Finding Closure During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In 2018 Tara and I started working with a group of people living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) who visited the MS drop-in on Tuesday mornings in North Hull. In March 2020, like so many things, our sessions ended abruptly. We soon realised that classes were not going to resume anytime soon – in fact over a year later we are still not sure when the drop-in centre will be able to re-open. Last May we decided there was only one thing to do – start dancing together in ‘zoom world’ from our own homes. Moving online was a leap into the unknown for the group and if I am honest, it wasn’t only the group participants who were nervous at the start!

The sessions were intended to keep our bodies moving and minds thinking through lockdown and focused on co-ordination, memory, stretching, relaxing and sharing our creativity. For people advised not to leave the house we all soon realised that the sessions were a gift of communication and wellbeing, our ‘community time’ as Maggie called them.
Part way through the year the sessions took on a more serious note when, following a suggestion by Jane, the group decided they wanted to create a tribute dedicated to members of the Hull MS group who lost their lives in 2020. This decision took us into new territory where we created movements and rehearsed them for months so that our minds and bodies would remember them. The group also worked with musician Georgina Jakubiak (State of Georgia) to develop their vocal skills and record their own arrangement of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Having found their way around Zoom, group members set about embracing more technology and recording their individual contributions on their phones before sending them to Georgia to edit. Thankfully, a few of them had been in the choir at school so knew a bit about singing! The vocal tasks that we did with Georgia not only helped us create the soundtrack but also gave people exercises to do at home to maintain their vocal chords.

Unable to mourn in our usual way this project helped group members find closure during a time they were shielding and the film brought comfort to the families of those who had died.

The sessions themselves brought us together and lifted our spirits giving a positive start to each week. Being on Look North was just the icing on the cake! Thanks to Arts Council England, Hull City Council and the MS Society who funded the sessions.

The classes are continuing on-line, 11.00 am on Monday mornings. New members are welcome including carers and family members, you don’t need to have attended the North Hull Drop-in centre to join the dance group. If you would like more information email info@hulldance.com

Keyna and MS dancers, April 2021

A Journey that Began with Hull Dance

Over the course of the past 6 months I have worked alongside Hull Dance and other dance professionals, in order to gain experience, knowledge and broaden my skills within the dance world as a recent graduate. I have previously worked with Hull Dance assisting to deliver workshops and sessions weekly to a Youth Group leading up to the pandemic. I also worked with TIN Arts to teach a programme at Ganton Special School, a secondary school within the Hull area working towards a performance at the FRESH event during 2020.

However, over these last 6 months I have had the wonderful opportunity to assist in delivering the Flourish programme run by Hull Dance which consists of an Over 55’s class and an MS class, as well as providing input to the Youth Dance Framework Development sessions offered by TIN Arts and working alongside Emma Clayton and Blood Memory Dance on the Time of our lives project.

Over this time delivering the MS class and the Over 55’s class became a new and exciting challenge for me as I had never had dance teaching experience within these areas, and I had also never taught online via zoom. I spent the first sessions participating before eventually contributing to planning and delivering exercises, warmups and tasks. I feel this has enabled me to gain knowledge and has developed my practice as a teacher and a creative artist, enhancing my transferable skillset for the future.

I have also enjoyed working with Emma and Blood Memory Dance as part of the Time of Our Lives programme alongside musician Georgia Jakubiak. I feel this project has influenced me the most, as up until now I had not participated in any singing. Working with Georgia enabled us as creatives to choreograph and move to a live singer, which has an entirely different creative aspect about it that I had never encountered before therefore, allowing us to move in a new way.

Singing is something that I had never tried to do up until this project. In this project we have participated within singing sessions including vocal warmups, exercises and tasks. I feel that this is something I have really enjoyed and that I could take with me into other career roles within the future and that it has also contributed to the way I move along with our pieces that we have created as a group overall.

Throughout this time as part of the MS groups project we collaborated with Georgia partaking within more singing sessions, allowing us to learn and perform a piece of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ that we later sent to Georgia to edit together for us to put alongside a dance video, that we had choreographed and recorded as a tribute to those that we have lost, in the last year, either due to the pandemic or MS. I feel, this project was something that without Hull Dance I would have never been a part of and that through this work I have gained many contacts and new opportunities that otherwise I would have not encountered.

Within the Time of our Lives sessions we have created family dance pieces as well as a group dance piece that we will be sharing via zoom to the other classes and our families. This project has been based around this past year and I feel has really engaged me and my family through movement over the course of the pandemic. The other massive factor that has helped me throughout this time is working via zoom, something which I have never had experience with prior to the pandemic that I can take with me going forward.

I have Hull Dance to thank for the opportunities that I have been given. I feel that my practices with Hull Dance have influenced my teaching going forward and whilst working with TIN Arts to input around the Youth Dance Framework development I have recently looked into setting up an after-school dance club within the primary school that I teach at, enabling me to begin and further my dance teaching career, a journey that began with Hull Dance.

Zoe Johnson, March 2021

Dance, Dance, Dance, Dance – You can Dance Through it

Snowdrops appearing and birds gradually sitting in pairs rather than on their own in the bare branches of the trees. These are two of the glorious sights that I always associate with the start of February and the first hints that spring is on the way. This year is no different, nature seems unaware that we are in the middle of a pandemic. Elsewhere it seems as if we are all waking up from a long hibernation and preparing ourselves to re-enter the world, however and whatever that we may be for us.

Our present projects seem to reflect this as well. Although we are all still within our little zoom squares our conversations and creative themes have turned outwards. What happens next when we come out of lockdown3? What have we missed most?

Saath, Saath (Together we Can) is a project with young people, some who have an Indian dance background and others with a background in western theatre styles. Led by Anusha Subramyaman, as well as exploring each other’s dance styles and cultures, participants are sharing their experiences of the pandemic and their hopes and dreams for the future.

Time of Our Lives, a community project with families, led by Emma Clayton, Artistic Director of Blood Memory Dance, has also taken a similar turn. The haunting refrain of ‘Dance, Dance, Dance, Dance – You can Dance Through it’ created by talented musician Georgia Jakubiak is reflected by participants in both projects who have highlighted how dancing and moving has carried them through the last year.

The people living with MS, and their friends, who dance with us each Monday morning are busy creating their own version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. This is dedicated to friends they have lost since we last met at their local centre in March 2020. They have not only danced through it, they are now singing through it as well! Our new classes within the Flourish programme are finding their own rhythm and starting to move to their own tune – proving there is no age limit to who can embrace dance and movement.

Behind the scenes the Inclusive Youth Dance Framework, which we are developing in partnership with Hull City Council Arts Team and TIN Arts is moving along at an increased pace, as if eager to meet the public! The way we have sought opinions and input about the framework has changed, there has been none of the face-to-face activity we hoped for, but we have managed to dance together via Zoom as well as discuss things. March will see the end of this stage of development and with it the foundations for an environment where more young people can dance through whatever comes next.

If you would like to get involved with any of the above projects, go to the website or email info@hulldance.com

All these projects are only possible thanks to public funding from National Lottery through Arts Council England and Hull City Council, we are really appreciative of the support which not only keeps us connected with those who we know already but to develop the organisation and dance provision within the city.

Keyna, February 2021

Hello 2021

Happy New Year! We hope that you are staying safe and well in these challenging times and that the festive period brought you joy however you spent it. I think we can safely say that 2020 was a year like no other, and that entering a third lockdown was probably not how any of us wanted to start 2021. Am I the only one asking will we ever get out of this pandemic?

However, hope is in the air, the vaccination programme is being gradually rolled out across the country and the end is in sight, even if a way off yet. Armed with this knowledge and our learning from 2020 Hull Dance is exploring how we can create opportunities for laughter, movement, creativity, and togetherness during 2021 whether virtually or in a physical space. We are hopeful that we will be able to host another Transgressions weekend as part of our programme this year. Our focus will explore how art has enabled us to be together whilst apart during the pandemic, although if we can make it happen it will probably be in June and not May this year!

Before that we are looking forward to welcoming back existing participants and some new ones to the Time of Our Lives project and our Flourish programme which both re-start next week. The Flourish programme comprises workshops for people living with MS, their carers, and friends, those living independently at home with support and people who are over 55 years old and still enjoy ‘strutting their stuff’.   Find out more and register here.

Discovering the joy of moving and being creative in our own spaces, alongside, underneath or above our fellow dancers in their individual squares was one of the highlights and, dare I say, benefits of being in our homes so much during 2020. The technology not only enabled us to experience dancing differently but enabled those, who for various reasons, cannot access a central physical space to join in. Now that must be good news.

A key focus for Hull Dance over the next two months, alongside our partners Hull City Council and TIN Arts will be finalising the MOVE TOGETHER framework. This will give a structure to opportunities for young people to get together and dance across the city at a level and in way that works for them. Thanks to those who provided vital feedback on our initial workings before Christmas, we will be asking people who work with young people and most importantly young people themselves their thoughts via a series of interactions, on social media platforms and through virtual meetings during January and February. There will also be some practical dance sessions and a project led by Anusha Subramanyam – so it won’t all just be talking!

Our plan is that by the spring we will have a clear structure which includes the great work that happens across the city already and gives more chances for other young people to get involved and dance.

New partnerships made in 2020 and new possibilities emerging mean we have lots of ideas buzzing in our heads as we ease into 2021. As always we want to hear your thoughts about what we should do in the future, so email us at info@hulldance.com with your ideas.

Keyna, January 2021

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