Lockdown2 and Beyond

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We all knew that it was coming but not precisely when or what it would look like, in the end Lockdown2 crept up on us earlier this month. The dance studios that had begun to open closed once more and the theatres that had booked performances to carefully adhere to infection control measures cancelled them.

For some people knowing what to expect has made this lockdown easier than the first and they have returned to their lockdown routines. For others knowing what to expect makes it worse and for some whilst schools stay open and many businesses continue working it is more complicated than ever.

Many people will be familiar with the pop-up studios when Hull Dance transformed 66-68 Humber Street during 2018 and 2019. We had a great time dancing with people and seeing the work of fabulous local professional dancers take shape as they created, rehearsed and shared their work. Sadly, like so many things, it has not been possible for us to continue this programme during 2020. Our response has been to find some different ways to stay connected, and be creative with new projects over the next few months.

Kicking off first is a project with Blood Memory Dance and some of the amazing people we met last year when we joined forces with St Philip’s Church on Bilton Grange, East Hull. Joining households via Zoom to meet families, make memories, share stories, dance and enjoy music – is there a better way to spend your Sunday afternoons? Emma, Artistic Director, Blood Memory Dance will lead the workshops and other members join us throughout the project. There are few sessions to get us started before Christmas with the project continuing in 2021. Find out more and register here.

During the first lockdown we moved our weekly classes for people living with MS, their friends, families and carers on-line.  We are now spreading our wings to include weekly sessions for people who are over 55 years old. No need to travel to a studio or community hall, to take part, the sessions are a chance to relax, move and connect our minds and bodies at our own level in our own homes. Find out more and register here.

The final strand of our programme is working in partnership with Hull City Council and TIN Arts, nationally recognised as a leading company in inclusive working. They will help us interrogate and develop our youth dance framework so that groups and young people across the city can access dance in a way that works for them.  Along the way there will times to ask questions, dance with friends and develop how we all work to ensure as many young people as possible can join in. If you are between 11 – 19 years old (25 if you have additional needs) or work with young people and would like to get involved now is the time to let us know by emailing info@hulldance.com and stating your interest. We look forward to you joining us in the next few months or suggesting projects that you would like to see us offer in the future.  These projects are only possible thanks to public funding from National Lottery through Arts Council England and a grant from Hull City Council, we are really appreciative of the support.

Keyna, November 2020

It Was A Thrill To Think The Stage Would Be Alive Again

5 months… it’s the longest break from live performance I have ever had in my life!

It was quite pleasant for a few weeks in March to have some ‘time off’ of theatre attending, Following a busy work year I convinced myself it was ‘OK’ that the arts industry was shut down.  In the way you convince yourself you won’t miss chocolate when you go on a crash diet. This began to wear thin by summer and I found myself craving theatre even more than a chocoholic on health retreat!           

After a cultural wasteland of a summer I was overjoyed to be invited to see the National Youth Dance Company perform at Sadler’s Wells. I had last been in the building on March 10th when we were sent to work from home in anticipation of a COVID lockdown.  So many brilliant performances had to be cancelled or postponed during the ensuing 5 months so it was a thrill to think the stage would be alive again.

We were dance guinea pigs – an invited audience there to test-run the building for socially distanced performances and to witness this talented young company get the chance to perform.

We have all had an unexpected and challenging year, but I can’t help thinking this has been particularly rough on our youth. Promised the time of their lives, a summer of love, travel and the high jinks of University – most of them haven’t even left their houses.   The young dancers involved in NYDC should have been playing to a packed Sadler’s Wells – the peak of their training as part of this exciting company. However, their performances at Sadler’s and subsequent tour had to be cancelled. 

As the summer passed, little green shoots of hope and creativity sprung up, the NYDC team felt determined to make a final performance happen. Choreographer Russell Maliphant’s 39 dancers had just 3 weeks to re choreograph in a COVID-secure way. Restrictions meant that there would be 4 performances, each with 10 dancers, remaining 1 meter apart at all times. The 1500 seat auditorium would only have 150 people, spaced in small groups and masked throughout.

I am used to running into a packed foyer (usually late) frantically finding my tickets at the Box Office and picking my way through the thronging crowd to find my seat.  This was a markedly different FOH to the one I recognised. I walked in, solo, to be greeted by about a dozen FOH ushers waiting in a semi-circle.  No box office or ticket desk, just an usher in protective visor who immediately escorted you to your assigned seat.  It felt more like airport security than theatre foyer.

A film created about the dancers’ lockdown experience prefaced the main work and gave a fascinating insight into the process of rehearsing over Zoom and then finally in their studio bubbles.

All the COVID security measures slipped from my thoughts as the lights dimmed and I felt that wonderful sense of expectancy you get when you know the stage is about to come alive.

The cleverly reworked choreography seemed to perfectly accommodate the restrictions.  For the 20 minutes or so that we watched the NYDC dancers swirl and sway across the stage I almost forgot about COVID.  Their isolation seemed strangely apt, as they groped for a way out, caught in the search light beams shot across the stage.  You felt their yearning to touch, to feel, to absorb each other’s energy in the same way our frustrated lockdown souls strove for the comfort only other humans could bring.

During the post show Q&A, the dancers commented on how phenomenal it was to be back in the rehearsal studio, to feel (even at a distance) the vitality of another.  We the audience nodded a collective gesture of understanding as we drank in the energy of seeing the dancers on stage again.

Afterwards an usher arrived to escort me out of my seat and safely out of the building. In an instant, I was back on a sun speckled Roseberry Avenue. I had been worried socially distant theatre might leave me sad and under-nourished. Far from it – it left me hungry for more. More action, more dance, more audiences and more humans.

Georgette, October 2020

Expert Support for Talented Young Dancers

Mark Pearce grew up on Orchard Park Estate in Hull and after training at Northern School of Contemporary Dance (NSCD) in Leeds and performing as part of Laban’s graduate company Transitions he toured nationally and internationally with Matthew Bourne’s highly acclaimed adaptation of Swan Lake, (the one with the all-male cast). 

He eventually found his way back to Hull, and in our conversation remembered fondly how he joined LEAP Dance as Company Leader, dancer and choreographer.  LEAP Dance Company was a partnership between Wyke College and Northern Theatre.  Mark reminded me what a great model it was offering apprenticeships to young dancers, providing experience of professional level performance alongside mentoring and training in education work.  Mark loved working in schools, colleges and community settings so when he left LEAP teamed up with fellow Hull based professional dancer Jon Beney to establish their own company Ydance and later became an artist with Arts Council England’s Creative Partnership Programme. With his abundant energy (still evident today) Mark found time to continue training attending an intensive summer programme at the Martha Graham School, New York, gaining a BA Hons in Performing Arts and qualifying as a teacher at St Mary’s College before becoming a Dance Lecture at Hull School of Performing Arts (Hull College).

In 2017, missing working as a professional artist Mark became rehearsal director and performer with JoinedUp Dance Company, which brought together a partnership initially developed when Jackie Goodman was director/manager of LEAP. In 2018 he was invited to join the staff at SLP College, Leeds and alongside Chloe Sweeting established Anlaby Dance Studios. 

Mark explained that he has now left the studios and is keen to put his skills and experience to good use working with talented young dancers in Hull as a dance coach and practitioner. He thinks this will give him the freedom to use his experience and knowledge to work intensively with young dancers individually or in small groups. He is buzzing with ideas about how to support them to bridge the gap from local students to professional dancers including developing their solo performances for auditions and brushing up their technical skills as well as working with small groups of young people new to dance but keen to start their journey. He is particularly keen to continue progressing his ‘boys in dance’ practise by creating a boys dance class. During our chat he kept emphasising that he saw his work as complementing the excellent training that young people receive at their own dance schools and groups, something extra not a replacement. 

At the moment he is still working at SLP College and as a guest teacher at dance establishments across the UK, he is also creating his own classes in contemporary/ballet technique in collaboration with Faye Lewis UYDC in Hull.  To find out more about classes that he has already established or individual coaching sessions contact Mark on mpeapod@gmail.com

Keyna and Mark, September 2020

Dancing at Home – with Becky Howes

Inside my head I am a dancer, on the outside, more of an enthusiastic student, with dodgy knees, a modicum of rhythm and a desire to express myself physically. My busy life does not seem to afford much time for the things I love although I squeeze in as much as I can.

I was lucky enough to get involved in “Smudge” (a project with Hull Dance as part of Transgressions2019) so I was familiar with Yael Flexer’s work. I really love Yael’s teaching style, her inclusive approach and her enthusiasm for why we move. She focuses on the feelings inside that then manifest to the outside. I enjoyed this process so I guess when I heard about “Acting Our Age” I already had trust.

I am not quite in the targeted age range yet, I have a few years to go but finding myself out of work due to Covid, I was rich on time and curious.

Some may find Zoom an obstacle but I was familiar with it, although I wondered how it would detract or enhance the experience of dancing with others.

I certainly did not expect to experience what I have. I expected to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of movement, such as being able to take myself away from the real world for 45 minutes, however I have noticed two further benefits; an unexpected personal improvement in my own ability and a surprising sense of community.

By dancing in my own room, I seem to have gradually lost inhibitions that I didn’t know I had. There is no one watching so I throw myself into it. Commit more to the physicality. Take a leap of faith and actually leave the ground a little. I wasn’t aware but in class I must have had a fear of judgement that has prevented me from letting loose.

I say there’s no one watching, other than my fellow Zoomers but without our glasses, our squares are blurred anyway.

I usually have Zoom on speaker view so I can receive the instruction but at the end of the session an unusual sense of community appears for me. In gallery view we come together in a communal dance. By joining with another square, I actually feel a stronger connection than in physical class. I’m sure other dancers have little inhibitions about wrapping themselves around another in movement but for me the melting of barriers has been a slower process. Here the barriers are being dissolved in tiny boxes on a laptop screen. And it’s pleasant.

I’m dancing with people from all over the world, with different abilities. It is unlikely we would ever find a location or a room big enough for us all to meet. I also love being invited into others dance space. I now have a different relationship with my own space. When I clear the furniture back it becomes my studio. It feels like a trusted privilege to be invited into another’s virtual studio, be it gardens, bedrooms or right onto the sofa.

A final thought, it’s so much easier to get to class now, I just pop upstairs, no need to find a parking space or battle through traffic. My personal studio is ready and I am really enjoying not “Acting our Age” with my new virtual friends, in my own dance space. 

Becky Howes, July 2020

Body Speaks Yoga – with Lottie Hanson

Whist studying contemporary dance training at The Place, I fell in love with yoga practise as it was a not competitive way to work both my body and mind. At that time in my life I needed some grounding from the business of London life and the pressures I was feeling from Dance school. I found yoga centred me and allowed me to focus on my breath and the present moment rather than being carried away with my mind and the distractions I was constantly presented with in London. It also helped to restore my body and get rid of the stiffness accumulated after 8 hours of intense dance training a day.

A few years later whilst working as an independent dancer based in Hull I travelled to Rishakesh, North India and trained as a Hatha Vinyassa facilitator completing a 200 hour teacher training programme. After some time putting my teaching to practise back in Hull and East Yorkshire I was still hungry to learn more and so decided to do an additional 300hr Ashtanga, adjustment and alignment course in Goa. The training was not just about positions on the mat but an education on the anatomy of the body and the philosophy of living life as an aware yogi. For example, pranayama (breathing), mantra’s, meditation practices and Ayurvedic studies (bodily balance). The latter sparked my desire to give yoga massage.

The drive I had to become a dancer has the same root as my interest in yoga – the pure desire to move and feel my body. Also, after going through intense dance training I became aware of the relationship between what I consumed and the connection to my physical body. But the very fact that I have done hours of dance practice means my body is loose and strong which allows an element of ease in demonstrating correct postures, technique, rhythm and sequencing.

Yoga on Zoom was a challenge at first as I found it hard not being able to adjust people or see the alignment clearly. I have found that I have to articulate the purpose of the asana (pose) in more detail and what its effect is on the body: this is a good practise and one I will take away with me. I am beginning to enjoy and see the benefits of home practice both in the relaxed nature of the class and the time saved in travel. I am doing these sessions to keep my yogi team keen and happy and their weekly practice up. It has been rewarding to help people out during the hard times and online teaching has kept me focused, routined and given me a purpose during the lock down. 

If you would like to know more checkout bodyspeaksyoga on Facebook

Lottie, July 2020

Stepping into Zoom! Tara Mckeown – Irish Dance Academy

Life for dancers, and other artists, changed abruptly in the third week of March. Lockdown meant that not only were all performances cancelled but it was no longer possible to create work, lead workshops or hold regular classes in studios or community venues.  The solution was to move everything on-line, but how easy is this to do?  Tara, Assistant Producer with Hull Dance and owner of the Mckeown Irish Dance Academy reflects on how she and her students have explored zoom together.

We’re still here…

I still can’t quite believe how quickly lockdown happened and our normal routines and support structures simple disappeared. I find it even more amazing that within a few weeks people started to find ways to stay connected and, for most of the time at least, look forward and try to find the positive in this moment of history.

We know some people have suffered huge anxiety as loved ones became very ill and many suffered bereavement either directly or indirectly from covid-19.  Our thoughts are with you all, grief is a lonely place even when we have support, social distancing at such a time is an unbearable cruelty.

At Hull Dance we have been thinking about ways we can connect and keep the conversations between us growing even if we cannot do this physically at the moment. This has led us to embracing the virtual world – hopefully, in a way that we can take forward post-lockdown.  We know it took us a while, but we got there in the end!

Thanks to financial support from ACE (Emergency Fund) and Hull City Council we will:

    • share what we are doing and snippets about dance from our amazing partners and friends in bi-weekly newsletters
    • introduce Let’s Talk … a programme of ‘Artist Talks’ during the summer months
    • keep connected with the wonderful members of both our dance class for people living with MS and Hull Youth Dance Company through regular virtual sessions

Let’s Talk … is a chance for you find out about, and chat with, some of the most exciting dance artists based in Hull, and those based further afield who have worked with Hull Dance during the last 12 months. It also gives us a chance to introduce new artists who we would like to work with in the future.

You are welcome to attend all events, or just join us for some, whatever works for you.

You must register to attend via the ‘Let’s Talk‘ webpage.

Whatever happens in the future it is unlikely that things will go back to the way they were, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We are excited that these artist talks have the potential to become a regular feature of our programme becoming meaningful exchanges between people, developing our thoughts and our creativity.

Keep Safe, Keep Well

Keyna,  May 2020′

Adult Contemporary Dance Class

Tuesday evenings – 6.30-8.00pm
Location: Studio 9, 9 Mechanic Lane, HU3 2DB
Cost: £6 or £4 for students

A weekly, mixed-level class suitable for beginners to intermediate level (16+) taught by local dancers Jo Ashbridge and Tamar Draper. In a friendly and inclusive atmosphere Jo and Tamar build contemporary dance skills and knowledge though technical exercises, movement exploration, improvisation, and fun, uplifting dance sequences.

Everyone is welcome, current participants include both male and female participants ranging from 20’s to 50’s, some with no previous dance experience and some university dance graduates, so come and dance with us whatever your level!  The class runs on a drop-in basis, so there is no need to book. Follow weekly updates on Facebook @AdultContemporaryDanceHull.