Only a couple of months into our time at London Contemporary Dance School, little did we know, we were already experimenting with sculpting what sort of artists we may become. We looked on to the third years, an eclectic herd of individuals who were very clearly dispersing onto unique artistic pathways, and wondered how we, a collective of jostling balls of energy (a lot of whom had only just left home), would ever stumble upon such an assured sense of artistry. But, as I said, we were already and unknowingly steaming towards this. Faster than the last round of a Baptiste class, it was our turn on the third year podium, celebrating at our (rather unconventional) digital graduation the fiercely unique artists we had each become, and the inevitable impact we would have on the current dance world. The ability to place dancers on a track to distinctive artistic expression in only three years is no fluke. It is the carefully crafted aim of LCDS. It is the reason why the course is so malleable, fluctuating every year depending on the cultural landscape and specific requirements of a year group; and why we are encouraged to build our own timetable from numerous modules and exciting student-lead initiatives.
My personal experience exemplifies just this. I flew into my degree with the overactive intention to taste it all, to try my hand at whatever could be offered. Coincidentally, the most self-defining and long-lasting initiative I plunged into was my first - the Feminist Society.
Lead by the rallying force of Dulcie Fraser, FemSoc began my exploration into being an active feminist who could critically analyse the dance world and beyond. Being so politically inspired at such an early stage in my training rocked my world, and it was with this group that I assisted in holding fundraisers, meeting incredible artists like Amy Bell, having liberating weekly discussions and building an appreciation for art produced with an incentive to challenge the patriarchal system. I was feeding an important part of my own artistic DNA that defines me today. By third year, I was co-chairing the group with three fantastic friends. We were readily supported by The Place in running fascinating events like ‘Bleeding Faeries’ in March 2020 - a roundtable with 7 incredible performance artists exploring the feminist legacy within dance, plus we were co-editing a vocal feminist zine passed on to us by Amy Bell, ‘DIS’. It can be easy to overlook student-led initiatives, but this small collective within LCDS has given me and many others skills for life. From becoming experts at lengthy after-school debates, to learning how to edit a zine; from organising and executing a roundtable event, to taking the risk of highlighting important social issues, even when critique was turned upon the school itself - after all, once the student becomes the teacher, you know that something is going right. It was within the walls of The Place that I could immerse myself in FemSoc, acquiring a critical feminist energy that I now carry with me in my practice.
I was able to reap equally formative benefits from the modules I carefully selected for myself. My stand-out module was Interarts, the study of dance in relation to other forms of bodily practice. Not many institutions would offer you the chance to work with artists as incredible as Katye Coe and Frank Bock, and not many schools would encourage you to actively analyse the interdisciplinary stretches of your artform. But in this module, freedom of intellectual exploration and expression seemed to explode around the studio every day. We practiced the art of risk taking, of making something new with materials we had never used, with people we’d never worked with, using methodologies that were unfamiliar and having outcomes that were unique. Then finally, we were posed with the task of developing a final installation. At one time, this challenge would have seemed unfeasibly large, but supported by a term of exploration I felt prepared to capitalise on the artist who already sat within me after three years of LCDS. I proceeded to build my project ‘TIGHT’ (2020), a gigantic and dynamic sculpture of tights and wooden frames which would be built throughout the performance. Unbeknownst to me, this creation was being nurtured into being since I began the school; I used my feminist lens, my flair for design and my love for large-scale installations to produce a visual representation of me as an artist - a pink, fleshy and loud LCDS graduate, excited to take up space in the art world.
By the time I rolled into my final project, I was overflowing with inspiration and autonomy. I had learnt to find fascination in the collective of young artists I had acquired from my time of living in London. It was at this time that LCDS began to encourage us to ask what kind of world we wanted to graduate into, and we as students began to see that it was up to us to build this world. With this fueling my fire, my interest veered towards curation; how could I bring together artists I knew in spaces that would facilitate a sense of collaboration? I embarked on organising an event from scratch with the help of Leila McMillan. Out the other side of this mission popped ‘COME/CLICK TO SEE’ (March 2020), an evening of dance, art, poetry and music, housed in the lively yet cosy Muxima. Invaluably, I acquired the skills of building up a multidisciplinary event from scratch, writing a curatorial statement, reaching out to artists, working with the venue to best utilise the space and embarking on an extensive marketing campaign to publicise the event through various media platforms. Swallowed up by the excitement of curating what interests me about the future of art, it was easy to forget that this was a marked dissertation. Perhaps that is the true nature of this degree. There is so much to immerse yourself in, that it is easy to forget you are ‘in training’ for a degree. In reality, you are already a fully-fledged member of the vibrant London art scene, merely supported by a faculty of invested teachers that will give you a foot up when needed.
Of course, the excessive uptake of extra-curricular isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK! Sometimes the school can’t offer you everything you need, and it takes turning to the outside world and other interests to stimulate your growth as an individual. But heck, you’re in London - an endless (if not overwhelming) stream of inspiration beckons from every stretch of the city. Use the mindset offered to you at LCDS to take initiative and delve into whatever scene interests you - whether that be the exhilarating sociability that comes from working a hospitality job, taking commercial classes at Pineapple, building a network through nightlife or becoming the ultimate urban explorer. All inform your career and make you distinct.
Due to the vacuous hole that has appeared within this year, brought on by the tragic global pandemic, it can be easy for us to overlook our progress. To not remember or celebrate the achievements we have made in the past however many years, and to forget the immense difference between our naive beginnings, to our assured ends. I am a helpful, feminist, interdisciplinary and intelligent artist. And I am continually changing because of the absorbent quality I nurtured throughout my time at LCDS. I, like many, am in the terrifying limbo of an artworld on pause. I am uncertain about where I will go or what I will do, and have gladly taken up other jobs to get by. But if there’s any certainty I can hold onto in such unprecedented times, it is that I have the power to influence how the art world will develop. To cut out the old way, reassess, and welcome in the new, progressive and inclusive. What has developed in three years at LCDS is only the beginning of what I know will be incredible, colourful careers for my 51 fellow graduates and I.