Emma Novak is a University of Suffolk (UOS) BA Hons Dance alumni, and as part of #DAW2021 we caught up with her to talk about her experience and what she’s up to now.
Hi Emma, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your relationship with dance?
Alongside being a busy mum to four children, I have four great passions: working within the community, dance, animals, and nature. I am certainly at my happiest when active in any of these activities/settings!
I did a lot of dance when I was younger and always felt I would pursue a career in it but life took a different path (as it can!) and so after 15 years away from it I decided it was time to return to dance and explore if it was still my dream. In 2019 I decided to enrol at UoS to do a Dance BA and it’s been quite a journey! Along the way I have discovered afresh what it is I love about dance; there have been many times where it has been challenging to step out of my comfort zone and others where I cannot believe how blessed I am to be a part of some truly amazing projects. I am certainly more aware of the impact dance has on others rather than just my own enjoyment which was very much my focus when I was a teen. I find great satisfaction in observing others in their experience, seeing the connection and joy dance can bring to all ages and abilities. As I reflect over the last few years since coming back to it, I can see how much I have grown as a person and in my confidence. It was certainly a great decision for me, even if going back to education after 15 years away felt a little crazy at the time!
You’ve mentioned that you undertook your Dance BA at UOS, as part of the combined course delivered with DanceEast. Tell us a bit more about your experiences undertaking your degree.
Enrolling on the degree was like re-connecting with an old friend. Interestingly, I found I had more in common with dance at this stage in my life than perhaps I did 15 years previously. Being a mature student and a mother of four enabled me to use all those rich life experiences to engage with the community and gave me a greater understanding of the many needs I worked with. The course offered me a wide spectrum of dancing opportunities and experiences such as workshops with touring dance companies, watching live performances and working in the community. I had some brilliant opportunities to work with some incredible dance artists and organisations such as Stopgap and Suffolk Artlink. I also gained insight working behind the scenes at DanceEast and understanding the manpower it takes to deliver all that it offers. After such a long time away from dance I was not sure what I wanted to do within the dance sector and so to try a variety of things was a huge bonus for me in discovering what I wanted to do next.
As it’s Dementia Action Week this week, we wanted to ask you about your experience of working with individuals living with dementia and their carers. What was it like working on our Care to Dance programme?
Being on the ‘Care to Dance’ team was certainly one of my highlights. We would start with a coffee and a chat which was a wonderful way to re-connect after a week apart. We could check in with each other and talk to any new members that may be unsure what to expect. The leading Dance Artist Lynnette King was an inspiration to work alongside and was incredibly attentive as she engaged with everyone. I loved watching the energy shift and the room come to life as the music played and the participants began to move. It was particularly special when memories surfaced and the joy of that was appreciated by everyone in the group. You could see it offered carers a glimpse of their loved one that perhaps they had not seen for some time due to the dementia. Dance was like a key to doors that had long been closed. It was amazing to play even a small part in this.
We believe that dance provides an essential release for individuals living with dementia and is a key part of our community provision. What would you say, from your experience, is the most important reason for this?
These sessions offer a safe place to build relationships with others who are also living with the same life experience. This allows individuals freedom to express themselves, to explore what they are feeling or have experienced and most importantly to have some fun together! It offered those caring for their loved ones a small amount of respite as it was a shared experience as a group, we were all very much in the moment which felt hugely significant considering the needs in the room.
Watching connections being made between participants and hearing the laughter fill the room was truly beautiful. Everyone left excited to come back the following week, including me!
How did being part of the course placements impact your career path and choices you’ve made in dance (and life!) since graduating?
I chose each of my placements knowing I wanted to work with vulnerable adults and children, and so the biggest thing I learned was that everyone has a unique way to move and express themselves. That there is great value in every individual’s movement whether it is big or small, on a stage or in a hospital bed. It is important to meet people where they are, to be prepared to explore lots of way of thinking, being and moving. That it’s important to be willing to work outside of the box, although sometimes that can be scary, it makes for an incredible experience for both the participant and the dance artist. This has also been liberating for me as a dancer, not to compare how I move to others, or to fear making mistakes but to embrace my uniqueness and celebrate it!
This is what I want to carry into any role I take on, whatever that may be. At the moment I am just soaking up all the wonderful opportunities that come my way.
Tell us what you’re getting up to now. Are you still working in dance settings?
Currently I am assisting both the Sudbury and Debenham Movers classes for over 55’s on Zoom which has been a great experience so far, although I am excited to get out into the community setting too. I am also assisting the Avenues Group Kids Club, which runs in two settings in Suffolk for children with disabilities. These have offered a great opportunity to learn from three different artists, which is invaluable experience for me as a university graduate.
I am about to begin working on a care farm which offers education and life skills to young adults with disabilities. I am excited to fuse all my dance experience and passions which I feel will make for a very exciting journey!
And finally, we’d love to know what your aspirations are for the future?
I am very hopeful in 2022 to organise a Community Tea Dance at DanceEast for those with Dementia and their carers. It has been a very challenging year, particularly for those having to shield and so it would be wonderful to make it as extravagant as possible. I envision it with live music in the main theatre, beautiful lights and of course, lots of tea and cake! It would be wonderful if this could then branch off into small community groups throughout Suffolk with a big annual event to come back together each year.
Way down the line it is certainly a dream of mine to open a therapy centre, offering all the creative arts and a safe place for self-discovery and expression for people from all walks of life. I feel it would be an asset to the community and the idea of it is exciting to me!
Click here to find out more about the DanceEast and UOS Dance Degree.