snowballed when his friend and fellow cricketer Ben Shaw spotted a coach on eBay going for 430.

From that beginning people and businesses have given time, skills and money – first to move the 41-seater 1981 Bedford SB5 Dominant from its vendor in Lincolnshire to the school at Langton, near Malton, and then to get it in good working order for its one-way trip to Chechnya.

Mark Harrison of Settrington provided transport to bring the bus to Langton, Ian Brown of Malton donated new tyres and Woodleigh parent Richard Welch fitted new brakes, ensuring the vehicle passed its MOT. Woodleigh pupils added the finishing touch by helping to give it a thorough clean.

The bus set off last night with 16 people on board for what is expected to be a 10-day journey across Europe.

As well as the flooring, the bus is carrying a generator and an 1890 Singer sewing machine the Chechens also took a fancy too.

The dancers, led by former Chechen National Ballet star Ramzan Akhmadov and his wife Aiza, currently have to sew their own costumes – down to their leather dancing shoes – by hand.

Mr England said there was a great culture of dance in Chechnya, particularly in Grozny, and the Daimohk troupe, made up of eight to 18-year-olds, had impressed its Yorkshire audiences with its energetic and acrobatic traditional dancing, often involving swords.

The headteacher said he had pitched the trip to Chechnya, which has been dogged by civil unrest for more than a decade, as "a fantastic holiday".

Each person on board has chipped in 350 towards the cost of the expedition and the party will fly back, leaving the bus behind in Grozny for Daimohk to use.

"The bus has already travelled 550,000km – it's already done a lifetime of work," said Mr England,.

A website has been set up for donations to Daimohk and the Centre for Peacebuilding and Community Development, which supports children and other vulnerable groups in the Northern Caucasus of the Russian Federation, at www.busmansholiday.net.