It’s incredibly difficult to write precisely what dance means to me without saying anything overly- sentimental or clichéd.
“My life revolves around dance”
“My dance teacher is my greatest inspiration”
“Dance defines me”
“Dance was my rebellion”
It all sounds a bit dramatic.
I had, what I consider to be, a fairly “normal” dance background. My older sister and I were sent to ballet lessons from the age of three in a slightly crumbling hall next to an old Castle in Knaresborough, in the North of England. As I grew older, more styles were added to my repertoire – Tap at 6, Modern at 7, Character at 8, Pointe-work at 12. I worked my way up the graded-syllabus structure, completely and blissfully unaware of the role it played in shaping my childhood.
I loved it, to be sure, my mum would never have taken me to classes if I hated them. More than that, however, it was just a taken-for-granted part of my weekly routine, regular as clockwork – a steady and reliable friend amongst the ups and downs of growing up. My life did seem to revolve around rushing to dancing class from school, awkwardly getting trapped in my pink tights as I attempted to change in the back of the car.
Everyone loved the Principal of our school, Mrs Robinson, with that bizarre combination of fierce devotion and reverential fear that only a ballet teacher can muster. Rumours of her past, about which she was very private, were a source of constant fascination amongst her pupils. Her strict Russian training, her dance company in Peru and, of course, that time she single-handedly fought off three men outside a theatre in London, thwarting them of their attempts to steal her handbag by whacking them all in the face with a perfectly aimed Grand Battement.
The truth is that the majority of my most vivid childhood memories centre around Mrs Robinson and her Dance School in the Castle Yard. To this day, if I hear the music that was used in every class for our end-of-barre stretch, I experience a nostalgia in the pit of my stomach that can, quite genuinely, bring me to a halt. It is in that respect that dance does define me. Nothing teaches a child discipline and respect like a ballet class, where you curtsey to your teachers at the beginning and end of every lesson. The values and behaviours- (not to mention the posture!) -that I learned from Mrs Robinson are things that I still carry with me in my day to day life.
It was in my teenage years that dance became a form of angsty rebellion. Acting out against the predominantly scientific gene-pool of my family, I used my creativity and love for ballet in the same way that other teenagers would use tattoos, hair-dye or cigarettes. Despite being an admittedly tame form of rebellion, it was my own expression of control and individuality. It was with this attitude that, at 19 years old, I quit my nice, sensible, languages degree to pursue a BA in Dance.
It was only when I got to University that I met people who came from completely different dance backgrounds. People who had never experienced the excitement of getting your first pair of pointe shoes, the sickening nerves before a vocational exam or the pride of getting a solo in the annual show.
As such, university taught me to expand my outlook on dance, its reach, its diversity and its “meaning”. Nonetheless, ask me about my ‘dance’ experience and my mind will immediately, invariably and irrationally go back to those weekly structured syllabus classes in an old crumbling hall, full of their unique traditions and quirky nuances, utterly bizarre to the outside eye. They were just as much a part of my life as school homework or birthday parties. I couldn’t imagine my past without them.
This post was written as a contribution to the Royal Academy of Dance MyDance campaign. If you have a story you would like to share about what dance means to you, get involved by going to the RAD website.