The next in our series of Tutor Tuesdays is Stina Sommerlade, one of our lecturers in dance. Find her at @
Motion Alpha Dance Company, lead by Masters students James Middleton and Aaron Smith are helping to bring dance to a new generation of boys. The pair run all male creative dance classes that use movement to build physical confidence, co-ordination, movement vocabulary and sequences, imagination and creativity. The classes are taught by the two, who are graduates from Canterbury Christ Church University and are experienced in teaching dance with a range of ages and stages.
The Kent and Medway Collaborative Network has spoken about us, and details can be found below:
Siobhan Mitchell from the University of Bath on Dr Angela Pickard’s book
Dancing the Marathon
Dancing in a run of shows is a marathon and not a sprint. Many contemporary dancers rarely get the chance to perform in shows that last longer than two nights in the same venue before packing up and leaving for the next town. So when we are faced with more than a few shows how does our body cope? We all know that over use of particular muscle groups can lead to injury so how do we avoid this when we are expected to repeat the same movements sometimes up to 4 shows a day and also keep the performance as fresh as the first time.
Through my work with Loop Dance Company I have had the opportunity to collaborate in the creation and performance of a critically acclaimed children’s immersive theatre production designed for the Christmas season now in its 7th year. Every year the piece is brand new; the concept brainstormed in the spring, the script written in the summer and the show devised in two weeks of intensive rehearsals in November. This year the ‘run’ was 63 performances, many days with 4 shows a day, every one of them will have the fresh eyes of our target audience aged 3-6 years who are a tough crowd to entertain at the most exciting time of year!
An adequate warm up is crucial of course but also one needs to be careful not to overdo the warm up. The warm up needs to change otherwise we risk muscle imbalance from this repetition on top of the performance repetition. The subsequent shows of the day also need a thorough warm up but one that is different to the last. I find myself moving from traditional dance warm up to yoga, fitness and Pilates style training and always end the day with a good stretch, even when the theatre manager is jangling his keys. My mantra is “my body my job……he’ll get over the wait if I smile!” Fuel and hydration are also essential factors, avoiding sugars and ‘fast energy’ and opting for complex carbohydrates that give a sustained energy release. Finally after care; a hot bath after the 4 show days, some time spent on my foam roller and when a ‘niggle’ appears then the ice and hot water bottle trick before bed is a must! Saying no to the offers of a little Christmas cheer until after the run is also a must. The actors may be able to say yes but for the dancer a night on the booze will mean dehydrated muscles the next day….it’s not worth the chance!
This year was tough for me as I started the rehearsal period with a flare up of an old injury on my Achilles. Any dancer knows that an Achilles Tendon injury is stuff of nightmares! Once it is damaged a long recovery is on the cards and at worst a spell in a cast! Entering the cold studio armed with thermal socks, layers to pop on when I’m not the focus of the directors attention and my trusty tennis balls to roll my feet (many of the ankle and calf attachments are in the sole of the foot!) without a doubt are the reason I made it through without breaking!
I am both choreographer and dancer in this project, working with the director to create the movement material. I have learnt how to stay in character, echoing movements and following the other characters when I’m not dancing, this may sound obvious but for dancers it’s not something we are used to doing. Interacting with the audience is essential in this style of work, they are young and scare easily so being gentle yet fun is a quality I try to emanate. It is vitally important to be honest with yourself as well as the director in the creative period and remember that doing a backflip might be fun once or twice however; you have to make it to the end of the run and then go onto the next job. Finding a balance between challenging your physicality but being realistic about your body’s limitations is a teetering fine line, the finish line is an ever moving idea!
Nina is the Founder and Artistic Director of Loop Dance Company, 0.5 Lecturer at Canterbury Christchurch University leading modules in Limón technique, Dance in Society and Professional Practice and a Visiting Lecturer at University of Roehampton. Nina is an advocate for the development of emerging dance artists and has mentored many fledgling artists. This form of career development formed the theme of her MA dissertation, exploring methods of best practice in an ever-shifting ecology.
There has been a great deal of work going on with the research side of our dance department.
4 Christ Church students have been working recently on The Avanti Project in Kent. It had been developed by Dance United artists and CUE in partnership with Kent County Council Early Help and Preventative Services and Canterbury Christ Church University and funded by Kent County Council. 8 young people, 4 students studying Dance Education at Canterbury Christ Church University: Katherine Button, Ben Hughes and Abbie Shepherd were engaged as role models throughout the project. Aaron Smith is currently studying Masters of Arts in Arts and Cultural Management was a dance artist for this project. Here is his account of working with them.
Through my time at The Avanti Project I had learnt a variety of skills and unknown qualities about myself as a teacher/performer, but it was through Avanti that I found a passion for teaching. The first week as a dance teacher trainee, I was very nervous but excited as I didn’t know what to expect, all I knew was that we’d be teaching dance to marginalised youth. This was very nerve racking because as I have experienced when I viewed myself as a marginalised youth, dance did not appeal to me as a male. This was because the friends I were socialising with were very against dance and saw it as ‘gay/only for girls’. The Avanti became very personal to me, as I have experienced the struggles that some of the young people were going through. It was only when I saw my first London theatre performance I was inspired by performing and changed my A-Level from training with the Football Academy to Performing Arts. It was since then that changed my life and found my passion for Performing/dance. Finishing my BA Hons (performing Arts) at Canterbury Christ Church University to now taking my knowledge further doing an MA (Arts and cultural management) has led me to believe that dance can change people’s lives; whether this is developing dancers/teachers or to evolve a variety of skills that is needed in everyday life.
From the first taster session at Avanti, I was thrown into the deep end and was teaching 3 exercises and a phrase of movement, as the weeks progressed my nerves subsided and I enjoyed working on developing dance and dancers. I worked on perfecting the choreography and offering support and challenge. With the support of Ellen Steinmuller and Kwesi Johnson and also everyone involved within ‘The Avanti Project’, I had an enjoyable and incredible teaching experience that I will never forget. From my view, projects like this provide an opportunity for youth with difficult backgrounds to sacrifice what they are, for something that they can become. creating an environment where failure is praised and achieving is worshipped.
A Dance Education graduate: James Middleton is an ambassador for New Adventures Dance Company and the Re:Bourne Project.