Katie Willy – Artistic Fulfilment At Its Best

Katie WillyKatie trained vocationally at Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, gaining a distinction in her Trinity Diploma in Dance. She then worked for 3 years for Costa Cruises, and was offered multiple contracts onboard the Fortuna, Atlantica and Mediterranea. Whilst there she also performed as an assistant to the Italian illusionist, Gianni Mattiolo, and was responsible for directing the “Crew Show”, in addition to her work as a production dancer.

On her return to the UK, Katie worked commercially under Momentum Artists management, including performances at the Royal Albert Hall and a music video for rock band GUN. She simultaneously trained with renowned Artistic Jazz director/choreographer Dollie Henry, and was a member of Rambert’s Youth Dance Company, “Quicksilver”.

Katie is currently training in Madrid with Spanish contemporary dance company, CaraBdanza, marking a new direction in her career as a dance artist.

Photo credit: Shambhala Wolfhaart

Where did you train and what was it like?

I started dancing at the age of 5, at the Catherine Bellinger School of Dance in Kent. At the time I was one of about 8 pupils, and it’s wonderful now to go back to the school (I teach and choreograph occasional workshops for the kids) which has grown to over 350 students!

Vocationally I trained at Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, on their 3 year dance course. It was a wonderful, if intense experience, particularly as I was taking four A Levels at the time and working a part time job at the weekends!

What was a typical day like?

For my first two years, my mornings were taken up with academic study; in my case, French, Maths, English, Art and Religious Studies. Afternoon classes ran until 6.30pm and would always include a rigorous ballet class, and then a combination of jazz, contemporary (mainly Cunningham and Graham techniques), pointe/pas de deux for the classically focused students, pilates, tap, modern, drama and singing. We were divided into sets according to our specific strengths, so my timetable was predominantly made up of jazz and contemporary classes.

In my third year I was able to focus exclusively on dance, attending additional morning classes such as pilates and stretching. As we were studying for a Diploma, there was an element of contextual studies to complement our physical training. There would also be occasional workshops from industry professionals, from audition technique to talks on Equity.

What is a typical day like now? What are you currently working on?

After graduating, I spent 3 years working various cruise ship contracts; as a young dancer it was a fantastic way to travel, embrace other cultures and grow as an individual. The rehearsal process taught me a lot, as there is a huge amount of pressure to learn three or four shows in a very short space of time, which then have to be costumed and blocked around an already busy theatre schedule – midnight calls were common! Those first weeks were exhausting, but once we settled into a schedule there was ample free time to explore the ports, work on my fitness in the gym and even use the theatre to train with some of the other dancers who were interested. It also allowed me to save financially, which has seriously expanded my options now that I’ve come back to dry land!

Right now I’m in Madrid, training with a contemporary dance company, CaraBdanza. Post-ships I realised that although the lifestyle was fantastic, I wasn’t feeling artistically fulfilled and needed to try something new. I auditioned at The Place for the company with the intention of starting in September – they asked if I could start two weeks later, so I packed a bag and booked a one way ticket! I’m so glad I took that leap; I’m surrounded by some really inspiring dancers and have the opportunity to refine my technique, adapt to new styles and learn the company’s demanding repertoire. All my classes are in Spanish so that’s another challenge, but I have the confidence to really benefit from the experience in a way I couldn’t have at 16 years old.

What do you like most about the company?

Initially I felt fairly daunted by the proportion of classical training here; I don’t have the flat turnout or beautifully arched feet of a ballerina, but I can already say that the daily ballet class has made all the difference to my technique, and provides a fundamental strength and understanding for other dance forms. But the main joy for me is having the freedom to express myself creatively and challenge my body in new ways – I think there is a significant difference between being part of the “entertainment” industry, where there sometimes seems to be an unfair balance between image and skill, to working with choreographers in a company who have a desire to communicate something artistically, and want to see your response as a dancer. I can’t say that one process is necessarily “better”, but for now I’m enjoying taking a break from the commercial environment and exploring my potential as an artist.

What is your favourite part of performing?

Simple as it sounds, I love the feeling of sharing something with an audience. It’s also liberating – you don’t know how people will react to you, but the sense of honesty and exposure is exhilarating. The times I have felt best on stage are when I’ve performed a piece which affects me personally, which feels real – there are no words to adequately describe that sentiment, it’s something other-worldly.

And the worst?

I would have to say, from personal experience, the risk of injury. I was unfortunate enough to sustain plantar fasciitis whilst on a contract once, and had to be flown home from Dubai. The crushing knowledge that you’ve had to stop work, that your body, your main instrument in your job, is damaged, and that this might affect your chances of re-employment, is completely overwhelming. But you can’t let yourself think like this, as nothing hinders recovery like a negative mindset. Once I’d overcome the injury and been offered a new contract, I realised that I’d learnt some tough lessons about respecting my body and learning when to push pain and when to stop for the greater good of my career.

Have you always wanted to be on stage?

I’ve always loved performing, but frankly, until I was offered a place at Tring, had never considered myself good enough to be able to make it professionally. Before that I’d aspired to be a lawyer, mainly because that seemed like something everyone approved of and sounded smart! Dancing has taught me to follow my passions and not society’s perceived ideas of achievement, and although it’s difficult to sustain a career, it’s the best decision I ever made.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

I need plenty of time – I hate feeling rushed! I always go backstage with hair and makeup already done, and for me the most important thing is a really good warm up. I’ll always have my iPod with me, with my “happy playlist” to get me in the mood to perform!

What has been your most enjoyable dance experience to date?

That’s really hard, because the experiences I’ve had have been so diverse! I think I’d have to go with the most inspirational experience, which was training with Dollie Henry’s Artistic Jazz Company, BOP, earlier this year. Dollie is a real pioneer of her art form in a country which doesn’t have many jazz companies, and therefore few platforms for jazz dance of this calibre. I’ve never seen someone share so much energy and passion for what they do, and her years of experience here and all over the world were a privilege to learn from. She helped me to push myself to my physical and emotional limits, and taught me to be true to my personal journey as an artist, regardless of what the mainstream may present.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring performer?

Before you decide to pursue dance as a career, be REALLY honest with yourself about three things. Are you prepared to work hard? Can you cope with rejection and turn it into something constructive? Are you prepared to have a job which, much of the time, may involve several part time jobs just to make up the bills or gaps between contracts? If your desire to perform is so strong that these realities don’t bother you, then I’d say you have to give it a go! Everyone’s careers are so different, and it is nerve-wracking when you graduate from years of wonderful training to the reality of an over saturated industry which often pays very little for your level of skill. This said, for me this pales into insignificance when I can make money doing what I love, surrounded by like-minded people, and often have the opportunity to travel or work with people from other cultures. If you love what you do, even when it’s difficult, you will always feel fulfilled.

CDET’s Dance Careers Conference

CDETTaking place on 10th May, CDET’s Dance Careers Conference is not an event in the dance calendar to be missed. Hosted at Elmhurst School for Dance in Birmingham, the event offers a unique and informative one-day event providing high-quality, relevant and up-to-date information and guidance about further education, training and career opportunities in the dance and musical theatre industries.

Three bespoke strands will run independently through out the whole day. Students will each receive a ballet, jazz and musical theatre class, and gain an insight into what it is like to audition for a vocational college. They will also have the opportunity to take part in seminars providing them with information on choosing a course and college, as well as the audition process involved. Parents and carers’ seminars will include information on how to choose a vocational school, the different qualifications on offer, as well as auditioning, funding and careers information after training.

Additionally, teachers will be able to engage in technique class, often a rarity for busy teachers with hectic class schedules! Sessions focusing on how to create solos for student auditions will be held, as well as seminars on how to advise students when they are in the process of choosing a professional training school. Numerous industry professionals will also be involved with the busy conference, hosting sessions on building a dance business and how to market dance schools.

As with MOVE IT – the annual dance exhibition at London’s Olympia – a number of CDET Accredited Schools will be present to talk to attendees during the conference. These include Urdang Academy, Performers College, Northern Ballet School, Liverpool Theatre School, Bird College, Laine Theatre Arts, Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, Cambridge Performing Arts, LIPA, The Centre Performing Arts College, London Studio Centre, Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama, Hammond School and Elmhurst School for Dance.

Trey McIntyre & The #DancerResource Project

Trey McIntyre #DancerResource ProjectThe #DancerResource project, initiated by up and coming choreographer Trey McIntyre, is a collection of essays, letters, and videos from artistic directors, choreographers, and dancers responding to questions from young dancers about how best to prepare themselves to join a dance company, and how to navigate the transition into becoming a professional dancer. Preparing yourself for life as a pro dancer can be daunting task, especially without useful advice about how to instigate the transition and make it successful.

McIntyre has created more than 100 works for dance companies such as New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Stuttgart Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Pennsylvania Ballet and founded his own company, Trey McIntyre Project, in 2005.

McIntyre has created the #DancerResource project that taps into the lives of professionals in the field in order to share their expertise and knowledge. It provides specific information for aspiring dancers, such as how to approach different companies and how to work as a freelance dancer. As a result of personal experience in providing live resources to uncertain dancers, McIntyre has consequently reached out to directors – such as David Hallberg of American Ballet Theatre – himself in order to ask the questions that students want to know the answers to in order to aid their careers.

The resources are ultimately varied and full of perspective from large and small, contemporary and classical companies alike, a welcome aid to the many dancers training and using the resource. McIntyre has been able to reach out to artists he knows personally, a great coup for the project; all those who have contributed to the #DancerResource project have agreed that there is a definite need for this information, and the project has filled a niche.

There are any number of students looking to forge a professional dance career at any one time, so ultimately the #DancerResource project has provided what schools may not, teaching students how to adapt to the professional world for a successful career, despite providing fantastic technical training. The #DancerResource project can be found on the TMP Facebook page, as well as the series archived on the Trey McIntyre Project website.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Cross-Training For Dancers

Cross TrainingDancers cannot just be fit to dance. Dance fitness in itself is not as wholesome as if the body undertook a wide range of physical activities to maintain fitness as a whole, whilst complementing that obtained through dance.

Many dancers are fans of swimming, as it maintains stamina and works the muscles of the entire body in a low-impact way, as much as Pilates helps to keep the core strong with little to no impact. If you are not currently working in dance and auditioning widely, it is important to keep your body in peak physical condition so it is constantly ready to be used to the best of its ability. Auditioning in peak condition shows directors strength and provides the confidence to attack any movement. It is difficult to anticipate how vigorous auditions will be, so being as fit as possible prepares you for anything.

In this instance, cross-training is of ultimate use. Integrating cardio training into your workout schedule boosts energy and complements the requirements of dance with its short bursts of activity. Additional training, through extended cardio sessions for example, then improves endurance for full-out dance combinations or longer variations. The body will also be able to recover quicker afterwards, providing more peace of mind during intense auditions. 30 minutes of cardio a few times a week is usually what is recommended, however interval training is even more beneficial than steady paces, as high intensive intervals closely mimic the varied aerobic demands of dance classes and auditions.

Working with your body in different ways can help to identify weak and imbalanced areas, and means your body is ready for anything, not just the dance technique you have trained in your whole life. A variety of exercise techniques will improve overall strength, especially to keep the body active and attentive to changes, adapting quickly. However, do be wary of letting your cross-training become overly time-consuming or draining on your number one priority of dance, instead of complementing what is already taking place. Avoid overtraining and take one day off per week for rejuvenation.

Merger Body Success For Dance

A Life In DanceIn March it was announced that Arts Council England has awarded a major grant for a new strategic dance body. The three year commissioned grant for a ground-breaking consortium will bring four leading dance organisations together to create a unified “go-to” industry body: Association of Dance of the African Diaspora (ADAD), Dance UK, National Dance Teachers Association (NDTA) and Youth Dance England (YDE).

This radical transformation is a response to industry demand, affecting both workforce and the support of talent. As a result, the combined impact of these organisations will be much greater than they can achieve as stand-alone bodies. ADAD, Dance UK, NDTA and YDE will pool their expertise to result in a simplified, strengthened and specialist partnership body nurturing and developing talent and delivering excellence in: education; youth dance; dance of the African diaspora; performance, health and well-being; management, leadership and career development. This will become the subject discussion for dance to further the teaching and learning of dance in schools, embedding education at the heart of the dance sector.

The consortium will support a more coherent national approach to the delivery of dance services and will encourage development across the spectrum, from children and young people’s dance, to professional dance practice and being representative of diversity. This new collaborative working model will directly benefit the 40,000 plus dance workforce, and children dancing in and outside school, and indirectly impact on the millions of adults who participate in dance and watch performances. It will provide a single more powerful voice for dance to policy makers and politicians and a centralised knowledge hub, which is ultimately important for the developing arts sector, to promote best practice and nurture talent.

As a result, children and young people’s dance will be central to the work of the new organisation – as well as providing resources for their teachers – bringing together all areas of the dance sector to support young people right from their first steps. The new organisation will create many more exciting and progressive opportunities for young people and dance professionals.

Public Square Dancing In China

Public Square Dancing In ChinaIt has recently been reported that the millions of people who gather to dance in China’s public spaces will have to keep time with government regulations in future. In a country where censorship and strict regulations are in place as the norm, it seems this could spell the end for public square dancing in China, simply providing citizens with a small artistic outlet for themselves in a public space.

Public square dancing is a popular pastime in China, particularly among older women known as ‘damas’. However damas are considered a nuisance among some local residents, who complain about being disturbed by loud music: while this may echo various other forms of dancing all over the world, it seems this element of Chinese culture may slowly be reduced to nothing.

As a result of the complaints, Chinese authorities have begun to regulate and choreograph the dancing, which has been reported by the state-run China Daily website. Any groups wanting to dance in public will now be limited to 12 government-approved routines, which reads unnecessary censorship and control like nothing else. Despite the fact square-dancing represents a collective aspect of Chinese culture, it seems that the over-enthusiasm of participants has lead to the disputes over noise and venues.

The General Administration of Sport is overseeing the regulation along with the culture ministry, to ‘guide it with national standards and regulations.’ The choreography has been put together by an expert panel, the website says, and more than 600 instructors have been trained, in order to see the dancing performed in a socially responsible way – to a Western culture this discounts many of the artistic endeavours seen during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Some details are still to be confirmed, including when and where people are allowed to dance, and exactly how loud the music can be.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Dancers’ Habits

Dancer HabitsAs a dancer, things you may not think twice about may surprise your non-dancing peers. Things like cracking your hips when you stand up, cracking your back, your feet, your neck: to many dancers this is a complete norm but to others this sounds painful and unnatural. There has been much debate as to whether cracking your joints is good or bad for you, but for onlookers it is definitely a bad thing!

Dancers like to practice and stretch at any opportunity while not in the dance studio. You might lie in frog while you’re reading, or watch television whilst sat in the box splits. Brushing your teeth? There’s the perfect opportunity to practice your tendus and relevés! The odd looks you get are part of the process – the obscure positions you take up, however, are completely natural for you. Equally, practising variations around the kitchen as your dinner is cooking may be annoying for those you share with, but essential to your work.

Whilst it is not anatomically healthy to walk in turn out due to the use and strength of the leg muscles, it is still something dancers may do subconsciously if they aren’t actively engaging the legs in order to walk in parallel. Often dancers must consciously walk in parallel rather than leg their legs turn out naturally from years of training, and this also goes for standing in any of the five ballet positions. Standing in fourth of course feels completely natural!

Marking choreography, especially with your hands, is also something dancers do without thinking. If you aren’t practising time steps under the dinner table you’re using your hands to practise a new routine. Aspiring professional dancers who live and breathe dance may even go several steps further than this, and to you it is of utmost importance.

Stephen Quildan – Educating Experiences

Stephen QuildanStephen Quildan was born in London and trained at the BRIT School, later Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance. He has performed with English National Ballet (Romeo & Juliet) at the Royal Albert Hall and Peter Schaufuss Balletten (Nøddebo Præstegård), Danish tour. Whilst at Rambert he performed in August Bournonville’s ‘Napoli’ and an excerpt from Peter Darrell’s ‘Nutcracker’. Stephen has also worked with contemporary choreographers such as Mark Baldwin (Rite of Spring) and Darren Ellis. Stephen also has performed his own work in Poland and the UK. He soon will be dancing lead roles in Pineapple Poll and Carnival of the Animals for The Chelmsford Ballet Company.

Have you always wanted to be on stage?

I have always wanted to dance, really even before I knew about the stage. When I was younger I always would ‘dance’ during the credits of films. Then my mum sent me to dance classes because I was just a little ‘off’ the music you could say (well, a lot off).

Where did you train and what was it like?

My formal training began at the BRIT School of Performing Arts and Technology. I had an amazing time there, the energy of the building, students and teachers was like nothing else. Afterwards I moved on to Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, which was a very different experience as it was far more specialised, and more honed in on what you learnt. I think I definitely came away as a different dancer after graduating.

What was a typical day like?

At Rambert School, a typical day was a ballet and contemporary class then a supporting study such as pas de deux or improvisation, then student piece rehearsals normally followed. Student choreography was highly encouraged and I think that gave room for me to explore my own ‘voice’, throughout the three years. It also allowed for a lot of stage time, doing a range of work.

What is a typical day like now?

Now the days vary, as I make them. I may go to company class or a project rehearsal. I have to dedicate some time to research, whether its about opportunities or watching dance work, reading or going to an exhibition. I find this really keeps me inspired and motivated. I also have to reply to correspondence and take classes, whether they be ballet, hip hop or yoga I try and feel what my body needs at that time.

What is your favourite part of performing?

The thrill of the challenge. I know for me when the hard work pays off and you feel you have really achieved something on stage that is the greatest feeling.

And the worst?

Nerves. They come in waves but sometimes they can be terrifying, but I have different ways of occupying myself to stay focused.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring performer?

Always stay passionate because that is what will make it easiest. Look after yourself physically and mentally. Mentally can be the toughest part, as to be a performer, especially a dancer, is to always be told you must do more, be better. This has left me feeling inadequate before, however I think connecting back to that passion and joy can make it somewhat easier to keep going.

What’s next for you?

I’m excited to perform with The Chelmsford Ballet Company from 18-21 March in Chelmsford. There is some great choreography by both Chris Marney and Annette Potter, which makes my job so fun. There are some great things approaching in the pipeline but I can’t say just yet.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

I like to take my time to get ready, carefully putting on the costume and make-up really calms me. The whole getting ready process helps. If I run out of time I can feel uncomfortable,

What do you most look forward to about performing?

I look forward to being able to tell a story, whether narrative to abstract, to try and leave an impression on an audience through my on stage experience. Also to having fun with the other dancers around me, as the stage is a unique and special place.

Tate Modern Set For A Dance Takeover

Tate Modern LogoThe iconic Tate Modern is to become a museum of dance for 48 hours as 75 performers take over the gallery spaces for displays and workshops, and the Turbine Hall is transformed into a nightclub, planned by French choreographer Boris Charmatz. The May project will feature performances ranging from ballet to krump as well as works by the renowned Charmatz himself.

The project was inspired by Charmatz’s unique outlook on both dance and the world in general, in seeing the world differently and too the different elements of choreography within it. Changing the perspective of the Tate will be a test of what would happen if Charmatz and his dancers took over from a dance point of view.

Charmatz first worked with the Tate Modern in 2012 on a small performance piece, through which he began to discuss doing something more ambitious. Charmatz is a choreographer who is always looking beyond being a dancer and choreographer, and the dance space that has been given to him. Creating dance for a proscenium stage is not enough for him, and lead him to consider the points between the art gallery and the theatre. As a result, his dance experience will be explored in how it also connects to everybody else’s experience of dance and dancing.

The Tate will undergo a complete transformation for its two-day alteration, presenting choreography and pop-up ventures in the collection gallery and the public spaces. Whilst walking through the venue visitors may find an ex-international ballet dancer, someone performing improvisation or a krumper; Charmatz holds dear the idea of giving the heritage of dance away for free by teaching and giving people something to take away from the experience in the dancing museum.

BMW Tate Live: If Tate Modern was Musée de la Danse? will be taking place throughout Tate Modern from 15-16 May.

New Work For The National Youth Dance Company

National Youth Dance CompanyThe National Youth Dance Company will present a world premiere at its Sadler’s Wells home on 10 April, choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, this year’s Guest Artistic Director. NYDC will return for its third year with a new intake of 30 talented dancers who join eight returners from the previous cohorts. Cherkaoui is one of the most prolific choreographers working today: he is one of Europe’s most exciting choreographers.

Following the premiere of new commission Frame[d], NYDC will tour the UK to locations including Birmingham, Newcastle, Leeds, Ipswich, Bournemouth and Plymouth. The new piece will see Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Cherkaoui revisiting moments from his established catalogue of work in order to illustrate the influence and creativity that emerging dance artists can bring to a professional dance collaboration.

Throughout the dancers’ time with NYDC they are given a unique insight into the profession, gaining skills and techniques that will stay with them throughout their careers. As a result, NYDC is fast establishing a reputation for producing high quality performances from a company of dancers who are expressive and energise the stage.

Since NYDC’s inception, 1,000 young people have worked with the company through the delivery of 47 workshops in 21 different venues. The young company has featured in 22 performances, visiting 15 different venues across the UK. 90 dancers have joined the company overall, working intensively with renowned dance artists including Guest Artistic Directors Jasmin Vardimon (2012-13), Akram Khan (2013-14) and Cherkaoui (2014-15). These dancers come from 43 different UK towns and cities.

The company has proven that its existence is vital for the health of the dance sector, in that there is a pipeline of talent feeding it from many different avenues. It is also clear that more still needs to be done to nurture young and emerging talent; what will the future hold?