Damian Czarnecki – coveted choreographing

Damian CzarneckiDamian has a diverse background in dance and theatre having been Danish Ballroom and Latin Champion on several occasions. He was 1st runner up in So You Think You Can Dance (Denmark) and went on to continue his training at Laine Theatre Arts.

Choreography credits include: Pirates Of Penzance (UK Tour), Patience (Kings Head Theatre, London), Do I Hear A Waltz (Park Theatre, London), Dick Whittington (White Rock Theatre, Hastings), Junior TV (Danish Television 1) and pieces for the Laine Theatre Arts productions Spirit of Life and Flying in at 40 (Epsom Playhouse). His theatre performing credits include: Beauty and the Beast (Det Ny Theatre, Denmark), Chantal in La Cage Aux Folles (Nørregade Theatre, Denmark), Dirty Dancing (Metronom Theatre, Germany) and Ich War Noch Niemals in New York (Metronom Theatre, Germany).

Damian has been dance captain for High School Musical (National Tour, Denmark), Jack and the Beanstalk and Aladdin (Chelmsford Civic Theatre) and was a cast member of the Danish children musical feature film Bølle Bob & Smukke Sally (Regner Grasten Film).

Have you always wanted to be involved in dance?

I’ve danced for as long as I can remember so I guess the answer is yes. My parents told me that they just had to take me to dance classes when I was three years old as I would always stand in front of the television as soon as I heard music coming out it. I would start making up dance moves – “boogie woogieing” – and enjoying life. I have to say, I’m glad that my parents made that decision.

Where did you train and what was it like?

Well, I feel like you train your whole life really which is one of the exciting parts of this industry. You will never finish developing as a performer which is so inspiring. That’s why you still, as a professional performer, find yourself working hard in dance classes, taking singing lessons and developing your acting skills.

I first trained in Ballroom and Latin and danced for over 16 years competing on an international level representing Denmark at the World Championships. Doing this throughout my teenage years was exciting but also very hard work. I loved it so much though, which meant it was never difficult to choose Ballroom and Latin over parties and social life outside of school.

I went to school in the morning, then straight to the dance studio for several hours’ practice, then home for food, homework and bed. This would usually be the schedule from Monday-Thursday. Friday would be a day off before the weekend was taken up by competitions in either Denmark or somewhere else in the world.

I really treasure this period of my life. It taught me to be focused and determined which, at the time, I didn’t realise how important that would be for my future career.

I then went on to continue my training at Laine Theatre Arts in Epsom which was just incredible. There is something very special about being together with so many talented people in one place all thriving to be the best that we can be. Miss Laine, together with her faculty, give you an excellent opportunity to develop into a professional artist if you are ready to put in the hard work that is required. When you walk into the college on your first day you have no idea what journey you are about to go on but three years later you stand stronger than ever, not only as a performer but most importantly also as a person.

Was there a natural transition into choreographing for you?

Most jobs I’ve had have either been as a dance captain or a swing which means you are very involved in the creative side of a production. Furthermore, I’ve always had a hunger to be creative in a choreographic way and I think if you have that in you, it will almost be impossible to neglect in the long run.

Do you still perform?

Yes, I do still perform as it gives me a completely different satisfaction than choreographing which also means it’s almost impossible to say which one I prefer. Both have huge positives as well as, believe it or not, a few negatives. However, the kick you get from both of them is just incomparable.

As a choreographer, I found it very difficulty in the beginning, that during previews or on opening nights it was all out of my hands. I would be really nervous and could barely sit still in my seat as my body would just naturally do some of the steps thinking that it would help the cast. I always think it’s so much better to be up on the stage as you are so focused on your job which means everything else around you disappears. Then again, there is nothing like the feeling of seeing your work come alive on stage and being proud of it. Like I said, the two roles are incomparable.

What is the hardest part of the rehearsal process, as both a dancer and a choreographer?

It’s two very different state of minds. As a dancer, you will mostly be focused on yourself as you have a huge amount of work to go through. You have dance steps, harmonies, lines to learn and it all needs to come together in a very short amount of time which can be really hard and stressful.

As a choreographer, it’s all about the overview and having a much wider focus. I think one of the hardest parts of the rehearsal period is to have a fresh opinion about your own work that you’ve already seen many times. It’s so important to have the ability to say, “what I’ve done doesn’t work” and then try and change it for the better.

What is a day in the life of Damian like?

My days are very different from each other which I absolutely love. I try to exercise every morning and love to end the day watching Danish television on my iPad but apart from that, it all depends on what job I’m doing and whether I’m choreographing or performing.

Do you have any advice for aspiring performers?

I think the best advice I can give is to make sure that a performing career is a 10,000,000% what you want. If you feel the passion for anything else you should definitely do that instead. It may sound really harsh but that is the reality. However, if you do make the decision to go for it, then don’t let anyone stop you. Remember talent will get you far. Hard work will get you further.

Matt Flint: Reach For The Stars

Matt Flint‘So You Think You Can Dance’ winner Matt Flint is a ball of energy. Having won this prestigious competition and having danced alongside many well-known music artists, it is any wonder Matt has time for anything else. Despite this, he is running a dance competition named “Can You Dance?” with dancer Tom Shilcock, which will be held in Norwich, Nottingham and Leeds.

Here Matt talks about his training, winning SYTYCD and his latest dance project…

When did you begin dancing, where and why?

I started dancing in 1994 at the age of 12 (now you know how old I am!). I went along to the local dance school in Scarborough and did their new boys street dance class. I was quite sporty and always up for something new – I loved it instantly.

What were your early years of dancing like?

I was taught early on from my dance teacher just how hard you had to work and believe me, she took no prisoners. I struggled at first having to perform in front of friends but I loved dancing most nights of the week and was excited to get to London.

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

I have been dancing for 20 years now. Wow, it has flown by! I started fairly late by comparison. I have always been into choreography – I started just by choreographing myself but now I thrive on the challenge of choreographing whatever is put in front of me!

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

I trained at Laine Theatre Arts. It has always been one of the top colleges, my time there was fantastic. The training was intense, you could be dancing for 7 hours a day.

What is a typical day like now?

Never the same, which I love! Aside from the choreography work, Can You Dance? fills my day. We are just about to enter the 2014 season so things are really starting to build up nicely!

Tell us a bit more about Can You Dance?

CYD? is what the regions have been craving for a few years… In a nutshell, we are bringing top Choreographers, Dancers, Colleges & Dance Organisations to counties that haven’t been able to experience anything like it before! The day consists of Masterclasses, a Showcase, an Industry Exhibition and is the perfect opportunity for young dancers to discover what the next step is for them.

Where can we find the conventions this year?

We will be in Norwich, Nottingham and Leeds – so come and say hello.

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

I do a lot of Bikram Yoga, a couple of gym sessions a week, plus all of the dancing I still do.

What would you say was your greatest achievement to date?

Probably So You Think You Can Dance. Not because of winning, but because it has opened lots of doors which I’d been struggling to open for many years.

Which part of dance do you enjoy most?

The fact it’s my passion and I feel like I’ve never worked a day in my life. The social aspect. The fitness.

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

Get your head down and work hard. Sweat in every class. Look for inspiration outside of your bubble. Luck favours the prepared!

What’s next for you?

Last week I was choreographing Kylie on Sport Relief. This week I am in pre-production for a new musical. Over the next month I’m working on an advert!

Is Dance Becoming Mainstream?

Dance in the Mainstream

From the dazzling tutus and glittering tiaras of the big ballet classics to the modernised works of flesh-coloured leotards and soft ballet shoes, the popularity of dance appears to be increasing rapidly. Arguably as a result of the viral nature of social media and the innovative experimentation that is taking place in studios all over the world, the dance world and its audience are privy to fantastic creations and experiences which provide for their expectations.

Despite the modernisation that ballet is undergoing, for example as a result of Wayne McGregor of Random Dance’s instatement as Resident Choreographer of The Royal Ballet in 2006, it is clear that the classics of the ballet world are also able to satisfy the hungers of audiences. McGregor’s influence over twenty-first century dance is undeniable, and whilst his work is technically outstanding and completely compelling, the repertoire of the Royal is also made up of works that have resided there for centuries. Classics such as Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker are three of a number of well-known and loved productions which are presumed to stay within ballet repertoire for years to come.

Classical ballet was once seen as a high culture, rather than a popular one, yet this is also changing. The Royal Ballet LIVE was screened online in 2012, providing 200,000 dance-lovers and non-dance fans alike with the opportunity to take a peek into the working lives of professional ballet dancers. The iconic film production Black Swan starring Natalie Portman also took the ballet world by storm, depicting a violent and manipulative ballet environment, but ultimately extending ballet’s reach to wider audiences, increasing its popularity. The London 2012 Olympic Games also demonstrated a cultural shift, with ballet proving to be an influence in more than one area. Team GB swimmer Liam Tancock revealed that regular ballet classes were included in his cross-training, and Birmingham Royal Ballet’s principal Matthew Lawrence created a routine for the five times British champion gymnast Frankie Jones for the Rhythmic Gymnastics British Championships ahead of the Games. Dance is clearly demonstrated to appeal to and provide for a wide audience reach.

Dance has also been able to reach audiences through social media, making it ultimately accessible. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and various other platforms are able to translate the art of performance and reception to many who may not have the opportunity to access dance originally. For example, many dance companies have Twitter accounts clocking up thousands of followers, who are able to connect with and access a valued insight into the life of the company, rehearsals and classes – even the founder of Twitter is a ballet fan!

Footloose: Socks, Thongs and Shoes to Choose

Photo: bark on Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/barkbud/4202477346

With the growing trends of dance-related talent shows throughout the media, the trend for wearing socks as a “performance accessory” is also emerging as one that is taking the dance sector by storm. Turn to So You Think You Can Dance, Got To Dance, or Britain’s Got Talent; socks are becoming increasingly popular to aid acts in spins, falls and complex lifts.

Whilst the dancers’ seemingly enhanced talent may be exciting to view and even awe-inspiring, the fact remains that there is a certain level of danger involved in wearing socks to dance, for example, an injury occurring as a result of a slip or fall. The number of YouTube clips presenting many dancers’ falls as “entertainment” are by no means criticising the wearing of socks for dance practice.

Undoubtedly, the use of socks can aid a dancer in class or rehearsals where a floor may not be suitable to dance on; however, the fact remains that during performance, the dancer may not have had sufficient experience of dancing without their socks. A great alternative to socks has been shown through the use of foot thongs, such as by Capezio, with numerous designs emerging as they become more popular.

Additionally, there is without a doubt, the largest range of dance shoes and sneakers on the dancewear market today, with numerous brands spanning a huge range of designs. Whether they are sold for grip, support of the foot, or simply for fashion purposes, brands such as Capezio, Bloch and Sansha have all produced excellent and indeed beneficial shoes for whatever the dancer needs. To observe such fantastic alternatives to the presumable risk of wearing socks to dance provides much hope for the future of dance, in that it will continue to be provided for, regardless of circumstance.