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,

36 years later, she is still there. 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 began converting barns and outhouses for her into a 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.