The Monthly interviews dancer and dance facilitator, Sean O’Neill – Working with DU Dance and attending the Gary Clarke workshops

How do you get involved with dance?

I was involved in local theatre, Craic Theatre, based in Coalisland, in Tyrone. I would go to the Summer Schemes when I was 12 or 13. I did my first show which was a pantomime around that time and I realised, very quickly, that I had very good rhythm. That was an important development for me. Sheena Kelly, from DU Dance, had seen a few of us dancing in the pantomime and I think she thought that it would be good to introduce us to contemporary dance. Sheena kicked my love of dance into motion because she had a group in Dungannon called Sutemos, which was a youth engagement programme under the auspices of DU Dance and I was part of that programme for many years.

Now, coming from a rural community, dance and theatre were not things which were considered a serious career option. That meant I was steered in the direction of science which I studied at university. I worked in a lab for 5 years but I was doing dance in my spare time. I was part of different youth programmes for DU Dance, and then I was offered a massive opportunity during Lockdown, and I packed up the science life and I have been dancing for two years straight now.

Craic Theatre

Did you get support at home or at school?

As I was saying, coming from a rural area there really weren’t any people who were doing anything with dance. You might hear of people in Belfast doing things, going away to places, and you would hear about people from Derry and Dublin doing things, but not here in Tyrone. So there really wasn’t anything for anyone to point towards. It wasn’t that you weren’t given support, it really wasn’t possible for anyone in your family or at school to look at something and see what the possibilities were. Despite that, I was still dancing every weekend,. I was taking part in theatre and anything that DU Dance was doing and that kept me motivated.

You have said you have been part of DU Dance projects for some time. How did that develop?

DU Dance are very pro active. They always let you know about things which were coming up, whether that was dance projects or workshops. As an example of what DU Dance does, I would say that often as a dance facilitator, you are working by yourself, going out to facilitate groups, going to where people are and teaching people. You can feel quite isolated.  DU dance thought that we, the staff and the freelancers, should all get together. So they got everyone together at Christmas and told us that they were going to organise intensive workshops for us with professional dancers.They asked us if there was anyone we would like two work with. The company we were interested in working with was the Gary Clarke Company because we had seen their production, “Coal”.

Another example of the way DU Dance work is that I was part of the Belfast Boys Project and now I am the lead facilitator of that project.They are always looking for possibilities to allow people to develop.

And you were part of the workshops with the Gary Clarke Company?

Yes and they were amazing, very life affirming. I learnt a lot from those workshops. To start with, I learned to be very confident within my own practice. Gary was very insistent that we had to make sure that we realised we were inspiring others, we were keeping things fun and enjoyable but that we were getting people to do things with their bodies that they probably haven’t done before. The key message beyond that is that you have to be aware that you are teaching people, developing their skills, and in many ways opening up the possibility of them changing their lives. It was really important to hear someone say that.

Was there any technical information which was passed on?

They showed how they taught a professional class and how they taught a community class and a lot of discussion centred round the vocabulary you use. How to give people meaning to each movement. I thought that was very important. It was also vital to impress upon people using specific language which allowed participants to learn, to connect and engage.

Gary Clarke

Was there anything else which emerged from the workshops?

We made a lot of connections with other dancers, and we were able to start establishing networks of dancers from all over Northern Ireland. It was also a very joyous experience, I can certainly say that was how I felt. And to top it off we also got to see a brilliant performance after the workshops were completed.

Where to now?

I am just maintaining my work schedule, giving classes locally and in Belfast and perhaps some time in the future I would like to look at producing my own work. I think that will be a little while away although I do have some ideas regarding interactions between people in the mid-Ulster community.

For more information regarding DU Dance see the following link –

artist forms link
New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.