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DMU’s first ever female Vice-Chancellor says that the younger years she spent training to be a professional ballet dancer really “toughened her up” for the important role she now occupies.

Katie Normington, took on the position of Vice-Chancellor last year – the first time a woman has occupied the role in De-Montfort University’s 30 year history.

She was also the first woman in her family to go to university, she told the Leicester Times – graduating from Exeter University in her early 20’s with a degree in Drama and English.

“My grandmother left school at 14 and my mother at 16. It was just never ever expected,” said Katie, who worked previously as the Deputy Principal Academic at Royal Holloway, University of London.

“I grew up in the small northern town of Darlington and certainly knew that I wanted to get out,” she continued.

“I was really keen on being a ballet dancer, and so actually I did leave when I was 18 to go to London to take up a place at a professional ballet school to do that training.

“I took the practice very seriously from the age of 13 onwards.”

However, Katie says her experience of going to ballet school, and the harsh criticism she received there, really toughened her up for her future career in higher education and senior management.

“After the first year, the ballet school just said look, you’re never going to be better than second right from the back row for the whole of your career so we do think it’s best that you move on,” she said.

“It was heartbreaking at the time-  a huge disappointment, but also I think ballet school really toughened me up because I would sort of describe it as a bit like doing national service,” she added.

“I basically went into that dance studio day after day, and they would just tell you that you weren’t good enough. It was sort of soul destroying.

“They literally tried to break you, but I think that kind of gave me a sense of toughness that I’ve needed to get on in my career, and not let set backs get to me too much.”

After spending just half an hour with Katie, it is certainly clear that she is a woman of conviction – with a strong passion and belief in the “transformative power of higher education.”

She sees one of her main responsibilities in the role of VC, as being to “empower the university’s staff, students and partners”, whilst also making sure that it’s a place which is thriving with diversity, possibilities and excitement.  

“I see it very much as my job to open up possibilities and opportunities,” she said.

“At DMU I like to think we have a very special community – a thing which I call ‘DMU-ness’. It’s a spirit – a verve.

“I know lots of other universities quite well, and there’s no where quite like it,” she added.

“You come onto campus, and there’s a real sense that things can be made to happen, and that’s something that’s really magical and really special.”

By Louise Steel