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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Sarah Ward

Ballet teacher accused of abuse touched pupils to make dance safe, court told

PA Archive

A ballet teacher accused of sex offences insisted he was focused on safety when he touched pupils without permission, a court has heard.

Jonathan Barton, 41, denies allegations from nine complainants, spanning 2004 until 2019, at a ballet school in Argyll.

Two women claim he had sexual relations with them while they were his students, amounting to an abuse of trust, while seven others allege he touched them inappropriately.

One of the alleged victims was 15 when the abuse is said to have begun, with the others aged between 16 and 18.

During the trial at Dumbarton Sheriff Court on Wednesday, defence agent Gary McAteer asked if “inappropriate” or “unnecessary” corrections ever occurred, and Barton said “absolutely not”, and “never, no”.

He insisted it was “normal” for touching to take place without consent, and it was “not possible” for his head to be close to a girl’s crotch during a plie.

Barton told the court that physical corrections were necessary for dancing to be “safe”, and his job was “to highlight danger points for them”.

One of the complainants said in evidence she felt “very uncomfortable during lessons”, and claimed Barton “stood for about 10 or 15 seconds with his head close to my crotch”, and she felt verbal corrections would have been sufficient.

Barton said: “I remember one time correcting her plie, it needed correcting.

“I can assure you it’s not as simple as that, if you didn’t have the opportunity to feel the correction, you will not understand the full physicality of what you need to do.”

Giving evidence, Barton agreed he did touch a pupil’s jawline, which was part of a complaint, but said it was to improve her posture.

He denied “brushing” a pupil’s legs, and said he would have used a “firm touch” to emphasis the strength required.

That's how the school operated. That's how every ballet environment I have been in since I was 10 years old operated
— Jonathan Barton, on making corrections without prior consent

Barton said: “I don’t brush people’s legs though, that’s not the sensation I want someone to feel through their legs. I want a strong feeling in the legs.”

He claimed a sexual relationship with a student began in November 2008, rather than November 2006 as the woman alleged, before it “petered out”.

The jury was shown a message sent by the complainant, in which she discussed putting forward a child to “audition” at the school, in 2017.

The Facebook message read: “Also if she did come up would she be able to audition at the same time?,” while another message from the same complainant read: “I found my tutu by the way. Good luck with the rest of the tour, I wish I could have watched it.”

A thank-you card from another complainant who alleged Barton touched her inappropriately was also shown to the jury.

The card read: “Thank-you so much for all your help over the past two years. I doubt I would be where I am now if it wasn’t for all your help. I will miss having you as a teacher lots.”

A video was shown to the jury of a pas de deux class from 2009-10, where male and female dancers worked closely together.

Barton said part of his job was to “highlight danger points for them”.

When asked if corrections occurred without prior consent, Barton said: “Yes, that’s how the school operated. That’s how every ballet environment I have been in since I was 10 years old operated.”

A video was shown to the jury where a male dance teacher touched the buttocks of a male ballerina to correct a position.

When asked if the teacher did anything “improper”, Barton said it was “fairly normal in the dance world”.

Another video was shown where a male teacher touched a female pupil on the inner thigh without consent.

When asked if there was anything wrong with what the teacher did, Barton said: “No, this was an everyday correction” which did not get a reaction.

Another video from 2008-09 showed a female teacher touch a girl in a way Barton described as “run a hand up the back of her thigh towards her glutes”, before then touching the inner thigh.

Barton said it was “the same principle” as a correction which prompted an allegation of sexual assault against him.

Several videos were shown of ballet classes at the school, which showed corrections by other teachers.

In one, a female teacher “slaps” the backs of a pupil’s legs without consent, and another showed a male teacher running his hand down the leg of a female dancer.

Pupils were touched on their abdominal muscles, the inner thigh and the waist, and were also “stroked”.

Mr McAteer asked if there was anything wrong with any of the footage, and Barton said: “No, perfectly normal.”

Barton said: “This is a normal dance class. No reaction. There was a lot of touching. He’s trying to get the dancer to feel the physicality of the movement. He stretched them up much higher than she wanted to go. He’s just trying to help her feel the correct sensations.”

Barton said the plie had to be done safely to reduce the risk of injury, and even “the most advanced dancers we have in the school still need corrections”.

He added: “If you can’t engage the right muscles for plie, you will easily twist your knee or ankle.”

The trial, before Sheriff William Gallacher, continues.

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