A GROUP of young dancers destined for Disneyland in California have been left “heartbroken” after a £63,000 trip failed to go ahead and refunds were refused.

The team of 28 dancers from both the Sonya Marie Dance Academy in Darlington and the Macadam School of Dance in Aycliffe, along with their parents, were due to fly to Los Angeles on October 26 after two years of saving up.

Once there, the group were due to take part in workshops at Disneyland and a seven night stay at the Hyatt Place Glendale nearby.

But it was not until one parent, who had just given birth, telephoned the hotel to ask about a cot just weeks before their departure date, that they discovered nothing had been booked.

Diane Plews, who runs Macadam School of Dance, told The Northern Echo: “One parent rang the hotel over summer about a cot for the baby and they told her ‘there’s nothing booked’ under any of the names including the name of organiser – that’s how we found out.”

Since 2017, Ms Plews along with other parents from both dance schools, have been making regular payments totalling £63,000 into the bank accounts of performance agency Connect Your Talent.

The Northern Echo:

Ms Plews, who was due to go with her 16-year-old son, Evan, said: “It was booked this far in advance because people couldn’t afford to do it one go.

“One of the 16-year-old girls saved up and paid for it herself, every Christmas she’d ask for money to help pay it off – she spent £900.”

The performance agency, which claims it has “more than 25 years of experience training, representing talent” and offers trips to “nurture talent,” charged parents between £495 and £885 per person for the trip.

But after discovering their trip had not been booked, parents said Connect Your Talent claimed the organiser was ‘ill’ and the holiday would have to be moved to an alternative date, next year.

However, it was not until the parents made requests for refunds, that contact between Connect Your Talent ceased completely.

Ms Plews said: “We’re totally gutted.”

The Northern Echo: The group were due to take part in workshops Picture: GLEN SCARBOROUGHThe group were due to take part in workshops Picture: GLEN SCARBOROUGH

Describing her devastation, Sandra Stainsby from Darlington, said her daughter was due to celebrate her tenth birthday in the United States.

She said: “It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime for me and my 10-year-old daughter.

“We had a sight-seeing trip included, it should have been her first time going abroad, she’d never flown before.”

Making deposits worth £200 and twelve further monthly payments, Ms Stainsby paid a total of £1,380 to Connect Your Talent.

She said: “Emma had told all her friends she was going at school.

“We are absolutely devastated, gutted, it’s just heart-breaking for the children – I just don’t understand how people can do that to a bunch of children – when they found out they were just in tears.”

The case has since been passed onto Trading Standards, while the identities of the organisers have been reported to the police and Action Fraud.

Ms Plews said the group had since mobilised against the performance agency and had so far spent almost £3,000 seeking advice. She said: “It’s the principle of not letting them get away with it.”

Ms Stainsby said it was now a waiting game while the authorities tried to recover their lost funds, and added: “Hopefully we will get the money back.”

An Action Fraud spokesperson said: “It is currently being assessed by the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau."

  • Connect Your Talent could not be reached for comment