How do you connect with dance as an art form?
I was very sporty and I liked things which had an athletic element to them. (I really enjoyed sports and anything which had a physical element to it growing up) I started going to theatre (My dad was involved in theatre a lot too and I enjoyed being around that world also) and then when I was in my first year of secondary school I was part of the Rock Challenge which was a schools event held at the Waterfront Hall. Schools would produce a theatre and dance piece and then come together to compete for a prize. I can still remember the fear, the absolute terror, I felt before I was about to go on stage and while I can’t remember anything about performing I know that once I finished I really wanted to do it again. That was when the physicality I used in sport and the storytelling aspect of theatre started to connect for me. It did take me a while to find out where I fitted in, I found it hard to get into classes and I tried lots of different styles but there always needed to be physicality and storytelling.
Did you get support at home or at school?
I was supported at home although school a little less so. I went to a grammar school and I was doing very well when I decided I wanted to leave to go to BIFHE (Belfast Metropolitan College) to study dance. That was when I was asked whether I was sure I wanted to do that. My parents were very supportive especially when they realised that I was very serious about doing dance, although they did say that if It didn’t work out then I should go back to school to complete my A levels and then I could think about other options.
How did you get involved with DU Dance?
I returned home after going to university in England, and at that time all the dance organisations were located in the same small office space in Donegall Street. I would do things for all the organisations when they needed me but eventually DU Dance were doing a show, The Wren, around 2009 or 10, at the Ulster Hall, with lots of primary school students, and I was asked to help out. But when I saw what they were doing I thought that I had to be part of it. It was wonderful and I had been to a lot of dance activities in England and elsewhere, but had never seen work quite like DU Dance’s before, and I thought the quality of the work was excellent.
I was then sent by DU Dance on a training programme to Vienna with Royston Muldoon. The show was called “Exile” and we brought that back to Belfast and I have been working with DU Dance ever since.
How did you become involved with the Gary Clarke Company?
Mags Byrne had been speaking to Gary for some time about seeing if they could work together in some way. When Mags went on a sabbatical, as the Community Engagement Artist I took over the discussion regarding a training project. I had a ZOOM discussion with Gary regarding working with our dancers and our young people and while I knew the project was going to take place, when they finally happened I was really impressed as they exceeded all my expectations.
Mags had said she was most impressed with how Gary’s company engaged with the local community, and how the community engagement work made a difference to the work that was being produced by the company. It wasn’t just an afterthought; it was an integral element to how Gary’s company produced their shows.
Gary comes from a coal mining community and the latest work has a connection to that community and it is very clear when you see the production that there has been involvement and engagement with local people.
What came out of the workshops?
The workshops catered for people who were focussed on community dance; that had to be part of their practice. The key things which emerged from the workshops were how considered Gary’s approach is with a local community and that is thought through at every stage, from how he words an introductory letter, to how local people are brought into the project, to how the follow up takes place after the project is finished.
That is really important because that follow up, maintaining that connection is very difficult given restrictions regarding funding, resources and your capacity which is often restricted. But that was something his company was very serious about.
Was there anything else?
They were very good at ensuring everyone was listened to and connected with. You certainly felt listened to and seen in these particular workshops. I think the workshops were very good at empowering each participant, as an individual dancer and dance facilitator.
Where to now?
We are really only at the start of the development programmes. We are hoping the connection with Gary Clarke will continue but we are also trying to build the network of the dance facilitators who were part of the programme.
We know that people working in dance can often feel quite isolated so we have been looking at ways of bringing people together. We had a Christmas meet up which was very successful, and we want to look at how we create a space for community dancers where they can connect, or where they can voice concerns or simply liaise with people doing similar activities.
For more information regarding DU Dance see the following link – www.dudanceni.com