Born: January 17, 1957;

Died: August 28, 2022.

THE sad news of Norman Douglas’s death, at the age of 65, has seen dance communities across Scotland, the UK and Europe paying deeply-felt tributes that celebrate his versatile talent as a dance-maker as well as his kindness and generosity as a friend and mentor.

Born Norman Skivington Douglas, to parents Tommy and Nora, in 1957, his early years were mostly spent in Govan, Glasgow. Born there, schooled there – at a local primary and then at Govan High – young Norman was a nifty footballer who might have had a career on the field.

Dance was, however, his first love; his innate musicality, sense of style and engaging personality shining through whatever moves he put his mind, and agile limbs, to.

From winning disco-dancing contests, he subsequently ventured into contemporary dance with Steps Out at Washington Street Arts Centre in the 1980s. Even so, it was not until 1984 that he applied to the London Contemporary Dance School (LCDS) and committed himself to dancing professionally for the rest of his life.

Norman had already worked in a variety of jobs before then – at Roti printers, as a box-maker in Govan, and as a travelling rep for Salon Services hairdressers. Norman’s own dark hair was always enviably luxuriant.

He also had a memorable taste of life in the shipyards, as the Herald Diary revealed years later. While employed as an apprentice in the yard’s woodcutting section, it fell to the nimble Norman to “jump the wall” every Friday and, with the proceeds of the weekly whip-round, buy a bottle of whisky for his work-mates.

One week, nervous about being caught, he dropped the bottle. Its loss incurred the wrath of the woodcutting team who then insisted that, the following Friday, Norman paid for the bottle out of his meagre wages – leaving him skint for the rest of that week.

Norman’s anecdotes from that youthful past were always cheerfully and entertainingly told but what they actually revealed were the hoops and hurdles he grappled with before the urge – the visceral need – to dance took an unswerving hold of him.

In 1988, after graduating from LCDS, Norman plunged into the realms of professional dance-making with a passion that saw him working as a dancer, teacher, producer, educationalist, choreographer and rehearsal director wherever and whenever the opportunities arose.

He built up a remarkable, first-hand knowledge of dance-making within the UK, working alongside the likes of Robert North and Kim Brandstrup and directing rehearsals for Phoenix Dance Company, inbetween gaining creative insights into European companies and institutions, as interim Artistic Director of Leipzig Tanz Theatre and as a sought-after participant in several international choreographic projects.

In 1999, Norman’s own company, The Ensemble (later known as Norman Douglas & Dancers) performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in a Dance Base programme at the Grouse House.

The piece, a duet, was called Morir Por Ti (Spanish for “I Would Die For You”) and it was, as I said in my review, “a study of passion with a dark, destructive edge…Fierce, disquieting and brilliant”.

The following year saw the piece touring widely and Norman was awarded the inaugural Scottish Creative Arts Award 2000.

Times were, however, to become harder for small, independent dance companies and Norman’s talents were increasingly utilised abroad in Europe rather than in his homeland.

There were brief showings, usually during the Fringe but in 2009, his company was welcomed on stage at Glasgow’s Tramway. Back from working in Vienna, he proved as dapper, gregariously upbeat and valiantly resilient as ever.

When I interviewed him for The Herald’s arts pages he said, “I can’t complain about having to find opportunities in Europe. The reality check comes when I get up for an early-morning flight. And I’ll see these guys digging roads and they’d been at it, all weathers, since 6am.

“Because of my working-class background, I go, ‘Norman – get a grip on yourself. You could still be in the shipyards. Here you are, heading off to Hamburg or Vienna to do what you love, make a dance piece.’ That’s not just surviving. That’s living.”

His dance-making instincts defied the passing of time. In 2012 he was one of the 12 sharp-suited men on stage in Andy Howitt’s Deliberance, still moving freely with elan.

He went on to be an inspirational driving force in projects that encouraged adults with special needs, disability or the encroachments of old age to get up and dance.

His enthusiasm was infectious, his warmth and encouragement opening up new physical and mental energies for many.

In 2017, however, early-onset dementia saw Norman having to take up residence in Hector House, Glasgow, where he was cared for with love and understanding until his death.

Whatever else faded from his daily life, dance itself stayed with, and in, Norman to the last. See for yourself on Scottish Ballet’s website, where Norman’s Film shows him in graceful partnership with Hayley Earlam – a lasting reminder of a much-missed creative spirit who made dance a vital part of countless lives.

Norman is survived by his mother, Nora, brother Stephen, ex-wife Steffi and young son Joel Samuel.