Photos by Rosie Powell
Stuart Waters is a dance artist who has worked with DanceEast on many projects and classes, as well as presenting his own work as part of our theatre programme. Most recently we’ve worked with Stuart on MOVE | TALK | PRIDE, which we talk more about in this interview. Stuart encourages audiences to reflect on their choices and judgements of others. Underpinned by a brutally honest narrative and athletic movement his work aims to be profound, humorous, brave and haunting.
Hi Stuart, can you begin by telling us who inspired you when you were young, and why?
When I was young, I admired my mum, my gran and my nan. I have always been drawn to strong women. They were multi-tasking, no fuss survivors, they all grew up in very challenging times financially. They were kind, determined and what we called in my village, good at “holding court” from their living room armchairs.
They sound like motivating women to grow up with, and when did you know that dance was the career for you?
Looking back, I know I had a moment with dance at school. I was a shark in west side story and as un-profound as that sounds, I understood that the arts offered “community”, a sense of belonging, meaning and purpose. This was joyful for me, growing up with a lot of verbal bullying and intimidation at school, arts, dance and theatre offered me a safe space to be myself.
It’s great you found dance when you did, and that it helped you. As we celebrate Pride month, is there an LGBTQ+ artist that you wish more people were aware of?
Even in the 80’s, growing up with celebrities who were fighting to normalise LGBTQ+ rights, I was totally unaware of real activism, protected in my own bubble. I feel very embarrassed about this. I learned of Marsha P Johnson and believe everyone should research her and she should be studied. This is fighting, this is inspiring, this is brave. I believe there’s a film on Netflix.
And how about locally, you work closely with Suffolk Pride, what exciting things are coming up this month that we should all look out for?
I recently worked on an amazing project with Rosie Powell who I collaborate with a lot. We made a film entitled MOVE | TALK | PRIDE to be shown at the Pride in Suffolk’s Past exhibition at the Hold in Ipswich. It is a beautiful exchange with the people of Suffolk – I was touched by their openness and generosity with their stories. It’s an important project for Suffolk, encouraging more visibility and public voice of the LGBTQ+ community in the area.
We’re looking forward to seeing the final film! Now, we’d like to talk more about you. You create, you perform, and you teach – if you had to sum up your experiences so far in three words, what would they be?
Fight, self-belief and focus.
My experience as a performer, teacher and maker has been 23 years of ups and downs, inspiring and challenging moments. I love dance and this is the only way I can articulate some of the lived experiences I have had as a queer man. I have to dance. I have to make, and I get much joy from leading other people through creative projects.
23 years is a long time in dance, can you tell us more about your experiences within your career – any challenges or highlights?
I have had many challenges personally and professionally, but I have overcome my struggles by talking publicly through my art, having tenacity and a determination to do something I believe in and am drawn to. I don’t give up. I believe in myself and try not to judge myself too harshly. I believe in seeing the best in every situation, it’s really useful. I always find a positive in dark places.
What is one thing you wish more people knew about the dance industry?
I wish the value of creativity in dance was more understood. I don’t think until you are involved in dance, you can really understand how transformative it can be on a personal and community level. I really believe this and want more people to experience this.
This is a big question, what do you think is the next positive step for the dance industry, and how do you believe we can get there?
I believe dance is facing a very challenging time and to support a more robust dance community we need to pull together with force in numbers. With a collaborative and genuine kindness we can bring the community together and forward. Without this, we will lose people, talented people and this is sad.
Absolutely. One more thing before we go, you create moving dance theatre that catches your audiences off guard, what’s next for you?
I have researched one show and am waiting on a funding decision on researching another. Over the next few years I plan to create more of my autobiographical shows, that slowly unpick other parts of my queer shame stories. I believe we need to see more queer shame on stage. If we don’t see it or feel it how do we know it exists for people? I have lots of ideas about developing better support for the mental health of artists also. Amongst other things, I enjoy making and connecting with audiences and people so this is what I will continue to do. HAPPY PRIDE EVERYONE!