Rhiannon Munson-Hobbs – Showgirl Stardom

Rhiannon Munson-HobbsAfter graduating from London Studio Centre’s Intoto Dance Company, Rhiannon toured the UK with various dance groups and appeared in numerous TV and corporate events. She recently finished her first season as resident showgirl and cancan dancer at La Nouvelle Eve in Paris, and has been booked to work with other companies in Paris so will continue to perform there over the winter season.

When did you begin dancing, where and why?

I started dance when I was six at an after school club where we learnt ballet and tap. To be honest, I only went because my best friends at the time went too. We eventually got put forward to do our exam, I loved getting shiny new satin shoes and having my hair done in a bun with a little ribbon. From then on, I was hooked.

How long have you been performing? Did you start young?

I performed in various events with my dance school whilst I was younger, but my first real experience was performing with The National Youth Ballet of Great Britain when I was 16. It was the first time I’d had to go through a real audition experience, and once the season started we had summer intensives at Elmhurst and Tring, which was a whole new world to me. We worked with brilliant choreographers such as Drew McOnie and Jo Meredith, and were lucky enough to dance at theatres such as Sadler’s Wells and the Birmingham Hippodrome. It sounds silly, but up until then I hadn’t really realised that dance could be a career, not just a hobby. The following year I successfully auditioned to be in One From The Heart’s production of Cinderella, and working with professional dancers and performers made me realise that I wanted to do this for a living.

Where did you train and what was a typical day like?

I trained at London Studio Centre where I studied all dance techniques; ballet, contemporary classes such as Limon, Graham and Cunningham, Matt Mattox jazz technique, hip hop, commercial, lyrical jazz, as well acting and singing. We also had lectures four times a week and at the end of my three years of vocational training I graduated with a BA (Hons) in Theatre Dance. A typical day started at 9am and finished around 5pm.

What is a typical day like now?

My day is now much more nocturnal! At La Nouvelle Eve [where I recently worked in Paris] we have two shows a night, six nights a week. We have to be in work to warm up and get ready by 6.30pm as the first show starts at 8pm, and the second is at 10pm. The show normally finishes around midnight, and once you’ve showered, prepped your costumes for the next day and taken your make up off it’s usually around 12.30am. To chill out after the show we’ll normally go for a drink somewhere local, or maybe go for a bite to eat. Getting to sleep in the early hours of the morning means that I don’t usually wake up until around midday the following day. Usually I meet up with friends, explore somewhere new in Paris, or go to one of our favourite cafes or shops – vintage shopping around Pigalle and Abesses is amazing, and there’s hundreds of little cafes or restaurants to check out.

Do you still take classes? How do you keep on top of your technique?

The show at La Nouvelle Eve keeps us very much in shape and it’s quite technical, but there are dance studios in Paris where you can go and train during the day as well – my favourite class to do at the moment is Yanis Marshall’s at Studio Harmonic, because it’s so so different to the style of dance we do in our cabaret show.

What’s the best part about performing in Paris?

The lifestyle is absolutely incredible in Paris, and I love that there are so many cabaret shows to discover and enjoy. There are so many things about my job that I love. Meeting and working with different people all the time is great. The fact that it allows me to travel is awesome too, I doubt I would have spent seven months living in Paris otherwise. Seeing progression and growth in kids you’ve taught over the years is also wonderful but nothing will beat the feeling of being on stage – when you’re waiting for the curtain to open, with your make up and costume on, your friends around you, with the lights on you, a packed audience waiting to see you dance. It’s an amazing feeling. I loved watching people’s reaction to the cancan at La Nouvelle Eve. I think a lot of people don’t know what to expect, seeing the shock and amazement on their faces reminds me just how lucky I am to be part of their Paris experience

What advice would you give to someone aspiring to be part of the dance industry?

Work hard and be a nice person. The dance world is so small that everyone knows everyone. If you’re the sort of person no one wants to share a dressing room with, after a while people just won’t work with you. Working hard goes without saying – you have to keep learning, keep improving, keep up your technique classes and also keep remembering why you decided to do this in the first place. There’s nothing more compelling to watch than someone on stage who is clearly enjoying themselves.

What’s next for you?

I want to stay in Paris for a while; I’ve completely fallen in love with cabaret, and with being a showgirl. I’ve booked a few more jobs out there to keep me busy over winter and I’ll be back working at La Nouvelle Eve and with another company next season.

Training In Fosse-Style Jazz

Bob FosseLike many other choreographers, such as George Balanchine and Martha Graham, Bob Fosse is one who created lots of spectacular work and an entire stylistic repertoire. His movements are slinky and sensual yet always have much emotional depth.

Fosse died over 25 years ago yet his style is still desired and emulated widely, especially throughout the US. The revival of Chicago the musical, choreographed by Fosse devotee Ann Reinking, is still running on Broadway and Pippin (with Fosse-inspired choreography by Chet Walker) is also back. Fosse’s work continues to inspire.

Fosse didn’t codify a technique to train dancers, yet his style serves as an essential base for students of all disciplines; Fosse’s smooth style and attention to detail are invaluable. Fosse is known to have called his dancers “actors”, emphasising that their primary job is to communicate a story as everything he did had an emotional, mental, political and ethical side to it. The dancers he trained are complete entertainers through their deep understanding of performance. Each step has intent behind it and you have to bring out every aspect of the character to convey it.

Fosse style encourages dancers to engage emotionally and also helps develop ensemble skills. In addition to dancers working together as a group, attention to detail is paramount. The intricate nature of Fosse’s choreography means so much can be conveyed through the subtlety of a single finger wag or a sideways glance. The style requires an incredible work ethic because much of the work is based on intricate isolations, so dancers develop a heightened body awareness and focus.

While the process of learning the work is intense, it is apparent there are two huge payoffs in auditions and onstage. You must be able to watch and replicate in a detailed and multi-layered way, and a diligent rehearsal process ensures confidence in performance.

Can Dance Ever Be An Academic Subject?

LectureWhile dance is a physically and mentally demanding subject, many people are still of the opinion that dance cannot be an academic subject and should not be included in a school’s curriculum. Dance as a school subject still faces negative perceptions despite numerous counter-arguments, and can be misunderstood as a ‘soft option’.

However, dance is just as rigorous, challenging and worthwhile as any other academic subject, holding great purpose amongst ‘arts education’ as a whole. There may not be as many students applying for dance as other subjects, but this does not lessen its worth, and the applicant number is actually rising.

Dance too requires academic thinking, with thinking required of both the brain and body. Dancers need to have good control of the body and its movements, in order to express ideas, emotions and create something artistically through the body’s physicality of muscles and joints.

The theory and history of dance also add stature to the subject of dance, in addition to studying dance criticism and dance science. These aspects must then be applied in both theoretic and physical terms. Unlike other subjects where you may not be required to show what you learn in practice or real life contexts, for dance you must know and understand the theory behind what you do on both the stage and in the studio.

Dancers are also creative, good problem solvers and quick, critical thinkers, which is useful day to day, and also as part of choreography. Dancers used methods such as risk, improvisation, flexibility and exploration to discover movement and fulfil what is required of them. Dance is full of new content and things to explore, not regurgitated every year as with other academic subjects. Students therefore make valuable contributions to the art form through what they create, actively engaging in the field.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

What Makes A Good Teacher?

Teachers are an integral part of a dancer’s development. Not only do they aim to build up the dancer’s talent and ability but they also act as a mentor and inspiration to the student.

Teaching any subject of dance requires the teacher to be resourceful and flexible in their approach in order to get the best out of their students, particularly for students with various standards and styles of learning.

Teachers in vocational schools play a specialised role in student development, taking time to develop the skills of their students by giving information and guidance to progress quickly, building on what earlier teachers have taught the students.

At vocational schools specialist teachers apply both experience and theory to teaching lessons where physical skills are used to train in the dance subject. Vocational teachers help to rectify bad physical habits and engage students intellectually.

Teaching in vocational institutions is the subject of much discussion with many training options available, be it a more academic course or a more practical course. Vocational school is available both as full-time and part-time schools. A full-time vocational school teaches core curriculum subjects and specialist subjects, such as acting, dance and drama full-time, whereas part-time vocational schools work alongside traditional schooling, teaching specialist subjects after school or at weekends. There can be academic and vocational grades awarded, depending on what each school offers. Many teachers share industry contacts and careers advice with their students in order to enhance their training.

It’s important that vocational schools ensure high standards of teaching, not only because vocational schools are expensive to attend but also to help children progress onto specialist further education schools: vocational schools are important for young people to learn the skills needed for entry into performing arts if they have not had prior experience.

Leroy Dias Dos Santos: A Flawless approach

Leroy Dias Dos SantosLeroy Dias Dos Santos is a passionate dancer, choreographer, model, singer and a social mentor who continues to strive for perfection. In 2007, he graduated from Middlesex University after studying Dance Studies.

As a freelance dancer, choreographer and teacher Leroy is a proud member of the street dance group Flawless, who were finalists on ITV’s ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ (2009). Flawless have had great success in the entertainment industry featuring in movies like ‘Street Dance 3D’ 1 and 2 by Vertigo films (2009), appearing on Eastenders -E20 BBC 1 (2010), being invited by HM The Queen for the ‘Youths In The Arts’ event at Buckingham Palace (2011) performing at The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with Kylie Minogue (2012) and also performing at the Paralympic Opening Ceremony (2012).

There have been many highlights in Leroy’s career through performing and touring but also meeting many prestigious people such as HM The Queen, Prince Charles and other members of The Royal family, and working with artists such as Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Leona Lewis, Sugababes and choreographers such as Jermaine Brown, Rafael Bonachela, Shobana Jesaysingh, Mavin Khoo and companies such as English National Ballet.

When did you begin dancing, where and why?

I started dancing from the age of 6 years old and as I grew older I started to train and practice Hip Hop with my cousins and friends in my free time. Dancing is a big part of my culture, in my family everyone would always dance and show off at birthday parties and weddings. I wanted to be the best dancer so I would always dance and practice my best moves.

I’d say Michael Jackson was one of my key inspirations throughout my childhood.

What were your early years of dancing like?

My early years of dancing were fun and exciting. In secondary school I would always compete in dance competitions with my friends and we would always win every year. I was taking street dance classes outside of school with my friends, which really helped me interact with other people and boost my confidence. Having friends who were into dance encouraged me to keep on dancing.

How long have you been performing? Did you start young?

I have been performing for about 14 years. I started performing at events, festivals, parties and bar mitzvah’s from the age of 15. I was committed to several community dance groups, which gave me opportunity platforms. Performing from a young age was a great experience, which helped enhance my skills and ability.

Where did you train and what was a typical day like?

After secondary school I took a BTEC National Diploma in Performing Arts, which was a 2-year course at Barnet College. In this course I was able to develop my singing, dancing and acting. This was also the first time I experienced Contemporary and Ballet training. A typical day at College was Ballet and Contemporary class in the morning, drama/singing and technical theatre in the afternoon. I would then go to D.I.C.E. after college, which was a community street dance group for Popping, Bboying and Hip Hop training. This was my schedule for most days.

What is a typical day like now?

A typical day for me now is very hectic and spontaneous. The majority of the time as a freelance dancer, choreographer and teacher I am always kept busy touring across the world. If I am not performing or touring with Flawless, I am either teaching workshops in schools or universities, choreographing shows and working on my own individual projects.

Everyday has a different story and is never the same.

Do you still take classes? How do you keep on top of your technique?

I still take class in my free time, as it’s important for me to keep on top of my game. I take general classes from Ballet to Hip Hop classes. I also go gymnastics too as I like tumble and practice different tricks. Being an all round dancer means I always have to keep on training and having balance in training all styles.

What’s the best part about performing?

The best part about performing is being able to engage with the audience and being in the moment.

What would you say was your greatest achievement to date?

My greatest achievement so far was being invited by HM The Queen to perform at Buckingham Palace (2011) and performing with Kylie Minogue at The Diamond Jubilee (2012), which was such an honour.

Which part of dance do you enjoy most?

The part of dance I enjoy most is definitely performing.

What advice would you give to someone aspiring to be part of the dance industry?

The best advice I would give is that you have to be very disciplined, hard working and consistent as a dancer/choreographer. Make sure you are always training, learning and exploring. It’s great to be ambitious, creative and confident in every path you take and make the most out of every given platform and opportunity.

What’s next for you?

I am currently on tour with Flawless featuring in a show called ‘Flash Mob’ which is being toured across the UK from June till August 2014. I am also working on my solo show called ‘The Battle Within’ which will be performed in theatres towards the end of 2014. I will be choreographing a few projects and creating video concepts throughout 2014. For more details check my website www.leroydias.com twitter.com/Fx_Flawless

Karen Pilkington-Miksa – New English Ballet Theatre

Karen Pilkington-MiksaKaren Pilkington-Miksa, choreographer and artist, is the Founding Director of The New English Ballet Theatre. She holds a degree in education and is an Associate of the Royal Academy of Dance (ARAD). She ran her own dance group and school, and has choreographed for ballet, opera and the BBC.

Tell us about your dance background.

I trained as a classical dancer and joined Seattle Ballet. I then came to London and ran my own studio and choreography group, of mainly classical ballet. I also had a second career as an artist and a sculptor!

After the years, I noticed a bottleneck in the industry – there was a huge backlog of talent and not enough opportunities for classical dancers, and so New English Ballet Theatre was born.

Explain the beginning of NEBT.

The company began as a summer festival of productions, looking to becoming a full time company of well trained dancers. We are neo-classical in genre and have a huge variety of styles and vocabulary in as wide a spectrum as possible.

Gaining charitable status took a long time, but the idea itself grew quickly in order to put the company together and offer performances.

During the last three years the company has employed over a hundred young artists including musicians, classical dancers, choreographers and designers, giving them lots of support at a high level. This company of emerging dancers was born from the huge talent pool out there and the lack of jobs available. It’s important to highlight that to audiences, as they don’t know how many good dancers don’t work because companies want a small number of dancers from hundreds of graduates each year.

Where is the company now?

We are solely dedicated to producing neo-classical work but as a cross-discipline company. In a way we are inspired by Diaghilev in commissioning a number of young artists, musicians and designers to work with us, offering career development for them.

Within two years of establishing the company it had performed in the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House, in addition to a premiere season at the Peacock Theatre which received great reviews – the company and its reputation is going from strength to strength.

What are you currently working on?

Our next performances are at the Sadler’s Wells’ Peacock Theatre in July, and following that at the Lantern Studio Theatre in Canary Wharf. We are currently rehearsing five world premieres! Some of the work have had previews and have received great feedback, especially ‘Kreutzer Sonata’, which is based in the Tolstoy novella of the same name.

What are your aims for the company?

Our long-term goals are to expand the programming and build up the company’s repertoire of commissioned works of exciting new neo-classical choreography.

We have been lucky to receive an Arts Council grant for audience development. We have also been booked to perform at the Cheltenham music festival and we are planning a tour and various cultural exchanges for 2015.

My aim is to make the company the premiere company for neo-classical work, as I think the UK especially has an appetite for this type of work – there is a diverse audience to support the company.

Where do you see the future of dance going?

Today the dance audience is widely spread and there has been an explosion of interest in dance. It has also become popular to ‘mix media’, and dance has become more sophisticated for it and will continue to. It’s fascinating.

The company is modern and has a wide range of styles in a crossover with classical work and because of that and our collaboration with young artists and film makers, our company is becoming very interesting to the general public.

What is your favourite part of dance?

I think the moving and lyrical expression of emotion that fits the choreography is my favourite – bleeding out of the soul of the dancer. When dance moves everyone, that what gives me the biggest thrill. This doesn’t have to be done just through a solo or pas de deux, as long as it expresses deeper emotions.

Photo by Joshua Lawrwence

Tamara Ashley: A Figurehead In Digital Dance

Tamara AshleyTamara Ashley works as an artistic director, curator, academic, writer and choreographer. She is currently the Artistic Director of dancedigital and also directs the MA Dance Performance and Choreography programme at the University of Bedfordshire. As Artistic Director of dancedigital, she has led on projects such as Digital Futures in Dance and the recent dancedigital festival, with a particular focus on supporting artists in the development of their work.

Tamara began her dance education in Hertfordshire as a member of the Herts Youth Dance Company in the early 1990s. Following that she undertook her undergraduate dance training at Roehampton Institute London and Goucher College, USA. With the support of a full scholarship she went on to earn an MFA in Choreography and PhD in Dance from Texas Woman’s University.

Where did it all begin?

Coincidentally I joined Hertfordshire youth dance company which is now taken care of by dancedigital! I went on to study at university which led to me studying in the ISA and establishing myself as a dance artist. I then moved into teaching dance and working on projects before becoming part of dancedigital which I’ve been leading for four years. We had a rocky, challenging period of funding cuts, structural reviews and renewal of our focus but now we are expanding.

What is a typical day like at dancedigital?

Wow! First I check in with the staff and producers and go through the agenda for the day. I then work through my emails and speak to the artists we are working with, such as helping them plan. I talk to teachers, funders, write funding applications, present the organisation to national bodies and above all try to advance digital dance. I am also mentoring on the Youth Dance England Young Creatives scheme in which I give advice as the participants look at their work in progress. My main role however is to represent our organisation in advising and mentoring younger artists.

What do you like most about dance?

Aside from the digital aspects I am also really interested in the health and wellness side of dance. I am also a yoga instructor and look closely at connecting with the body and connecting interactive projections with somatic experiences. I look at new experiences of embodiment, leading onto the 4D experience of the body with digital dance as a view into the future. It is important to develop and understand the body’s place within the world.

Explain the idea behind the newest dancedigital project…

The dancedigitall festival is to be presented at the University of Bedfordshire from 25-27 May, including presentations by Focus, Essex’s youth dance company. Focus is for 14-18 year old dancers and the company is directed by Robert Gentle, a digital dance development specialist. The main focus of the group is on the creative skills of the dancers. The festival will be a full weekend of talks, performances, installations and immersive dance, such as that with lights which are fed by movement.

dancedigital received funding from the Royal Opera House bridge which prompted further experimentation with new digital techniques, meaning the organisation is the first to do this. The support for arts and technology came early on, resulting in interactive and light based work, 3D work, partnering and a rich quality of movement with detailed movement vocabulary.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

At the moment it is seeing the work of the artists of dancedigital and their innovation and success. They have secured funding and touring commissions which makes me very proud. I would also say the technological focus of the youth dance company is also a great achievement, as it is an innovation in their field and a very special experience for young people.

What’s next for you?

We are looking at the future network of the schools we work with in Essex and Hertfordshire, as well as working on a new app. It will be a choreographic app for young people to encourage them to make movement for themselves and to inspire them. It will be aimed at primary school children as a movement project for them.

Boris Eifman: Russia’s Gem

Boris EifmanRenowned choreographer, and Artistic Director of Eifman Ballet for over 37 years, Boris Eifman talks about his latest work shown at London’s Coliseum…

Mr Eifman, how did it all begin?

Dancing first began in my mother’s tummy when I began making my first moves! I always new I should be a dancer – I went to dance school and always felt an urge to express myself through dance. You cannot be taught to become a choreographer, you have to be born one.

So where did your choreographic career begin?

I went through general education and professional education later on followed by a dance academy – I felt this was necessary in order to communicate with the world on a professional level. During my ballet school years I started to choreograph and with growing experience there was the realisation that I was a professional choreographer.

What do you like most about choreography?

Choreography is a very individual thing but for me I find it extraordinary to be able to share emotions with an audience that you experience on a personal level. To influence the way they feel is a unique feeling for me.

What would you say was your greatest achievement to date?

I have actively directed my company for 37 years: my greatest achievement is the opportunity for my company to remain one of the most creative and unique companies, one which continues to develop.

What are your upcoming pieces about?

Anna Karenina is the story of a woman captivated by lust and passion; it is the emotional struggle which is depicted in the performance rather than rebelling the story, showing what she went through.

Rodin is a performance about culture and the famous lover Camille, the passion of her relationships. It looks at the creative process and the emotions within this, and the relationship between two people.

Do you have a connection to these pieces? What inspired you to create?

I can personally relate to Rodon as I understand it on an individual level, about the artistic struggle, the emotional processes of a career, life and love life, and thousands more can relate to this too. Rodin is a huge success all over the world and I feel privileged to show it in London.

What’s next for you?

It is lovely to dedicate myself to a bit of everything! I want to continue choreographing, develop my company and a new generation of artistic elites and work on the Dance Palace. I’m planning to open a new theatre in St Petersburg called the Dance Palace: it will be unique. There will be three companies and centuries of Russian ballet – the nineteenth century, my own company and a new company of the twenty-first century which will be particularly quintessential and avant-garde.

Stiff Competition Or Chance To Connect?

Dance Performance Theme IdeasIt is often the case that dance competitions are not just about the dance students competing, but their parents too. Who is the pushiest? Who did the best for their dancer? For many parents, dance is just a fun pastime for their children which reaps much enjoyment and rewards, whereas for others it is cut throat territory, out to achieve the best for their young starlets.

It is easy to become overwhelmed with insecurities about yourself and your dancer when drawing comparisons between others and their abilities. Before you know it, you are wondering why you came to the competition or audition, or even class or workshop, and you may even be worried that you have set your dancer up for failure.

Despite this, there are many dance parents who are ready to connect with others. Most are experiencing the same fears and emotions and they are seeking camaraderie, advice, and friendship. It is often beneficial and rewarding to interact and become friendly with other dance parents.

The dance world is small and it is likely that if you are actively attending events with your dancer, the chances are you will see the same people again and again. If you attend dance events alone it is often necessary to make friends with other parents to make the events more fun and enjoyable. It also makes you realise that you are not alone in concerns, worries, and joys.

Making friends, networking and gaining advice are also large parts: it enhances dance lives and is essential to connecting with others with whom you have a shared interest. Some dance parents guard information closely in order to give their child every possible advantage and although hoarding information might provide short-term benefits, it backfires in the long-term. By hoarding information, you will eventually shut off possible opportunities for information to come to you. But by sharing information and being helpful, you create a culture that will cycle back to you.

Ballet Beautiful

Ballet BeautifulMary Helen Bowers is the ballerina behind Ballet Beautiful, a dance-inspired workout that she teaches to Victoria’s Secret supermodels helping them attain those trademark tight abdominals and lean legs through the carefully crafted dance-inspired workout moves. Bowers is a former dancer who joined the New York City Ballet in her teens and became a prima ballerina, passing this knowledge onto the models with a ballet-inspired workout that sculpts swan-like arms and tones abdominals for the revealing lingerie.

Bowers often trains with the models backstage at runway shows, as well as on-site: for the most of the year she trains the models three or four days a week, depending on what is going on their schedule and if there’s a big photo shoot. Most of the sessions are a one-hour workout, but the schedule increases to longer sessions before a big event, such as the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

The movements in Ballet Beautiful combine modified fitness positions and resistance work with classical ballet moves that target the muscles dancers use, for example Bowers swaps thigh-building gym squats in favour of thigh-slimming ballet basics like the Grand Plié. Another move that targets “ballet muscles” – inner thighs and the buttocks – can be achieved by placing both shins on a mat with one hand on a chair and drawing the opposite knee out to the side in a modified arabesque.

Bowers’ client list isn’t just limited to Victoria’s Secret models; she also instructed actress Natalie Portman for her Oscar-winning role in “Black Swan”. Bowers had to turn to online sessions and bring in extra backup to free up her time to coach Portman for the grueling role in 2010. Following the release of “Black Swan,” Bowers hired professional dancers to teach Ballet Beautiful private lessons to handle the demand.