So how did a 37 year old belly dancer with zero contemporary dance training end up in a full time contemporary dance company comprised of 18-21 year olds!?
A little bit of background info on Hagley Dance Company (HDC), and me before we delve into how the two came together……
Hagley Dance Company is a full time contemporary dance-based course aimed at dancers wanting to progress to tertiary study in dance and eventually a professional career in contemporary dance. Over the course of the year we will study contemporary dance, hip hop, ballet, jazz, yoga, anatomy, nutrition, dance history, and pilates, and focus on technique, choreography and performance.
My own dance background is almost exclusively as a belly dancer – after starting to study Tribal and Fusion styles of belly dance in 2010 my dance journey has progressed to where over the last few years I have been self-employed as a belly dance teacher and performer, and the director of TribalDiva Belly Dance Company.
One of the two main belly dance styles that I teach and perform is called Fusion Belly Dance, and as the name suggests it’s a mixture of a few different dances. Originally when it was developing in the US in the 90’s it was a fusion of traditional belly dance and American Tribal Style Belly Dance (my other main specialty), but as it grew & dancers with different backgrounds came to study, then perform and teach it the style has evolved to incorporate elements of hip hop, contemporary, flamenco, locking and popping, Indian classical dances – really almost anything!
I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to the United States 3 times so far to take part in intensive training courses with the Fusion Belly Dance ‘superstars’, the same dancers who created the style and have had long and successful careers performing and teaching it around the world. During these adventures I realized that of the teachers and performers (there are always awesome shows attached to these intensives!) that were the best, most captivating and most innovative, all had studied another dance form deeply and thoroughly and were able to incorporate them into their belly dance, where I was learning everything when it had already been ‘fused’ by someone else, so I was learning some hip hop or flamenco alongside the belly dance but I didn’t necessarily know how the moves looked in their origin dance genre, or what the process was to mix the two into something cohesive.
So I started taking classes in other dance styles, I did a couple of terms of modern jazz, then a couple of hip hop, but things kept getting in the way – the time of the class would change or I just couldn’t fit it in somehow, I even had a hip hop teacher coming to my home studio each week for a private lesson each week for a while but trying to fit any practice around all the belly dance in between meant I wasn’t progressing particularly well.
So of course the logical thing to do if you can’t seem to fit 1 extra dance class in your week is to join a full time dance course to go alongside the full time job you already have as a dance teacher & performer right…….
A couple of other things contributed to coming around to the idea that I might even be crazy enough to audition for HDC; in 2012 TribalDiva Belly Dance Company took part in Coca-Cola Christmas in the Park for the first time. The other dancers came from various backgrounds but the ones who left the biggest impression on me were the group who performed as back up dancers to almost all of the singers; high kicks, fancy moves, perfect timing, I wanted to be them!!
After that first show I investigated training in contemporary, jazz & the other dance styles would be necessary to do this what I discovered was called ‘commercial dance’. Hagley Dance Company first crossed my mind then but I quickly decided I was ‘too old’ and focussed on my first dance loves of Fusion and Tribal Style Belly Dance. Now I love belly dance, and anyone who knows me will attest I pretty much live it & breathe it, but that hasn’t stopped me watching the same dance groups for the last 6 years that we’ve been in Coca-Cola Christmas in the Park alongside them and still kinda-sorta wanting to be them as well as a belly dancer.
Then my friend Feather Unsure (director of Feral Grace Productions) auditioned and got in to the company in 2017. She is still 10 years younger than me but not straight out of school, and she also came from a theatre rather than dance background so maybe my age and lack of contemporary dance experience wouldn’t automatically disqualify me……
All year I seriously contemplated auditioning, put together budgets and schedules to see if it was crazy-can’t-do-it or crazy-but-do-it-anyway, dropped hints to Imaginary Derek that I might be back to full time study to feel the water there, told a couple of people that I was thinking about it to see how crazy their faces told me it was, met up with Feather & pumped her for info, then finally went ahead & auditioned….and found out I was in that same day!
Tomorrow is the first day back for Term 2 (can’t wait!), and the subject of my next blog will be ‘What is it actually like to be a 37 year old belly dancer with zero contemporary dance training in a full time contemporary dance company comprised of 18-21 year olds!?’