HER name is, quite simply, synonymous with the finest Irish dancing on the north coast.
Now, after 43 years of teaching literally hundreds of young pupils in the Marlene Dunlop School of Dance, founder Marlene Oliver is hanging up her dancing shoes.
Marlene, who will hand over management of her dancing school in December, spoke to the Times and recalled some of the highlights of her career.
A top class dancer herself for 55 years, Marlene Oliver (nee Dunlop) originally started teaching Irish dance in the Orange Hall in Ballycastle in 1968.
Hailing from Ballymoney, Marlene was invited to start up the dance school by her own teacher Jean Graham who was planning to retire.
“I was quite naive when I started at 19 as I had about 50 pupils on that first day,” she said.
“We began in the Orange Hall but moved around different halls in the area. There was no dancing school in Ballycastle at that time.
“I then also started classes in Portstewart in St Joseph’s Hall and in the Guide Hall in Coleraine before moving to Maconachie Hall where the school still runs.
“I couldn’t honestly say how many children I have taught over the years but it must be hundreds.
“I am now teaching the children of my original pupils,” said Marlene from Castlewood Avenue.
The Marlene Dunlop School of Dance has not only achieved great success around the province in festivals but has also represented the country around the world.
The dancers have represented Coleraine in their twin town of La Roche Sur Yon in France on eight different occasions and six girls from Marlene’s school also represented Northern Ireland in Taiwan in a British Week around 14 years ago.
“Three of my pupils also started up their own dance schools - Joan Wisener, Paula Reid and Aisling Newcombe.
“And another past pupil, Caitriona Newcombe has established various dance schools in France, Dubai and Hong Kong during the times she lived in those countries.
“In fact, she invited me to adjudicate her pupils in a festival once in Dubai.
“She is now living in Hong Kong and recently organised a very successful concert there which featured Davy Spillane of Riverdance fame and a young dancer from Ballymena whom I recommended.”
As well as busy dancing and teaching career, Marlene also worked for 29 years as a classroom assistant in Sandelford Special School in Coleraine.
“I look back now and wonder where I ever found time to work,” she joked.
“Irish dancing is just like a family. Everyone gets on with everyone else and it has been very rewarding.”
Marlene will hand over the reins of her school to another past pupil in December.
Ashley McVeigh (nee Gault) will taker over the school in January after Marlene retires at the end of the year.
“Ashley was a very successful dancer for me and has been teaching with me in the Maconachie Hall for the last ten years,” said Marlene, who is married to Nevin.
“She has been with me for the last 28 years both competing and teaching and the school will continue in the Maconachie Hall.”
There will be a special farewell party for Marlene later in December but her association with Irish dancing will not be ending.
“I am still heavily involved with the Bannshes,” she added, referring to the adult Irish dance group which has already won many awards and raised funds for charity.
“I am secretary of Coleraine Irish Dancing Festival, on the committee of Portstewart and Ballymoney festivals and chairman of the Portrush festival and, of course, I still adjudicate.
“I will definitely miss my pupils but I think, after all these years, I have given Irish dance all I can give it.”