Steps singer Lisa Scott-Lee launches Performing Arts Academy for kids in Dubai

The pop star is launching the performing arts school with her husband, Johnny Shentall-Lee, a professional dancer who has worked with Robbie Williams and Diana Ross.

Lisa Scott-Lee and her husband Johnny Shentall-Lee at the Dubai Performing Arts Academy at Fitness First at the Lakes. Jaime Puebla / The National Newspaper
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There is a moment in the video for one of the British pop band Steps' biggest hits that sums up the baffling array of skills needed to be a performer in the modern era.
As Lisa Scott-Lee sings Tragedy, she is not only playing the role of a bride whose wedding has been sabotaged by the pesky boys in the group, she's doing so to a choreographed dance routine that would become their trademark.
"We always called it the triple threat," she says with a laugh. "It's really important these days that you can sing, dance and act."
Scott-Lee is looking back on her hugely successful career - Steps have sold millions of records since their debut single 5,6,7,8in 1997 - for a reason.
Next month, she will open the Dubai Performing Arts Academy in the city with her husband Johnny Shentall-Lee, who has spent the past 25 years as a dancer for stars including Robbie Williams and Diana Ross, and taking principal roles in London's West End.
Their intention is to teach children ages 4 to 18 the key skills of singing, dancing and acting and pass on their invaluable experience.
Of course, there's no shortage in the UAE of stars putting their names to exciting new initiatives - and then quickly taking a back seat. But the couple have lived in Dubai for three years and say that they understand the landscape.
"This is our baby, our project, and we're going to be very hands-on," says Scott-Lee. "The UAE has developed amazingly and the education system is fantastic in many areas, but because we have young children ourselves, we immediately noticed that the performing arts are overlooked a bit.
"We both went to stage school, we were both lucky enough to have first-class training in the UK, so now for me it's about giving something back. This is our home now."
To that end, when students finish a year at the academy they will put on a show that will display all the skills they've learnt - and also feature Scott-Lee and Shentall-Lee. The Tragedy dance routine could easily get another airing.
"I still love doing Steps stuff, it's been such a huge part of our lives," Scott-Lee says, although the band are currently on hiatus. "I've been lucky because I've had such a great career and I still enjoy touring.
"But the first piece of advice I will always give to our students is that they should be themselves, and enjoy whatever they're asked to do here. We'll have very high standards, but it's important that everybody has fun."
Which is a valid point. Performing-arts academies in the United States and the United Kingdom do have a slight reputation for hothousing precocious young brats with dreams of superstardom, so how does Scott-Lee see DPA progressing?
"Success for me will simply be seeing smiles on faces," she says. "We will have students who want to take what they learn from us and be on stage, make a career out of performance. And that's fine - we can pass on our knowledge and experience about touring, singing or performing in the West End.
"But there will also be children who just want to improve their confidence, and for me they are just as important. And there's also the health aspect - this is a partnership with Fitness First and we're very aware from our own children that it's great to get them fit and active and away from computer screens."
Scott-Lee says they have already had interest in expanding the brand to Abu Dhabi.
"We're in a great place here in the UAE," she says. "We can enjoy the cultures of many different nationalities and that can only help give the students a real mix of styles and influences. More than anything, we hope we can build a multicultural community of people who love the performing arts."
. Dubai Performing Arts Academy launches on Saturday at Fitness First Lakes Community Club, Dubai. For more information, visit www.dubaiperformingarts.com
artslife@thenational.ae