Photography by Malcolm Tam
Esther Alcock is a new member of our team here at DanceEast and also volunteers with Suffolk Pride. We wanted to get her insight about the crossroads between the dance world and the queer community, and to find out more about her journey into dance.
Hi Esther, thank you for joining us today! Could we start by hearing a little bit about you and how you got into dance?
Hey, it’s a pleasure! Well, I’m a local gal and I started dancing at the age of 3 – doing ballet and tap. My first ever ballet show, I was four years old and played a Ragdoll. We had pipe cleaners plaited into our hair so they poked out of our heads! I continued dancing throughout my childhood and did A-level Dance at Northgate Sixth Form, mainly focusing on contemporary. I went to University of Sussex in Brighton to study Philosophy and continued dancing and performing in societies and shows. I went back to studying dance for my masters in Contemporary History, I did my dissertation on archiving dance and performance. It always seems to come back around to dance for me!
Can you tell us more about your relationship with East Anglia and the dance scene here? What drew you back to Suffolk?
I returned to sunny Suffolk nearly two years ago after four years at uni in Brighton. I started going along to dance classes and performances again before lockdown, Botis Seva’s BLKDOG at DanceEast was a favourite. Since then, it’s been a funny time to get to know the dance scene in East Anglia again, but it’s certainly given me time to appreciate just how important dance is to me during this period without live performances and classes.
You’ve recently started working at DanceEast as Programme Administrator. How did you know a career in dance was for you and what are you most looking forward to about the role?
My Dad pointed out to me that whatever direction I try to point my life in, it always seems to go back to dance. I think that’s a good sign that a career in dance is for me. Well, I’ve only been here a few days but I’m already especially excited about the community projects I’m going to be involved in over the summer, like Dancing in the Parks.
You recently took part in DanceEast’s project, MOVE|TALK|PRIDE, what was the experience like?
I found the whole experience hugely cathartic. Stuart made all of us feel so comfortable and safe to talk about our coming out stories/ our lives as queer people that it made it such a freeing experience. I found that exploring my coming out journey, particularly thinking about some difficult times in younger years growing up in Suffolk, made me feel like I had more ownership and clarity over my story. Reliving those moments as an adult that I hadn’t thought about in a long time, back in the same town they occurred, felt very therapeutic. Then, dancing in my kitchen, pretending I was back at an 80s club night at the Haunt in Brighton, made me see how far I have come.
What was the biggest highlight of the project?
Hearing the stories and experiences of the other participants, especially those from different generations to mine. I’m incredibly jealous of their club nights at Heaven in London in the 80s!
We hope that the impact of MOVE|TALK|PRIDE will continue long beyond Pride Month. What will you take away with you?
In Ellis’ video she mentions that, in general, Suffolk needs to work on not treating heterosexuality as the norm – and I think it applies to us in the LGBTQ+ community too. It reminded me to check my own assumptions, to not assume everyone is straight, and that there’s perhaps more queer people and acceptance in Ipswich/Suffolk than I thought.
So, you currently volunteer with Suffolk Pride, what’s that like?
It’s an absolute joy! As the Events Co-Lead, I get to plan lots of queer and sparkly events, share and platform some incredible LGBTQ+ artists and get to know the wonderful volunteers on the team and the local queer community. It is just a constant pleasure to meet so many creative people committed to building the queer community and scene in Suffolk. In the last two years, I’ve seen queer culture in Ipswich and Suffolk develop so much – it’s a really exciting time.
Can you tell us more about the queer community in East Anglia?
The queer community in Suffolk has been quiet in the past but is getting much louder and, quite rightly, taking up more space! Whereas other cities like Norwich have a more established pride and queer scene/ culture, Suffolk and Cambridge are really catching up and it’s wonderful to see. More connections are starting to be made in the queer communities across the East, which is incredibly important for LGBTQ+ people living in more rural areas.
What do you think the future looks like for the queer community here, especially from an arts and cultural perspective?
I think having Pride back in Suffolk over recent years is a huge turning point for the queer community here. Being able to platform local queer art but also bring national queer performers to Suffolk, like the Brighton DJ collective Gal Pals, is really crucial to see the amount of interest and support for queer art that there is in Suffolk. Seeing yourself reflected in the culture and art around you is important for everyone, but it is especially important to encourage and inspire young people to live their lives authentically. The more that queer people step out as themselves, the more the community and culture grows. We’ve seen projects like MOVE | TALK | PRIDE come out of the Pride in Suffolk’s Past Project and more LGBTQ+ people will see themselves reflected in the films created. It’s a fantastic ripple effect of empowerment and inspiration that builds queer art scenes and community.
We’re approaching the end of Pride Month! What events/activities would you recommend to our audiences who want to learn more about it?
Pride Month has been a bit different this year, but we’ve still seen some amazing projects like Pride in Suffolk’s Past.
Suffolk Pride 2021 will be from Fri 23rd to Sun 25th July and there’s a really diverse programme, from ‘TGIF – Thank Gays It’s Friday’ (a drag night at Arlington’s with a DJ set from Gal Pal) to the ‘Sunday Stage’ (family fun and laid-back live music in Christchurch Park) there’s something for everyone. Across the rest of summer, there will also be talks, panels, the ‘Freedom’ art exhibition (at DanceEast) and more. Check out the Suffolk Pride socials for more info and tickets.