James Muller teaching the DanceEast Centre for Advanced Training Ballet class, photo by Rachel Cherry.
In the lead up to CAT Week 2020, we wanted to find out more about our Centre for Advanced Training (CAT) tutor, James Muller. We talked about the challenges of being a dance tutor, teaching online classes and Doctor Who… Read on to find out what James has been getting up to!
What is your name, and what do you do?
My name is James and I am currently a freelance Dance Practitioner, Choreographer and occasional Rehearsal Director. In normal times, I have a busy week rushing around from one studio to another across London and of course, to Ipswich for weekly CAT classes. Right now, my commute involves logging on to zoom and other platforms from the safety of my own living room. We have actually installed a Ballet Barre in our spare bedroom made out of left over curtain rail and odds and ends. The lockdown has forced us all to think outside the box, and be adaptable like never before.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
It may sound a bit cheesy to say it, but I love being able to pass on my knowledge to a new generation of young dance artists. It was only after I retired in 2018 from the stage, that I realised how much I have to offer. I started getting in to teaching when working for Richard Alston towards the end of my career. I would always take any opportunities available to teach through the education programme when on tour and also loved working with the London Contemporary Dance School students every year during intensives. My favourite teachers were those who saw value in the individual qualities that we possess as artists. We all bring something different to the table, whatever our age or ability. For me, dancing is not the pursuit of perfection; it is about baring your soul and putting yourself in to a place of vulnerability. That is when the special moments really happen. I love to nurture these qualities in my position whilst developing technical skills.
James performing, photo by Dave Morgan.
What is the most challenging thing about your job?
In normal life, it is probably the travelling. I rarely teach more than three classes a day when in the studio, as that would be just about all I would have time for. Class, travel, class, travel… it can be quite draining. The other thing that is challenging is that we as teachers must constantly assess our own performance. Did I use the right language when explaining that step? Did I inspire the dancers today? Did my class plan meet the requirements? So many questions that we have of ourselves. As a tutor, I have to continue developing and learning skills at an alarming rate. The environment is constantly changing, as are the demands of training. Us teachers spend a lot of time in our own heads.
Other than teaching, what is something you are passionate about?
I am very into modern history. I have recently completed an A level in the subject which I have studied in my spare time over the past two years. It was a lot of work but I am very thankful to Dancers Career Development for funding my course. I hope one day to work in documenting and archiving, curating or something like that. It is only by looking at history, that we can be truly informed about the present. Never has this been more relevant than in the current climate. On a lighter note, I have been an absolute obsessive Doctor Who fan for my entire life. The classic series is my go to – wobbly sets, dodgy special effects and all! I love it. The theme tune is undeniably the greatest and most recognisable of all time.
How are you managing to stay creative in our current situation?
I suppose we all have to adapt our classes a lot for home practice and so I am challenging myself to keep things fresh and engaging. I have been taking a few classes myself which is normally a rarity as I don’t have the time. This has been enormously helpful as I have been able to take the opportunity to learn new approaches and movement vocabulary to apply to my own classes. It has certainly been a time for me to reflect on my own practice.
How are you finding teaching our CAT students online?
So far, I have only been delivering some pre-recorded classes for my groups, which is a strange thing. You end up saying things like. ‘Great job’ and ‘well done’ when in reality you are literally talking to yourself. This weekend, I will be teaching my groups ‘live’ for the first time since lockdown and I can’t wait to see their faces and have a catch up. I certainly miss the interaction. Dance after all is a social activity.
Many creative people are using our current situation to spark some new projects and ideas – have any inspired you?
My partner Simone is the founding team member of ‘The Playground’, an initiative run in partnership with Rambert. It is a wonderful platform for people to come together and try out ideas and creative projects without the pressure of having a finished product. Since lockdown, the platform has moved very successfully online and they have hosted a live session on Zoom with around a hundred participants. I find it very inspiring and heart warming that even in the given situation, the arts world continues to find ways of interacting and being innovative. There is always a way if you are willing to try.
What advice would you give to young people hoping to make their way into a creative career?
In no direct reference to Douglas Adams, I would say ‘DON’T PANIC’. The current climate is a tricky one but as I mentioned previously, the arts seem to have a remarkable resilience. Things will get better again. Also, be kind to yourself. Take the work seriously, but not yourself. Be open to trying new things and expanding your knowledge.
What’s becoming your favourite isolation pastime?
I have been enjoying cooking a lot more during this period. Normally I would have no enthusiasm, but since lockdown, I feel like I am becoming more inventive in the kitchen and it is becoming a part of the daily routine. I also got my bike fixed up during mid lockdown and have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my local area while cycling. It is amazing what is on your doorstep that escapes your notice in normal life. There is beauty everywhere, even in London.
You can find out more about the DanceEast Centre for Advanced Training by clicking here.