So the drive had left me. The love was gone. I had lost the motivation to dance, or maybe it’s more accurate to say that life had kicked it out of me. Graduation confirmed that reality. As momentous a moment a graduation ceremony was, it was clear to me that the real world was waiting for me and ready to beat me into shape. It’s not to say that the adult world beat my passion out of me, as I had a new passion in filmmaking and media production, and had some fantastic opportunities to work with some great companies and people. However, none of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for that teenage kid that one day decided to learn to dance in the confines of his room.
Then I guess it’s a beautiful accident how my newfound love for media & film production brought me back to my old love for dance. One year into the professional world, I decided to return to university to further my opportunities and understanding of the media world. Initially I had no interest in returning to dance at that point. In fact, when looking through Salford Universities societies to join to pass the time, rugby was my first choice.
So what changed that?
Honestly, the weather is fucking dreadful
(Sorry for the language but describes it perfectly)
As well as the weather, which was the primary reason but I was willing to overlook, the training facilities were nowhere nearby campus which in turn was nowhere near my flat. A logistical nightmare. I wasn’t motivated enough to commit that kind of effort.
Time to look at other options…
So, Salford University Dance Society happened…
SUDS for short
I still wasn’t fully convinced that I should join. After all, I hadn’t danced properly in over 18 months or so and I was pretty much a one-trick pony having only practiced hip-hop style of dance. I was cognisant of other genres, but there was no way that I could do ballet, contemporary, jazz or any of these other styles. Well that’s what I thought anyway, and that was going to be the line I’d use if the rehearsals proved a disaster. I had other excuses lined up of course if my go-to wasn’t going to cut it, but thankfully, I didn’t have to use any of them.
That’s because I never got a reply…
I had the society with an email, a pretty hefty one in retrospect, saying: who I was, why I wanted to join; and videos of my previous work. No reply. Ah well, that sucks but life goes on right? Under most circumstances I would have probably left it there, but I thought I’d have another go. Fortunately, they did reply and I was now going to attend my first ever rehearsal at the age of 22..
To say that I was nervous would have been a cruel understatement. What would they think of me? What would I think of them? Had I painted myself to be some kind of hip-hop expert? Serge… What have you got yourself into? Too late, I was lacing up my trainers, next thing you know I’m in a pool of my own sweat after warming up for an hour.
Warm-ups done, now to pirouette. Eh? That was my reaction. That ballet move where they spin on the move. We had to pirouette across the dance studio in groups of three. Then chassé. Ehhh? Then jeté, then a combination of all three. I was sweating buckets again, not because I was tired, more because of the fear of what I would look like doing this. So I took the leap, a ballet leap. I knew I butchered every move but something strange was happening. After every attempt, I pretty much resigned myself to a chorus of people giggling and laughing amongst themselves. That didn’t happen, quite the opposite happened even. People were encouraging me, the only guy at the time, giving me tips and helping me out the best they could. Honestly, I didn’t expect that. Walking into the middle of a group of women dancing I thought I was going to be eaten alive leaving me a shell of myself.
That didn’t happen, thank goodness, and I left that first session wanting more. It became clear this wasn’t your typical group, but more on that later. Straight from the off, I put myself forward to choreograph a routine. Why did I do that? Should have kept your mouth shut Serge! I had very limited experiences choreographing for myself, nevermind a classroom of dancers, some of whom were dancing before I could even speak English. What was I going to do? Show them YouTube videos and ask them to learn the same way I did? Not if I wanted to be taken seriously. I’d never choreographed to an 8-count, heck I barely knew what an 8-count was…
You can do this right?
And yes I could, with it going a lot better than I expected. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of the year; it taught me a great deal about myself. It highlighted my weaknesses and strengths along with giving me the tools to work on both. I’ll forever be grateful to choreographer extraordinaire Ali Wilson and charismatic chairperson Bryony for allowing me to do this. I would do it again without a shadow of a doubt, and it would probably be a lot better this time too now that I’ve got those cobwebs out and that dance engine running again. I by no means did this on my own, I had a great supporting cast that put up with my flaws as teacher and stuck at it.
They helped make a dream come true.
After all, it wouldn’t be a team if everybody left me to do it on my now would it?
It was a lot of pressure. To be honest I had never had that many people dependent on me. Not only would I have to deliver on my promise that I would have my choreography ready in time for the January show, but it was also a worry if it was any good at all. Pressure mounted as the weeks went and with other commitments piling up I could have easily capitulated. My crew didn’t let me, the pressure never showed on their faces. They were definitely putting work in.
Dan, who was already busy with a million other things in his dance degree, kept me laughing to relieve the tension. Zane would always ask for tips and advice on how to perform certain moves, hip hop wasn’t her style but you wouldn’t have known that if you’d seen the final show. Steph, despite having been absent for a few rehearsals, showcased her commitment by rearranging furniture in her home to make room to practice and would spend her spare time in rehearsals practicing. She also the kind of chilled vibe about her that would chill you out just by being around her (also turns out had trained with the same people in Cardiff). And let’s not forget Bryoncé (testing out a nickname for Bryony here, lets see if it sticks), I have no idea why she stuck it out with my choreography. Before you start, it’s not because I thought it was rubbish, or that she couldn’t do it. It was quite the opposite (for the latter anyway, my dance could still have rubbish)!. As chairperson, a fantastic one at that, she was already a busy person (kind of a big deal), she also had to choreograph her own routine but still involved in like 10 out of 12 dances. However, fatigue never showed on her face and she always seemed enthusiastic and full of energy. They all seemed that way actually. These guys inspired me to keep going when I was finding it tough, and were patient with me throughout. I couldn’t ask for more really.
They weren’t the only ones who helped.
As times everybody began to bond and a family atmosphere began to develop. The last time I had felt such a family atmosphere, such camaraderie, such togetherness, was 5 years prior when I was competing in my Wimbledon College rugby team. We had known each other throughout school, some since I had moved to the UK, and I still consider them to be like family. I could see a similar thing manifesting here, but in a fraction of the time. Everybody was feeling the pressure, but nobody allowed others to get the best of them. Other choreographers may have been feeling the pinch too, but it never showed on their faces, they were getting on with business with smiles on their faces and sassiness in their moves.
Oh, we did have some amazing choreographers and I was lucky to be among them.
Danielle had moved liked wind and had a touch of silk, her dance flowing with emotion. Graceful, almost angelic some may say. Eloise, brought the commanding presence of a pop superstar, each move being delivered with such attitude. Thunderous tapper Rebecca, could tap her feet with the same speed and precision of court stenographer types (that’s exceptionally fast), and make it look effortless and dominant. Before thunder comes the lightning, the lightning quick feet of tapper Kai, who brings a child’s joy to all her performances, making tapping look like child’s play. Dan, the only other guy in the society (at the time), like who makes a street routine to beloved 90’s group Steps, right? He did, and it worked, bringing comedic elements to his lyrical flow. Louisa, SUDS’ Assistant Choreographer, a little baby faced assassin I want to say, can move with such elegance but also bring earth-shattering moves with authority. Whitney, the lovable Geordie with the African vibe, bringing the rhythms, beauty and heat of Central African motherland to brighten the wet and dampen land of Salford. Bryony (or Bryoncé), Newcastle’s answer to Beyoncé. If you want sass, she has it. If you want cheekiness, she has that too. And obviously, she has the moves to back it up. Grace, elegance, finesse, strength; all words to describe Anthea’s solo ballet performance, executing her moves with the strength of an Olympian coupled with the elegance of the Queen’s swan.
Ali, What can I say about Ali. Quite simply born to perform. The stage, the lights, the audience, none of it fazes her. I’m sure it didn’t start that way, but my word, it all looks second nature to her and it’s an honour to have lead the troops as choreographer. Commander-in-chief, the orchestrator, maverick and maestro. Ali is quite simply one of a kind.
Suddenly it was all back
The passion for it
All of it
The confidence of child, the confidence to be free. Freedom to dance without giving a damn about what others think. From Bridget to Nikki, Heather to Katy, Helen to Somier, every member played a key role in helping me get back to this (even you Gab, even though you had to go back to Chi-town too soon). There have been good times, there have been bad, and there have been some terribly awkward times. Yet we stick together through our imperfections and faults, and come out the other side smiling and laughing.
They gave me the confidence to perform in front a theatre full of people.
Most importantly, these experiences have taught me something very important. Something that you can take away to your office desk in London or that construction site in Ohio, whatever you do and wherever you are. Don’t forget the things that made you happy when you were younger, those passions, those quirks, those interests that made you are. These make us unique and add to the diversity that I love in this world we live in. Don’t let others, or life, take that away because they deem it “embarrassing”.
Live your life with the confidence of a child.
This is the story of what dance did for me, how it changed my perspectives, improved my confidence. I want to thank all of you for reading and the support for The Artistic Collaborative over the past months, I cannot thank you all enough. Leave a comment letting me know what you thought of this stories, and if you enjoyed it, please subscribe!