Despite the current restrictions of ‘lock-down,’ the National Centres for Advanced Training in Dance (CATs) from across the country are determined to keep dancing!
This is what we are up to…
CAT Online Intensive at National Centre for Circus Arts – May half term 2020
It may not have been the intensive we planned, but the pandemic has forced us to become a bit more creative with our training. Every institution is having their own struggle with the restrictions of training from home, but circus has a whole host of obstacles to overcome – the first being that circus is such a broad artform (we have acrobats, aerialists, jugglers and tightwire walkers all together on our programme); and the second being our dependence on highly specialized equipment. While it might be possible to exercise, dance and sing at home, not many people have the ability to rig 10 metres of aerial silks, or a padded and sprung-floor acrobatics studio. As a result of this, our students were feeling anxious about losing the progress they had worked so hard to get.
Instead of getting lost in what we couldn’t do, we decided to focus on what we could. One of the great things about circus is, as well as the amazing gymnastic skills often required, it also encompases elements of dance, theatre, fitness and creativity. So this is what we included in the intensive.
With all of us perhaps having spent too much time on the sofa or bed in lockdown, we decided to start each day with an hour long conditioning and workout session. This then led into a creative task that was set each day and shared with the group the following morning. Each afternoon there were two skill-based sessions, which included balancing, juggling, hula hoop, handstands and dance. We even tried to recreate our most popular session at the school, which is a friday open practice time session which allows students to practice and skill share with support and guidance from teachers over Zoom.
The intensive was run entirely online with teachers working from their own homes. Another obstacle I’m sure many schools are facing was that the majority of our teaching team have been furloughed since the start of lockdown. This meant the small core training team had to deliver a lot of the sessions in partnership with the Participation and Outreach team, who also helped with leading some of the sessions. We did bring in one external artist to deliver a session, as it was someone the young people had worked with before, and after half a term of online sessions we thought it would be good to bring in a new face.
One of the key things we were concerned about was accessibility. Although some students have access to gardens and plenty of space, others are working in small flats in London (a situation I find myself in so I can empathise). During workouts, modifications were given if needed to avoid jumping. Which is sometimes needed to keep good relations with neighbours. Exercises were also designed to be completed in a small amount of floor space.
The creative sessions were my highlight of the week. The young people really put in a lot of effort, and their creativity and openness to share was great. I’ve shared a few of the photos we had submitted for our ‘circus at home’ challenge. We also had video submissions and a live sharing at the end of the week.
We had some great feedback from the students
“It was really good. It was nice to do conditioning every day and to be pushed physically. I enjoyed the fact there were lots of classes, and lots of different disciplines in those classes. The challenges were fun and it was nice to see what other people had done.”
“I really enjoyed the online intensive as it challenged me creatively and physically.”
“They’ve been really beneficial – in both motivating me to work and just engaging my brain!”
So what next?
We have increased our weekly live online sessions to include an additional conditioning session, since, to our surprise, that was something the students requested more of. We are also planning a creative-focused online intensive for the Summer, and hopefully a cabaret for friends and family which we will hold over Zoom.
DANCEEAST CENTRE FOR ADVANCED TRAINING
Maya is a current student with the DanceEast Centre for Advanced Training (CAT). We asked Maya more about herself, her inspirations, and how she’s finding digital dance classes.
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF?
Hi! I’m Maya Inniss and i’m 15 yrs old.
I’ve been part of the DanceEast CAT for 3 years now. I’ve been dancing since I was about 8 and have loved every minute of it! I used to dance with a performance company called Jumpstart where I discovered how much I enjoyed performing. Later, I started dancing at DanceEast and after a year doing Suffolk Juniors, I auditioned and got into the CAT and now I’m in group 2.
WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU ARE PASSIONATE ABOUT?
I am most passionate about dancing – feeling free to move in different ways and express myself. It helps me find a confidence I don’t always have. When I first joined the CAT I was very quiet and reserved however, they helped me grow in confidence through dancing because I enjoy it!
I’ve also enjoyed drawing and painting since a young age, which I now try to do outside of school but struggle with time. I do it because I find it relaxing and therapeutic but also because I like to mess around with paints and materials to create something interesting and new. It’s like improvising in dance, I love to just move in different ways to have fun and create something.
WHO’S YOUR BIGGEST INSPIRATION?
For me, Michaela DePrince is someone I find very inspirational. I read her book ‘Hope in a ballet shoe’ a while back and her story amazed me! She survived through war at a young age, holding on to her last hope of finding somewhere safe to live and becoming a ballerina, and eventually she lived up to her dream and achieved it. Now she does so much to encourage young black girls to pursue ballet and dance and gives someone for them to look up to who proves they can do their passion too. She has worked so hard to get to where she is now, and it inspires me to do the same, even if I don’t necessarily want to pursue ballet in the future. She made me realise that beyond everything, there is always hope for the future.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT BEING ON THE CAT?
The amount of opportunities you are given! You get to work with well-known choreographers during workshops, Easter and summer intensives and these are amazing, enjoyable experiences. In my first year we worked with Jasmin Vardimon Company and it’s an experience I will never forget; I got pushed to work as well as I could, and it gives you an idea of what it’s like in the professional world of dance.
Also, the amount of support you get from teachers and students; you will become close as a group and that’s something I really like about the CAT. They have helped me to develop and improve my skills as a dancer so much.
WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER ONE TIP FOR KEEPING YOUR DANCE PRACTICE AT HOME?
I think it’s really important to find inspiration to keep you motivated. Being stuck in the house, for me anyway, has brought down my motivation and I’m not as productive as I was when life was normal. But sometimes you just need to get up, find some space, put on some music and dance. Just to keep your energy up, if you’re feeling down or unmotivated, do this. It helps!
As for technique, I’ve been doing the CAT online classes and it’s good to have some sort of routine even if it’s vague. For example, at least make sure you take a certain number of classes per week and doing some strengthening or stretching to keep your body in good health. It’s good to take this time to practice something you usually struggle with or something new you want to try, like for me, pirouettes.
HOW HAVE YOU BEEN FINDING THE DIGITAL DANCE CLASSES?
I’ve been finding them helpful! It’s difficult to keep going as normal at a time like this, but whether you only have a small amount of space or lots of it, the online classes are flexible for you to do anywhere in the house! I don’t have that much space, but I’ve been managing and doing other classes as well as the CAT ones. I think the warm-up and cool down videos are quite useful as you can do those alongside any other class you would like to do.
HOW HAVE YOU BEEN KEEPING CREATIVE DURING ISOLATION?
Like I mentioned before, I’ve been doing dance classes as well as just putting on some music and improvising, because it helps me be more creative and I find it fun to do when I’m bored or feeling down. I’ve also been drawing and doing small watercolour paintings to get back into art because I was so busy with schoolwork and dance classes that I didn’t find time to do things outside of school that I used to do more often.
Another thing is I’ve been reading a lot more which I admittedly dropped a bit when I had other things to do. It’s really nice to get back into other things, as for me (and probably others) in year 11, life was becoming hectic with less time to do stuff, to relax, and have fun. So although I can’t see my friends, I’m doing what I can to relax and be happy at home.
As well as dance and art, I’ve been baking too! I admit I’m not the best at cooking but now that I have time I might as well bake some good food! It’s a good thing to do especially baking food that don’t require many ingredients, plus – who doesn’t love food?
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCER OR PAGE FOR INSPIRATION?
I like Kaycee Rice‘s Instagram (@kayceericeofficial), it’s not completely focused on quarantine inspiration but she’s posted some videos giving ideas of what to do when stuck inside and how to find inspiration during a time like this which are helpful! Also, her dance videos are inspiring to me, I think she’s an amazing dancer and has been an inspiration to me, as well as Sean Lew (@seanlew).
I would also like to say I hope everyone reading this is safe and well, that we will get through this happy and healthy and it’ll be okay!
ACADEMY OF NORTHERN BALLET
I’m Abby and I’m in my second year of training at Northern Ballet’s CAT programme. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak we’ve had to halt our training at the Northern Ballet studios and train at home.
Even though I have faced challenges in my home training, I’ve also really enjoyed aspects of my home routine. I love using my creativity in the exercises. Although I’m constantly trying to explore new movement in the basic steps I’ve always done, it’s fun deciding which arm I’ll do and although I miss having live music, it is fun deciding on music for each exercise! Moreover, I’m really enjoying seeing my friends online. We did zoom quizzes last week involving general knowledge and quotes about each other- it’s so lovely doing this as it’s been hard going from seeing them every day to not at all. I also love doing facetime classes with fellow student Freddie. We have music theme days like Mamma Mia and Hannah Montana! Finally, I’m really enjoying diving into the self-motivation needed by professional dancers. We are regularly told we need this trait and I’ve found it extremely useful to experience it. I’ve gained a key insight into the life of a dancer and this has shown me I can be self-motivated.
Of course, this has caused some challenges, so I thought I’d share my three main ones! Challenge number one: Space! I live in a small, open-plan terrace house. The living room (now my studio) is perfect for plies and barre work but as soon as I lift my legs problems occur- hitting sofas and walls is now normal and I think it’s going to be a shock returning to Northern Ballet’s spacious studios. Number two: Northern Ballet is great for focus. I can’t say the same about home. My dog Rufus has taken an interest in my dance space and likes to sit down in my area during class. What’s more, the living room is next to the kitchen so Rufus, my cats and my parents are constantly wandering through to get food or drink refills. Finally, due to the design of our house my dad works in the same room. I’m not too sure he enjoys my music and I really can’t say dancing to a conference call is much fun either! Challenge number three: I really miss seeing my friends! We have a good support network and it’s hard not being able to physically dance with them or be able to walk to the studios with them.
I feel it’s important to have a weekly routine for myself. Before COVID-19 I had a strict schedule of school, travel, dance and revision. As my GCSE’s have been cancelled, I have lots of time on my hands. I recently started doing yoga in mornings to start the day with a good headspace. I go on long dog walks and although not doing general schoolwork I am doing some A-level preparation. For ballet, I do a similar warm up to that which we do at Northern Ballet as a nice reminder of our training and to continue strengthening with Miss Yoko’s unique exercises. For ballet class, we’ve been given exercises which I regularly follow along with other regular exercises from the CAT programme.
Finally, we’ve been sending in videos to our teachers as a way of showing our improvements. It’s been useful for Miss Yoko to see how we’re working during this period and if we’re improving. I have found doing these so beneficial for my technique as I can watch what I do and see the corrections I’m often given by my teachers. Although I do work on fixing my corrections, watching myself shows me where they either need more work or when I think I’ve fixed it but in reality, I haven’t. I really recommend this technique of filming yourself as you pick up on details you might have not noticed before.
This has been my experience of dancing in lock-down, I have been faced with a couple of challenges but also many enjoyable moments, one of them writing this blog. I’m definitely excited and ready to return to the studios of Northern Ballet and I hope we’ll be able to do this soon! Stay safe, keep dancing, keep happy!