Anica Louw & Philip Dawson - the story so far....

Anica, a born and raised South African, studied dance from age 3 and got a BA in Dramatic Arts from the University of Pretoria, then a H. Dip in Afrikaans from the University of Stellenbosch. She taught at various South African secondary schools which she found somewhat frustrating, though worth it for the opportunity to help young people develop their creativity through music, dance and drama.

Aged 23, she felt a desire to see the world and set out travelling through Peru, Brazil and Argentina. Suddenly things made sense. She spent a further year journeying though every state in the US except Hawaii and Alaska

Needing a break, she decided to track down the dashing young Irish farmer she had met in the Karoo, one of Africa's remotest deserts, the year before. He had a farm called Shawbrook, she remembered, in the midlands of Ireland and she thought she might get a job there for a few weeks before heading off travelling again. The farmer became her husband. His name is Philip Dawson. They have one son, Kristo who runs Shawbrook Wood,

For Anica settling in Ireland meant ending her plans for a life in the country she adored, South Africa, (though its political situation broke her heart) and abandoning her dream of becoming a great expeditionary leader. What she did instead can be seen from these pages.Teaching ballet started as a way of improving the posture and confidence of local girls. She had noticed a distinct lack of both traits in competitors at the annual Rose of Tralee festival in the late 70's. Her mother-in-law, Sylvia Dawson, a noted Socialist and social campaigner in Longford, impressed upon her the need to give something back to one’s community.

She registered with the Royal Academy of Dance and began entering her students for exams. Bit by bit, Shawbrook dairy farm began to metamorphosize into a professional dance school. Philip converted barns and outhouses into studio first, then a theatre and then accommodation for summer school students in 1984. Eventually the dance school took over the entire dairy farm, and in the year 2000 the last cows were sold (3 days before the worse outbreak of foot & mouth disease struck Ireland). 150,000 broad-leaf trees were planted and what had been the Dawson dairy farm for generations become a forest and dance school. 

2016 onwards....After more than 30 years, Anica closed the the Shawbrook School of Dance in 2016. She continues to coach students for exams, competitions and auditions by private arrangement. Under the annual programme, funded by the Arts Council, the Shawbrook Residential Summer School continues and Shawbrook's artists in residency programme is growing in popularity Nationally and across the international dance scene. 

Read more about our achievements, LD Youth Company and Shawbrook Festivals below.

Little things we're proud of...

  • Created state-of-the-art dance facilities and accommodation in a haven of natural, forested beauty. 

  • Produced the annual Irish National Dance Awards for a decade - the most prestigious youth dance awards in Ireland.

  • Our students have gone on to Central School of Ballet, Laban, London Contemporary Dance, Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Northern Ballet, Arnhem ( Netherlands),Rotterdam, Fontys Dance Academy, Tilburg,  Frankfurt Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst .

  • Established and managed the Longford Dance Festival since 2004 - 2016

  • Facilitated many of Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre's Olivier & Bessie award-winning productions to be developed and rehearsed at Shawbrook.

  • Introduced Marguerite Donlon to dance, one of our first students who now runs the renowned  Donlon Dance contemporary dance company.

  • Pioneered outdoor dance in Ireland, with performances by our students and international companies in the surrounding forest, boglands, archaeological areas and ecclesiastical sites.


Shawbrook Youth Dance Company was set up in 2002 by Artistic Director Anica Louw, with the support from The Arts Council of Ireland. Her vision was to create a professional working environment for young dancers and give them experience in performance, choreography and dance technique across a wide range of genres. Over the years she has invited choreographers and practitioners from Ireland and abroad to work with the company including Liz Roche, Chantal McCormick (Fidget Feet), Catherine Young and Ella Clarke among others. They have made numerous trips, and have attended "Move it" in London for 3 years, saw performances at The Royal Opera House, Peacock Theatre, and Sadlers Wells Theatre. In 2015, as the company grew and expanded, incorporating 3 strands: Shawbrook Youth Dance Touring (SYDT), the elite, senior company; the Shawbrook Youth Dance, for children over 13 years of age, and the Junior Shawbrook Company, for dancers aged 12 and under. SYD have performed in theatres, street-theatre, Glastonbury Festival, Burning Man, Nevada and Electric Picnic, International Youth Arts Festival, Prague, and site-specific work including the Forest Safari at Shawbrook which attracted audiences of up to 300 people in May 2016. In 2017, the company expanded to collaborate with young creatives from across the creative arts, including music, film, spoken-word, theatre, visual arts and dance. 

SYD Company Highlights

2017 - HOME, takes you on a journey into a very divided world.... On one side a fragile, lonely, existence. Detached. An endless road to nowhere. On the other... Shelter, warmth, comfort, watching TV from the your sofa enveloped by plumped up cushions....
A physical theatre piece incorporating movement, dance, singing, live-music, and design HOME is a new, devised work created by a cast of twenty one, together with SYC Director Anica Louw. The performers age in range from 10 to 18 years old and have collaborated across all art-forms over eight weeks for this project. Shawbrook Youth Company is led by Anica Louw. For the HOME project she was assisted by Maryann Lynch, Libby Kyle and Kate Breslin. Design and set-build is by Berlin based artist / designer Kelly Elizabeth Tivnan and Clodagh McCann on sound. Project coordinator Michelle Cahill.  

2016 Forest Safari, part of the Shawbrook Forest Festival in May. SYD worked with dancer in residence Anamari (Viivi) Keskinen and her company of professional dancers on an original site-specific work in the forest. Shawbrook Youth Dance Company devised and performed in both Sunrise & Sunset Safari - an outdoor performance trail through the forest. 

2015 SYDT travelled to Austria to perform, compete, and partake in masterclasses and workshops as part of the Austrian Dance Cup. This tour is part of European Dance Tours.

2014 SYDT went to Birmingham, and Leeds Summer schools and performed in Monica Loughman's Nutcracker. SYD performed for the opening of the GeoPark, Cavan, Hallow'een Festival, Nenagh Co. Tipperary, BrookDance '14. 

2013 SYDT represent Ireland at the International Youth Arts Festival Pargue

2012 SYDT represent Ireland at the International Youth Arts Festival in Aberdeen


"Shawbrook Forest Dance Centre is one of the most idyllic, poetic and serene places that you could ever be in. It is unspoiled and its intimacy and charm is amplified by its own transformation...." Zoe Farrell, Music Blogger @musicwand

2016 - The Shawbrook Festival 2016 celebrated music and dance over two weekends in May. Musical line-up for the BARN DANCE BEECH PARTY included Prison Love, St. Simeon & The Stylites and Bianca Fachel.  The FOREST SAFARI saw audiences being led through the forest trails at sunset, and sunrise, to the outdoor forest stage to witness a stunning and hauntingly captivating performance byShawbrook Festival Dancer-in-residence Anamari (Viivi) Keskinen & co with members of the Shawbrook Youth Company, accompanied by Vetra Trinkunaite.

Past performers at the Festival include,

Roger O'Shea & Bianca Fachel, Liam O'Maonlaí, Gemma Hayes, Prison Love. No Strings Puppet Theatre, Armelle Devignon and Company LLE, Donlon Dance(Germany), Irish Modern DanceCatapultFidget FeetCathy Sharp, Ensemble (Switzerland), Christopher Morgan, (New York), Cianlucca Pezzimo (Italy), Kristina Sorenson (Faroe islands), CoisCeim (Ireland)