- Tell us more about yourself. What do you do and how long you’ve been working in this industry?
I’m an independent dance and aerial artist who’s been working in the industry for over 34 years. Since graduating from London School of Contemporary Dance in 1984, I’ve worked with dance, theatre, circus and opera companies as a dancer, aerialist, teacher, mentor and choreographer.
I’ve been privileged to work with some phenomenal artists, choreographers and directors. Also some not quite so wonderful! Though there’s actually very little of that experience I would change, given the opportunity to do so my role as a stand-in for the backend of a centaur and a topiary bush might make that edit!
In 2003, I founded Gravity & Levity (G&L) aerial dance company as I wanted to create more aerial dance specific work. We’re a project led company, meaning that I get to employ some talented folks when we have money but for the vast majority of the time, it’s just me and my business partner (MacBook Pro) slogging away at applications and dreaming up schemes that enable more people to fly.
I specialise in Vertical Dance choreography. Much of that experience and development came from collaborations with Scarabeus Aerial Theatre, for which I’m deeply grateful. I also get to teach regularly at master classes and Aerial Dance Festivals, both in the UK and Internationally and run the European Aerial Dance Festival, which is now in its 10th year.
Last but not least, I’m also a proud (and still somewhat astonished) Guinness World Record holder for synchronised aerial silks!
- Who did you want to be when you were a kid?
Hmmm, I’m not sure. I loved watching other dancers but there weren’t that many opportunities to see that growing up in Barnsley, not back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. But there was Gene Kelly, Gregory Hines, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and the ballroom dancers at Blackpool Tower.
I possibly aspired to emulate my then best friend, Anne, whom I danced with every Saturday and who had a fantastic facility for dance. She was flexible, had gorgeous feet and an innate understanding of rhythm.
I also remember being smitten by Olga Korbut and Nadia Comăneci, but not necessarily wanting to be them.
- What was your ‘punch in the stomach’ or when did you first realise that this is going to become your career?
I don’t recall of ever consciously having the moment of realisation.
At 16, I auditioned for London Contemporary Dance School and to my amazement was accepted. So I left home, trained for 4 years, graduated and then joined a contemporary dance company, Extemporary Dance Theatre, and it’s just never occurred for me to stop. I still love it. I’m remain curious and endlessly challenged by the art form and there’s still so much to do and explore.
I’m not even sure I view it as my career as such, it’s my hobby and my life. That’s not intended to sound smug or self-satisfied, hell, it might even sound sad but if I wasn’t doing it for a living I’d probably be doing it in my spare time (which I don’t have much of because… I’m too busy doing what I love).
There also seems to have been a natural evolution for me from dance to circus and then to aerial dance without too many detours or planning. I’ve just followed my instincts and jumped at the opportunities and adventures as they arose.
- What were the 3 biggest obstacles in pursuit of your career?
Time, money and fear.
- Finding the time to continue up-skilling whilst working at a multitude of other things: fitting in the actual physical practice to keep it all going, making time for reflection, keeping up with all the admin, the funding apps and now the social media!
- With more money I’d stick to what I do well and employ someone else to do all things I don’t (well most of those things – see continuing to up-skill above!) The lack of money also means I often say yes to too many things, but I am getting better at that!
- Fear of mucking it all up, though usually the ‘If I don’t try it, I won’t ever know’ theory wins over. Impostor syndrome gets in the way too – I’ll never know enough etc… And in those times when the work/money isn’t coming in at the desired rate, I wonder if I’ve actually retired and nobody has told me.
- Where do you find inspiration?
From my peers, from the people I work with, from teaching, mentoring and watching people grow and from people who’ve successfully transitioned to work outside of the sector. Also from books, films, theatre and life!
I find inspiration in the dance itself. I remain curious about the body, its physicality and emotional intelligence, and its capacity for change.
- What challenges do you face in this industry as a ‘50+ artist’?
See my answer to Question 4.
There is a lack of visibility for older artists, particularly women. And don’t get me started on the lack of female choreographers debate!
Though within my small specialist sector my age and experience do earn me respect. If only that I’m still ‘at it’ all these years later.
In the past, I’ve enjoyed occasional forays into the more commercial world. Whilst it’s not where I’ve been at my most comfortable and confident self, it was still difficult, awkward and extremely humiliating to be told I was too old for that market. I was not so gently nudged out from that world.
The sad thing is that my body was and still is really capable of performing that work to a very high standard, it just wasn’t what the promoters thought their audiences wanted to see. To my knowledge nobody ever thought to ask the audience, they just all went along with those assumptions.
- What advice would you give someone who is about to start their career but is being told that it’s ‘too late’?
Obviously, if it’s a physical practice you’re interested in then be realistic about your expectations. Don’t aim to be Prima Ballerina or to get that quadruple somy on the flying trapeze.
Joking aside, if it’s something you’re passionate about, something you feel you have to do, then, of course, you should dive in.
- Do you have any idols and if so, who and why?
I’m not sure I do. But there are people I admire who’ve helped me see a path ahead even though I didn’t necessarily recognise it at the time:
- Jean Cryne, a dance teacher who introduced me to contemporary dance as a teenager;
- Sonia Noonan, a body conditioning teacher at London Contemporary who inspired an ongoing fascination with anatomy and physiology;
- Sue Broadway – my 1st trapeze teacher who later became my boss in Ra-Ra Zoo;
- Siobhan Davies, wonderful choreographer who nudged me in the direction of forming my own company.
I’m sure there are heaps more that I’ll remember as soon as I press send on my keyboard.
And then there’s the late Gill Clarke, dancer and human extraordinaire. Yep, maybe Gill was and still is my idol.
- What’s your life motto?
I favour Grayson Perry’s ‘Turn up on time, be nice and put in the hours.’
And also learning to trust in the ‘not knowing’ and that it’s most often a fertile (if challenging) place to be. Not sure the last is a motto per se, but more of a mantra for myself.
- You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What colour would you be and why?
It would vary depending on the day, I’d say. Today I’m mostly blue, Klein blue. I have no idea why.