Ballet teacher made anti-Jewish remarks, court told

A former ballet school student told a court of her shock when her teacher allegedly made anti-Jewish remarks to a class of students.

Oban Sheriff Court: Jonathan Barton denies acting in a racially aggravated manner. Picture: Jane Barlow
Oban Sheriff Court: Jonathan Barton denies acting in a racially aggravated manner. Picture: Jane Barlow

Award-winning ballet dancer Jonathan Barton is vice-principal of Ballet West School, in Taynuilt, near Oban, which boasts Billy Connolly as a patron.

Barton, 31, of Ichrachan House, Taynuilt, has pleaded not guilty to acting in a racially aggravated manner, causing distress and alarm to dancer Genevieve Huss, by making a racial remark.

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Miss Huss, 20, who now teaches ballet in London, told the first day of a trial at Oban Sheriff Court yesterday: “The remark was, ‘You all look like a bunch of Jews waiting to be shot in the rain’. It was late at night and everyone looked quite tired – and the comment just came out.”

She was the only Jewish student in the class of ten to 14 pupils when Barton allegedly made the comment in the dance studio at Ballet West.

Miss Huss, who was 17 at the time of the incident, on 1 December, 2010, said the accused had then asked: “Is anyone in this class Jewish?” She said she raised her hand, and added: “I felt anxious. I felt like I was being singled out. It just made me fear for my safety at being there.”

Initially, she said she had felt “shocked – shocked in a very bad way” and later that evening felt depressed and anxious. Asked how she felt now, she said: “I am offended. Knowing that my family in the war were killed, people that were related to me.”

Procurator-fiscal Eoin McGinty asked: “In the Holocaust?” “Yes” replied Miss Huss, adding: “My grandmother lost the majority of her family.”

Miss Huss told the fiscal that the 14 months she studied at Ballet West had not been happy.

Defence agent Gary McAteer put it to her that there had been regular complaints from her family about a variety of issues.

One complaint concerned her being cast as a peasant in the company’s production of Swan Lake when she wanted to be a swan – she was told she lacked arm technique. Another time she could not get to sleep in the Ballet West school accommodation due to a roommate snoring.

Mr McAteer asked why a complaint about Barton’s comments had not been made earlier. Miss Huss told Mr McAteer: “I will never ever forget that comment, it will stay with me forever.”

But she accepted she used different wording, in different police and court statements, about what Barton had said to the class on the night of the incident.

Mr McAteer said she had omitted to say that her teacher had said “you all look miserable” and had said “sorry” when he discovered she was Jewish.

He asked if she had told her father, at the time of the incident, that Jonathan Barton’s remarks were “innocently made”, that she felt Mr Barton “genuinely liked her” and that she appreciated his teaching. She replied: “Yes”. The trial continues today.