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19 June 2020
Author: The Place

“In ballet and in jazz there is a RIGHT way to do a move, but in contemporary I feel like there is YOUR way to do it.” - A conversation with our Youth Focus Group

For many of our young people, dance has a very special place in their life: a chance to express themselves, let their emotions run free, take pride in their achievements and form close bonds. To celebrate that passion - and the 50th anniversary of The Place – we talked to Bram, Maya, Gabriella, Afrozina, Sean, Ella, Louella and Sam, all members of The Place’s Youth Focus Group, about what dance means to them, discussing pressure, body image, TikTok dancers, how social media is influencing young people and what it is they find exciting about being on stage.

 

Sean: When I am performing, I think the people in the audience have come to watch other people express themselves and there’s just something about that -  it really makes you feel proud that you can do that.

Maya: When I’m on stage, obviously I want to do my best and I want to show people what I’ve learned, but I don’t necessarily consider it as a show for an audience but more as me expressing to people how much I love it.

Ella: I think people coming together to show what they have been working on is really nice.

Gabriella: You are all doing something together and you are working with people you might not usually work with, so you are finding all these different possibilities.

Sean: Often when I’m watching a dance show I feel like I want to also be a part of it, especially with unison sequences, it’s just a sort of energy you want to be around. How could we get more people excited about dance?

Maya: At the moment, there’s quite a popular app called TikTok, pretty much every person under the age of 18 has it, and I think that would really bring in a younger generation. It has really exploded and there are so many fun dances to learn on it and it would be really great to take part as a big group as The Place.

Luella: I think there is a big difference between doing a contemporary class somewhere such as The Place or just filming yourself for 15 seconds moving your upper body. There are so many TikTok dancers just copying someone else and making it look trendy.

Afrozina: I think we could really raise the level for dance on TikTok. I feel like people online don’t appreciate how difficult dance actually is, especially ballet. There is that show on TV ‘The Greatest Dancer’, and last year there was a phenomenal ballet dancer who was doing spins in the air and jumps and he didn’t get voted through because the audience just wanted entertainment. People need to appreciate ballet more! You go and try doing three pirouettes!

Maya: How could we do that? Pirouette classes?

Luella: I would love that. We should get a group of non-dancers and take them to a ballet class.

Ella: I don’t know how feasible it is, but in my friend group I am the only dancer and I really enjoy teaching them how to stand like a dancer or do pirouettes and one time they said, wouldn’t it be cool if loads of people who have never danced before could go to a class, but all together, because otherwise it’s really nerve wrecking to be a complete beginner with no rhythm or shape. It could be really fun if there was a big event for people who’ve never danced before.

Maya: I would imagine it could be quite intimidating for a non-dancer. Even when you do dance but you are not that confident in your technique yet, it is intimidating. When I first joined CAT some of the other dancers who are only one level above me are so amazing and they’ve only started a year ago. I don’t think I’m going to be like that in just one year. But the teachers and the CAT staff here are so nice and really boost your confidence, I feel like we are one big family.

Sean: Going back to offering classes to people who haven’t danced before, I think it would also help people to appreciate dance more. One you are given some guidelines and you have experienced the movement for yourself in your own body it’s easier to understand how challenging it is and how much effort is put into every detail. I find that I really enjoy dance more because I dance.

Gabriella: I think that dance is easier said than done. People probably think it’s quite easy, you are just moving your body so you’re not doing anything challenging…

Luella: One thing that jars me is people watch a lot of dance now on social media and on TV shows, including people who don’t dance, and they learn to look out for tricks - spinning, jumping, splits - when actually the harder thing about dance, in my opinion, is the technique and no one knows anything about that.

Afrozina: One of the things I’ve had to accept is there is always going to be a seven year old who is a better dancer than you, who can do more turns than you.

Gabriella: But everyone is probably thinking that. Every time you wish you were better than someone, they’re probably wishing they were better than someone as well. You can’t always be the top of the chain at everything.

Maya: There’s always someone skinnier and prettier…

Luella: I think it’s a way of thinking: rather than looking around to see who is better than me, I think you should ask yourself what can I learn from that person? How can we work together so everyone can improve? It’s about learning from other people rather than comparing yourself.

Bram: I’m not a very technical dancer, but what I really love about dance is not kicking my leg to my forehead but that I can use my body and music and the way I move to tell a story and communicate with someone. That’s what I love to see as well on someone else when I watch dance. It’s not about a great high jump but that I can understand the story or the emotion that is coming through.

Ella: It doesn’t even have to be a story, sometimes it’s just nice to see people move together.

Gabriella: You don’t always know if a dance is about anything specific but when I watch something I always wonder what stories you can make out of what they’re doing.

Luella: When you go to see theatre for example, everyone in the audience gets told the same story, but the thing with dance is every audience member can come out with a different interpretation of what the story was or if there even was a story.

Maya: In contemporary there are no rules, nobody decided that a pointed foot or a brilliant turn out is the right way to dance.

Luella: That’s what I really like about contemporary. I feel like it is way more open minded. You really can’t put a definition on it, it’s so broad, and it’s constantly being changed.

Sean: In ballet and in jazz there is a right way to do a move, but in contemporary I feel like there is YOUR way to do it.

Luella: There is a really nice quote: “If you can walk you can dance, if you can talk you can sing”, and I just love that! It just really embraces the idea that you can do anything and it can be called dance and people can appreciate it.

Afrozina: Another aspect of ballet that I personally really had an issue with is when you’re 15 or 16 and you have to deal with suddenly not being skinny. I did ballet since I was 2 when I was a tiny child, and then suddenly when you grow up and you are not a certain size or build or you get boobs you suddenly don’t belong in ballet anymore. Contemporary is so much more chill for me. You don’t have to look a certain way. I don’t dislike ballet but my love for it has decreased because of how square it is.

Maya: I think girls – boys too, but girls especially - often struggle with a lot of self-image when they come to dance. Even at a young age, they have to put on a leotard or wear a tight costume, and they worry what other people are going to think. Who doesn’t?

Luella: I was talking to an old teacher and I questioned why do we still have to wear leotards and tights. I don’t think it is necessary to wear such tight fitting clothing if some girls say that it makes them uncomfortable. And she just said, no, that’s the way it has always been, and you have to have your hair up really tight. I kind of just hate that. Since then I have found ballet classes where uniform is less important and it makes a huge difference, not to be stared at with everything kind of laid bare.

Ella: I feel like in contemporary it’s just less rigid and repetitive, new things are always being created, you can go anywhere with it.

Gabriella: I like both. There’s two sides to it, sometimes you can be free and other times you can be more strict. Part of that repetitiveness is training to become stronger and that’s really important for people to know, that there is that element of hard work to dance, repeating things so that you get better.

People often say that you need ballet for contemporary, but I think you also need contemporary for ballet.

Sam: I think what is really great is that we all dance here at the Place, some of us in the same class, but we are all very different, and that’s something to be celebrated. People get accepted for who they are and how they move and nobody is expected to be like everybody else. It’s ok to be yourself and you can do your ballet or you can do your contemporary but it’s about how you move as an individual that important.

Do you think you will all be dancing for the rest of your life?

Maya: Maybe not professionally, but as a hobby, yes I think so, probably.

Afrozina: When I go on holidays and I go off dance, I notice a huge decline in my mental wellbeing. I get so upset and so anxious and then I come back to dance and I realise that I need physical activity, whatever it is, on a weekly basis, and as soon as I lose that I go insane.

Gabriella: For some people relaxing is how they stay calm, but for me, if I didn’t have exercise for a whole month, which is what some people do, I would go crazy. I have to move!

Maya: I like to come home, if I’ve had a bad day, and blast music and not even dance properly, just move. It really helps, it’s like a stress relief.

Luella: There are kids in my school who just go home and sit on their phones all evening, without any activity at all. It blows my mind! How can you just do that?

Maya: Does anyone think that dance is a sport?

Afrozina: There is something more subjective about it. It varies so much, I could never consider it a yes/no, right/wrong sport. I think it is as difficult as some sports, but it’s too artistic.

Sam: Sport is very much based on the idea of winning and losing. You don’t really win at dance. It’s more of a collective experience.

Afrozina: The reason I would compare it to sport is I know people who train professionally in another form of physical activity and they talk about it with as much passion as we talk about dance. I have a swimmer friend who is training for the Olympics and you’d think it is only a physical thing but for her, it fulfils her and makes her relaxed, apart from all the technique she needs to learn, so that to me feels like a very similar thing.

Gabriella: For me dance is just something that I grew up with. Just thinking what my life would be like if I didn’t have dance… it would be so boring. You make so many friends when you’re here. I wouldn’t have met loads of my friends if I didn’t do dance.

Sean: Some evenings I do nothing for the whole evening and at the time it feels alright but then always I look back on I and think that was just a waste.

Maya: You’re never gonna get that time back! Yesterday, I just sat on my phone for the whole evening and I really regret it. What did I just do with my life?

Afrozina: It makes you feel so bad! Just a waste of a day. I like keeping myself really busy. I think dance has actually made me a more productive person.

Gabriella: I think if you only dedicate your life to one thing, you’re wasting something else. I love dance so much, but if I only loved dance my life would be very boring. In my free time I like to read or draw, you have to have a lot of hobbies, it makes life more interesting and fun.

Bram: Art in general is an amazing thing: Although it gets split up into art and music and drama and dance, there is such a sense of community and everything works together. Dance wouldn’t be the same without the art of musical expression or the acting and self-expression that comes in when you are not moving your body and it’s just your face. When you create dance, where does it come from? What inspires you?

Afrozina: I think it depends on the day. Like Bram was saying, with any form of art, your emotion plays a huge part. For me it’s always primarily my feelings - which is nice because not  many things in life allow you to use your feelings.

 

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