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01 Dec 2023

The work of DanceEast is made possible by a powerful team of dance enthusiasts, driven by a belief in the joy and personal benefit that dance can bring. Helen Oldfield talked to some members of our team, who shared how they got into dance, some of their favourite memories, and what dance can mean for everyone.

Our team had different routes into the dance world. For Sophie Lander, Producer (Participation and Engagement), dance has “always been the biggest part of my life.” Esther Alcock, Programme Coordinator, danced from when I was little and then up to Uni.” Chrissie Meikle, Producer (Participation and Engagement), started learning “tap, ballet and modern… and literally did not stop!” Chrissie studied dance at GCSE level: “I was leading year 8 and 9 dance classes. I choreographed a couple of pieces for school performances and thought, ‘I could actually do this.’”

Tom Bowes, who manages the Centre for Advanced Training (CAT) programme, says: “I came to dance quite late. I only discovered it when we were forced to do it… I hated it! Over a couple of years my teacher said, “you’re really good at this.” I went on to study dance at Uni… I [then] auditioned for a post graduate dance company at Trinity Laban, which is a conservatoire, and I got in!”  Bryony Hope, Head of Communications and Development, had no background in dance before joining DanceEast, but says “I have loved watching performances and taking part in classes.”

Whatever their route into the sector, dance is a big part of everyone at DanceEast. Caretaker Adrian Theobald also dances himself, “I learnt Salsa in Spain and I’ve continued to do Salsa since, as well as ballroom dancing in my free time.” Amy Falla, Marketing and Communications Coordinator, has found joy in taking part in the contemporary class here at DanceEast, “it is just such a joyful hour of movement, and it means lots to each of us in that space, an hour just to be free and move!” Helen Wright, Finance Officer, loves a bit of Northen Soul and being part of a dance organisation: “watching it and being involved just makes me very happy.” And Claire Glover, Sales and Admin Assistant, also “love[s] to move; I find dancing uplifting and mood boosting.”

The team shared their favourite memories of dance and DanceEast – those moments that inspire their daily work. Tom says “a big one is just after lockdown…  Our first project back in-person (when we still had to socially distance), we went to Christchurch Park in Ipswich with Jeanefer Jean-Charles as the Lead Artist, who choreographed at the London 2012 Olympics. Jeanefer helped us make a whole cohort piece called An Extraordinary Walk in the Park, and we had a week to pull it together.  My memory is of the hill in the park, all the students coming over the hill toward the audience at the bottom. I had this ‘this is why we do this’ moment, it was epic!”

Esther Alcock’s favourite memory “wasn’t on site, it was at Triangle Nursery just up the road.” Again, it was just after the pandemic. Esther says: “we took [a piece called] Club Origami with us… It was beautiful, just incredible work… There was a little boy who the staff said never talks, [and that] watching the performance was the most that they had ever heard him talk. He was vocalising a lot!  At playtime he started to play with the other children. We were all in pieces!  It was a reminder of the physical power of dance and the actual impact that it makes.”

Claire and Sophie shared personal memories dancing. Claire shared a memory of her 50th birthday: “I’ve been a member of the Emma Dodd Performing Arts School adult dance class for 14 years and we all performed a Dream Girls/Saturday Night Fever Medley at my party, my daughter also danced with us…. my lovely friend Lizzie secretly choreographed and performed with some of our DanceEast friends an amazing high-speed version of Mamma Mia including multiple costume changes!… So many people came together to make my celebration an extra special night.”

Sophie’s dance highlight was returning after maternity leave, to work at First Light Festival in Lowestoft. She says: It felt lovely to be back… I stood on the sidelines with my colleagues, and one of [the artists] clocked me doing some Salsa moves. He invited me to dance.  The joy that came with that dance! That First Light Festival experience made me suddenly feel alive again.”

The DanceEast team passionately believe that dance is for everyone and would encourage anyone who wants to try dancing or watching a dance performance to visit the DanceHouse in Ipswich, or attend some of DanceEast’s activities elsewhere. Sophie says: “it’s so lovely to be able to do this work.  Bringing dance to people for the first time, which tends to be children, is the best bit.” Tom says: “the joy of dance is its connection to people.  It’s communication that transcends all languages, it puts people on the same level and connects them. That’s why I work in dance and really try to champion it.”

Chrissie says, “everybody can dance and move…. Some people dance. And some people watch and are moved.” And finally, Bryony says: “as someone not from a dance background, working here has really opened my eyes to the fact that dance is universal. We can all dance, and we can all watch dance. This place is about joy – which is more important now in the world than it’s ever been.”