On Friday 21st February, the Exim team attended a day of training focusing on teaching skills and techniques. The day was facilitated by Plymouth Dance and led by independent dance artists, Jo Rhodes and Tom Hobden. Their impressive combined experience in the field of educational and community dance provided a full and valuable day of learning new strategies and methods of creating exercises. It also included time to discuss and deconstruct our own experiences, struggles and successes of our own teaching experiences, both as individual practitioners and a team.
We discussed what is expected of us as community practitioners when delivering on someone else’s project and how we can keep our own values at the top of our priorities. Appreciating that community artists shouldnt be expected to deliver at the same outcome as choreographers who may have the funds, time, commission and existing audience following.
It was a valuable day of training, allowing us to update our toolkits whilst also having fun in a relaxed and inclusive atmosphere. The day was upbeat and well paced, and the team left feeling motivated from the progressive approach that Jo and Tom took, noting and valuing community dance.
It was wonderful to have the time to dance and move with each other as we do not get the chance to do this on a weekly basis. We were able to come away from this day with a strengthened approach to our teaching and delivery, allowing us to create continuity as a team when delivering dance to our educational and community settings.
In January, the Exim team attended the Female Leaders Networking South West event hosted by Pavilion Dance South West. The objectives of the day were:
to connect with new people
explore ideas around future career development at all career stages
focus on what we can do for women and change within the industry and to diversify the workforce.
Throughout the day, interesting discussions surrounded the divide between independent dance artists and dance companies; each avenue of these career paths holds many positives as well as risks. An idea arose suggesting independent artists should be able to become NPOs in order to have the opportunity to access regular funding. The response to questions surrounding ‘do you have to be working in a company to be a leader?’ explored other ways of showing leadership such as, leader of ideas, leader of change, leader of progression.
Some of the discussions regarded recruitment and addressing diversity within recruitment processes. Is it enough to just label a call out opportunity as ‘open opportunities’? The outcome was essentially ‘no’; the importance and necessity to put time and energy and therefore money into empowering those communities and individuals to come forward and want to apply and feel supported in doing so. Someone from the discussion made a point that a company should make an active choice to show they are fully inclusive of ethnicity, gender, ability, age and background; if their employment history does not represent this, then what makes someone from a minority background want to be involved and feel they have a chance.
Sacha Lee, Artistic Director at The Point, spoke about Women Leaders South West, a scheme which is supported by a collective of partners across the South West. A group discussion followed, asking why there was such a strict age boundary on their upcoming associates scheme (aged 25 to 35). If someone has come to the sector at a later age, this opportunity may suit them very well for their career development but are not able to apply due to age restrictions. This was concluded with a discussion about the importance of the use of accessible language throughout callouts and applications for opportunities.
Activities involved noting down qualities that each of us believes a great leader portrays. As well as making a note of what risks we each could take personally in order to make change, with the intention to put this into action.
Overall, the Female Leadership Networking event was an empowering and thought provoking day. All the aims of the day were either met or at least initiated conversations, connections and ideas on the subjects where change is needed, and how this can be achieved together.
The show, Fierce, at the Plymouth Athenaeum definitely rose to its powerful title and it was fantastic to see such a variety of works that had all been created by women. The marketing led me to believe the evening would showcase three or four professional works, however after two and a half hours and eleven dance pieces, spanning a wide range of levels of professionalism, it was less clear what the evening as a whole was intending to be.
The first piece, How I got Here, was choreographed by Alleyne Dance Company and performed by the Barbican Theatre’s Movers and Shakers. It contained well executed lifts and clear focus between the dancers. Interestingly, a decision was made to have a one male in the piece; impressively, he did not distract from the female empowerment element. I particularly enjoyed the moment when he was lifted by a female dancer because despite being the one who was elevated and being spun around, this moment was not about him but about the power and strength of her.
This piece would be a great introduction to contemporary dance to anyone who was new to viewing dance as it was visually pleasing, energetic and displayed effective choreographic devices such as canon, where the dancers created a powerful wave-like effect. I felt the colour scheme of the costumes were aesthetically pleasing but they didn’t necessarily add anything to the power of the piece.
The second piece, Devi, created by Kiran Ratna, Chitralekha Bolar and Mohan Kumar and performed by Vibha Selvaratnam, was a stunning Bharatanatyam performance piece that combined the traditional Indian dance style with sections of spoken word and gestures. This multidisciplinary approach made the piece engaging and was effective in telling the story of the Goddess of power, Goddess Parvati. The simple yet effective use of coloured lighting enhanced the emotion behind each part of the story and the third section of movement began with a beautifully clear pose in silhouette against the light backdrop.
In the second half of the evening, Untold Dance Theatre performed You and I, choreographed by Vicki Hearne. This company strives to create entertaining dance theatre that is socially and politically relevant with an additional focus on women’s mental health. The intention behind every movement was clear and the attentiveness of the two dancers towards one another was captivating. The purpose of the metal buckets and rope was unclear, however presumably this would make sense when watching the full-length work, Ties That Bind, which this section was extracted from. The guitarist, situated downstage left of the action, performed beautiful live accompaniment which he mixed and looped himself from the stage with a foot pedal. Part of the movement was also performed to a recorded soundscape of voices talking of their own experiences of homophobia; in combination with the echoing guitar and powerful duet work, this created a compelling atmosphere.
Overall, the depiction of the word ‘fierce’ was demonstrated well throughout the evening, and some of the performances really stood out to me as having the potential to be further developed into really stunning, thought provoking and captivating pieces of performance.
Performance review by Martha Scholefield October 2019
27th October 2019 | The House, University of Plymouth
Reach, by Lavrak, a contemporary circus company, is an aerial and dance theatre show aimed at children, which is accessible to people who are deaf or hearing impaired. On arrival at The House, Plymouth, there was a great buzz of excitement. It was fantastic to hear the conversations between children and their parents about what to expect, and it was probably the first time watching a piece of theatre for some of them, judging by parents’ explanations of the house lights fading to dark and how not to talk as it was about to begin.
The professionalism of the performers shone when a child trotted onto the stage, soon to be scooped up by her mother and taken back to their seats! They portrayed very clear actions, facial expressions and relationships which told the narrative. Some valuable themes and messages were communicated within the story-telling, including the importance of team-work, as well as a hint towards how gravity works. This was done by using helium balloons that made the dancers appear as though they were being lifting into the air, through the use of aerial work.
I was delighted to see an absence of gender stereotypes, particularly with the colours used within the costumes and props. The use of sound effects to enhance the mimed actions in the play-fighting duet were a good addition which could have been used more throughout. I appreciated that each of the three characters performed sections where it was just one of them on stage; this allowed them to make a stronger connection with the audience and show the individual personality of each character.
It was uplifting to see children (and adults!) having a wonderful time and be impressed by the aerial dance form. This show was a perfect demonstration of why the arts are so important, especially when providing the opportunity for people to access the theatre and performance from a young age. A joyful and (literally) uplifting performance!
Performance review by Martha Scholefield October 2019
To choreograph a dance work and then put yourself in the lead role may feel conceited. However, in Dada Masilo’s case it has proven to be an utter triumph.
Giselle, choreographed by Dada Masilo, oozed originality whilst also transporting the audience to distant, albeit familiar, cultural world. The South African company beautifully blended dance styles from their own culture with contemporary dance. This fusion of styles flowed seamlessly from creative lifts and beautiful extensions to a rich tribal energy and raw emotion. The attack and commitment to the movement, along with vocal shouts and tight unison, emphasised Masilo’s strong approach to female empowerment and unity.
The use of nudity from Dada Masilo’s character, Giselle, was affective. One thing I cannot stand is nudity for the sake of trying to be controversial and make a statement but lacking a any reason. In the post-show discussion at the Lowry Theatre, Salford, Masilo said she ‘tried the scenes with clothes on and it didn’t work’, she wanted it to be honest both for her and for the audience and this was definitely achieved. This theme of honesty was reflected throughout the work, through simple yet affective props and culturally accurate costumes. Similarly, the genuine expressions of emotions, particularly frustration, as well as the use of voice, came across as real and not acted. Masilo’s motivation behind the use of voice, both expressive sounds and monologue/conversations, was to minimise the ungenuine and fabricated nature of mime that is heavily used within traditional ballets, including the original Giselle.
The use of a warm red backdrop resembled Alvin Ailey’s well-known Revelations, but originality shone through within the simple yet descriptive opening projection of a subtle pond scene; cleverly adding to the narrative but not distracting from the movement. I appreciated Masilo’s brave decision to have a short break within the performance for the practicalities of costume change rather than filling it with more choreography just for the sake of it. The pause also allowed time for the first part to settle before arriving into the new world of mortality in part two.
From my dance training I have learned the value of being able to find the right timing and approach to leaving a performance space in a way that benefits the space left behind and not detract from it. In many performances I have seen, a scene will end, dances exit, a new scene begins, almost as if I’m watching a scene change in a film but much more awkward and drawn out. Or alternatively where superfluous movement is added in, in order to get the dancer closer and into to the wings. However, almost every time a dancer left the stage throughout this performance of Giselle, they achieved the notion of adding something to the space, enhancing the focus and energy that remained on the stage, and continuing to tell the story.
One thing that didn’t sit well with me initially was that the only white dancer, Kyle Rossouw, took the lead male role, however Masilo explained that this was not a political choice; ‘it’s not about race, it’s about beautiful dancers’ and that this lead role was in fact dual cast, telling us ‘we have a black Albrecht too!’ played by Lwando Dutyulwa. She also said that when casting she knew he had to be very tall so that he could make her ‘fly’.
In conclusion, the refreshing fusion of dance styles and original movement content, in combination with the props, setting and costumes, created a cultural identity and a rich experience. The exceptional technique and performance quality that the dancers delivered enabled the audience to become immersed within the story they told. A truly refreshing approach to a well-known ballet.
Performance review by Martha Scholefield October 2019
Supplementary training is when other forms of fitness and exercise are used alongside dance training. Examples include Yoga and Pilates, Somatic Practices, HITT (High Intensity Tactical Training), or can be other forms of sport that specifically target areas of the body that need strengthening or mobilising for an individual’s dance training or career. Supplementary training is important for building general strength and stamina which can sometimes be lacking within dance training, due to the stop-start nature of a dance class or rehearsal.
Previous injuries and illnesses should always be taken into consideration when planning what forms of supplementary training a dancer will include in their schedule. For example, if someone has suffered a lower leg injury they may avoid high impact training such as running and instead add swimming into their schedule, in addition to specifically tailored exercises given by a physiotherapist to strengthen the leg muscles.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine & Science (IADMS), the components of fitness are: aerobic and anaerobic fitness, muscle endurance, strength, power, flexibility, neuromuscular coordination, body composition and rest. Sometimes rest can be overlooked but it is a vital part of a dancer’s training. For many committed dancers, taking time off for recovery can come with a feeling of guilt (feeling like you’re admitting defeat and punishing yourself for not being ‘strong’ enough to keep going). Admittedly sometimes it is just a matter of being tired and having to push through to be able to keep up with the demands that a dance career entails. However, a dancer must be able to know the limits of their own body and mind and know when it is necessary to rest in order to sustain a healthy mental wellbeing and avoid physical injury. The charity, Mind, uses this graph showing pressure verses performance, to demonstrate the boundaries surrounding the useful and detrimental levels of pressure:
Therefore being aware of where you are on this scale and acknowledging the demands you have through the rest of the week, is necessary for being realistic about what you can do without burning out and reaching exhaustion. Listen to your body, acknowledge what it needs in order to maintain good physical and mental wellbeing.
Getting sufficient amounts of sleep means the body will have more energy and can function properly and therefore is quicker to resist or recover from illnesses. Scientists have shown that sleep may also benefit the retention of what has been learned that day, for example a new choreography, as it is thought that the brain continues to practice through the night. Sleep is also an important factor of positive mental health which subsequently benefits training in many ways, including higher levels of motivation, focus, patience, sociability and so on.
However, rest does not have to mean void of everything. In fact, professional dancers who have long breaks between tours or seasons need to keep up some level of activity during these rest periods to maintain their high fitness levels. Similarly, if a dancer is recovering from an injury they may be able to participate (physically or observing) so that there is still engagement but at a lower impact level; this is knows as active rest. A sudden change in level of activity can cause problems to occur in the body; when training is suddenly removed common outcomes include cardiac arrhythmia, circulatory problems and depressive moods due to the deficiency of endorphins. When training is resumed too rapidly after a rest period, risk of chronic overload and acute injuries is increased. Similarly, a change of diet can affect hormone balance and the composition of the blood, therefore during a rest period a dancer should not neglect a healthy diet and where possible, should maintain previous levels of nutrition and hydration.
‘Understanding the importance of rest has been a big learning curve for me. Initially, I would not permit myself to sit out of a class because I felt I would be admitting defeat. However, during a particularly full-on term, the strain I was putting upon myself was preventing an illness from clearing up and I became physically too weak to dance and took the advice of my teachers to take the entire week off from dancing. It also affected my mental wellbeing, because accepting that I hadn’t recovered quickly, over the previous weekend, was challenging. However, from this I learned about active rest, where there is still engagement on training but physical involvement or intensity is reduced. I discovered how valuable it can be to observe my classes and how my own understanding of the technique is benefited from giving feedback to my peers. Taking several Somatics classes also taught me a lot about the importance of rest and knowing my limits through the ability to listen to my body: what it needs and how it moves.
I also made sure that when I was resting and recovering from an injury, I was taking the time to improve my knowledge of my body so that I could spot any signals suggesting the injury is resurfacing in the future, and learning what my body needed to prevent further strain and damage. I could then apply this knowledge when I returned to dancing, through adapting exercises where needed and strengthening specific muscle groups to support my injury.’
 Simmel, L. (2014) Dance Medicine in Practice, Oxon & USA & Canada: Routledge, p. 227-237
Read my blog post all about my 6-month internship with Exim Dance Company and Plymouth Dance.
I have just completed my joint internship with Exim Dance Company and Plymouth Dance (PD) so it’s time to reflect on what I have enjoyed, learned and achieved since September 2018.
One of my biggest achievements with Exim has been finding a real enjoyment and passion for teaching; from primary schools to youth companies to adult disability classes. I have loved being able to develop a relationship with each of the different groups I teach, and see them develop week on week, both as individuals and as a group.
I have loved being able to use my creative skills to design youth company logos and lots of posters for Exim’s classes, intensives and courses, as well as organise updates for both Exim and Plymouth Dance’s websites. I also ran multiple social media campaigns including the AVIVA Fund, Easter Youth Dance Intensive and Exim Dance Company facts, statistics and throwbacks. I…
It is common knowledge that there has been a decline in young people taking dance and creative arts subjects in recent years, but is it a lack of interest or is there a lack of opportunity and choice. Government figures published in January 2019 show that uptake of creative subjects at GCSE has fallen almost 18% since 2014/15.  So why are the creative arts disappearing in education and at what cost?
To not include the creative arts as part of the national curriculum, or even providing it as an option, sends a message that they are not valuable subjects within in young people’s education (or as a career choice). When in fact, dance and other art forms cultivate many transferable skills, including communication and interpersonal skills, critical writing skills, development of intuition, as well as a deeper understanding of one’s own body and mind. Furthermore, there is evidence that participation in school-based dance interventions can result in healthy lifestyle changes outside of school. 
Fortunately, all is not lost; there are many organisations across the country that appreciate the importance of dance in education and are trying their best to keep performance arts available and accessible to children and young people. Exim Dance Company, based in Plymouth, is an example of this, who provide a variety of regular classes and outreach workshops to school children from 4 to 18 years, both within and outside of school settings. These opportunities are valuable to the young people who feel they are not receiving enough, if any, creative arts education within the school curriculum.
In their recent statistics report, it is shown that in 2018 Exim Dance Company’s engagement with young people increased by 64.4% from 2017, thus showing the demand for continuing to provide creative arts opportunities. Being able to access dance at this age introduces a huge range of benefits, including building self-confidence, teamwork and leadership skills, and being active which improves physical health and mental wellbeing.
The Incorporated Society of Musicians is a collection of music, dance and drama companies who have come together to boost awareness of the decline of the creative arts in education and to make a change so that they can thrive. The campaign, ‘Bacc for the Future’ has been created, to strive for the English baccalaureate to be abolished or reformed, due to the damage it is doing to creative subjects in schools 
To conclude, dance and other creative arts subjects have been proven to teach a huge range of valuable personal developmental and social skills to young people. If you agree that creative arts subjects should be protected and nourished within the school curriculum, you can sign to the ‘Bacc for the Future’ campaign here: https://baccforthefuture.com/sign-up
  Incorporated Society of Musicians (2019) Bacc for the Future: Write to your MP
 Keay, J. and Spence, J. (2009) Essentially Dance pilot project evaluation report, London: Roehampton University
This is a space for a set of articles I will be writing, focusing on different aspects of dance, including training, performance and education. I will be drawing from research as well as personal experience within the field.
What content to expect:
> Advice for those currently studying (or thinking about studying) dance at higher education level, and things I have learned from my own experiences during my dance training at Plymouth Conservatoire in the UK.
> Looking at the relevant research surrounding current issues and topics within performance art and dance politics, both within the industry and its effects on the wider community. This will including posting sections of my First Class dissertation which looks at the mental health benefits of dance across a range of ages and communities.
> Reviews of dance and dance theatre performances I have seen.
Please note that I am not a professional writer and reviews and advise will be my personal opinions and perspectives. All research will be appropriately cited.
I am an advocate for dance and I hope to attract an audience of both dancers and non dancers, and aim to provoke deeper thoughts surrounding the themes I cover.
I hope you enjoy the content that I present.
Linked In: Martha Scholefield Professional Twitter: @ms_danceartist