Inclusive Dance

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Almost a year ago, I decided that I wanted to shift my mixed economy to make more room for my dance practice.

It’s crazy to think about how quickly building blocks have fallen into place. I often think about myself as a ‘place maker’ a person who makes room for others to take risks and explore. It’s been a welcome to change to be at the artistic heart of that work as a speaker, facilitator, dancer, choreographer and instructor.

I had an opportunity to work with Step Change Studios December 2017 – my first experience leading a fully inclusive dance workshop for participants with a variety of needs and a variety of mobility. It was eye opening. I was so scared of offending people, or not being adaptable to the setting. Rashmi Becker, the Founder of Step Change Studios, was so supportive through the process and the result was a really powerful two day workshop and short ‘audition’ for a culminating event in Cardiff in April 2018. I can honestly say it was one of the best things I did in 2017.

In May I’ll be taking it one step further. On 9 May, I’ll be presenting a new commission (and performing in it)  at the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells. The showcase is entitled ‘Fusion’.

This performance marks my first inclusive commission and my first time presenting and performing work at Sadler’s Wells. Talk about unbelievable! I’m really looking forward to the process and working with my dancers and am so grateful for the opportunity. Want to come? Tickets are on sale now! Click here for more info. 

About Fusion from the Sadler’s website: “Fusion is the UK’s first inclusive Latin and Ballroom dance-inspired showcase, presented by Step Change Studios. Fusion brings together talented professional artists from a wide range of dance backgrounds to push the boundaries of ballroom with beautiful, powerful, performances that redefine the genre. Fusion is an experiment and creative exploration between disabled and non-disabled artists from backgrounds that include Charleston, Swing, Contemporary and Street to develop original pieces inspired by Latin and Ballroom dance.”

Come see the experiment!

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Follow Me: A Celebration of Women and Jazz Dance

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6 months ago I asked Cat Foley and Sharon Davis if they wanted to put on a ‘lindy hop scratch night’ – a night to showcase and test new work with a live audience. Cabaret has a tradition of scratch nights, but in the swing-world we often present works very polished or close to their intended version. I worry sometimes that we forget beloved and beautiful pieces of choreography that would suit us better several performances in.

In an effort to make work and to explore and test putting on a show, Cat, Sharon and I presented what can only be described as a polished scratch night, or a smooth draft show. The pieces we wanted to present worked remarkably well and highlighted how different we all are but worked so seamlessly together. Upon reflection, the title ‘Follow Me’ feels more like a movement – where we highlight the creative agency of the follower in a dance and community that has traditionally been heavily leader-biased. Where we explore and test what we have to say.

There were many successes to this test:
1. We broke even (hell yeah)
2. We sold out both shows (thank you!)
3. We led by example (go kick ass women)
4. We demonstrated that you can put work out there that isn’t finished and it will feel like more of a beginning…
5. We assembled a great team who were professional and rock solid for future plans

It was such a fine experiment and it reminded me how good I am at enabling others and how rarely I do it for myself and my professional dreams. I seem to have built a career on enabling mens’ artistic vision. I’m done with that.

I will put on more shows, I will make more work for myself and others, I guess it’s a reminder to believe in my skills and my talent. I believe in making room for others to thrive and enjoy the magic of swing dance, whether they choose to be a participant, an audience member, a fellow performer or a community leader. I truly believe that we must role model the kind of society we want to live in and it can start in asking another human being to dance. This is my truth. I make space for others, but I also need to hold my own space. It’s exhausting because nothing comes easily, but I know that I have something to say and it’s where I belong.

So – Follow Me is a first. Follow us as we reshape what lindy hop and jazz dance performance can be. We will surprise you, I know it. Follow me.

Competition with yourself

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I am rarely in competition with others, I am always in competition with myself. I try to stand to the height of my character, to create and produce work I’m proud of, to act with integrity and kindness and to admit when I’m wrong. It can be exhausting. I can be deeply unkind to myself. I have quiet and tough thoughts about my abilities and limitations.

Over the last few days, I’ve been thinking about all the disappointment and hurt I need to let go of. Moments where I have felt let down in my artistic practice by myself or others. It’s important to let go of these feelings because they don’t serve me anymore. I am in different place. I am an artist. I am supported by a coterie circle of dancers and friends who see my light and want to help me shine brighter.

This is a new moment – a place of generosity and where I need to ease up on my expectations of myself. I can only do my best. And whatever that is, it’s enough, because I’m enough. I hope that where ever you are and how ever you’re pursuing your highest ambitions you’re being kind to yourself too. See you on the dance floor friends – grown and change are here.

Time out

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The day I quit my job at the Institute for Canadian Citizenship to move abroad, my former colleague told me “no one else will ever give you permission to take a time out”. What are you going to do when you grow? What will your future look like? We are asked these questions when we are so incapable of making thoughtful and informed answers.

I was already coming home for a visit to see my family for two weeks and it turned in almost a month of bumming around Toronto (with two weeks of working full time remote). I was in limbo waiting for some paperwork to process. My life is very full in London. I like it that way! It’s part of the energy that lifts me up and carries me. It’s a magical city (most of the time). I will admit, it’s been nice to feel myself slow down. Without a working phone, patchy daily internet access and house hopping from my parents to other friends – it’s actually felt like a forced vacation from my life in London. A time out. I feel the pangs of ‘fomo’ (fear of missing out) and yet I know that there will always be other excellent times with excellent people. It’s a stressful feeling like life is moving swiftly on and you’re standing still. But then I remember that it’s ok to be still and sit quietly. It’s good for the heart and the head.

In the meantime, what have I done while I’ve been home?
– I have gone to Choir!Choir!Choir! and sung Losing My Religion
– I drove to Stompology and saw some of my favourite people and performed a new burlesque piece
– Was interviewed for a podcast (a Nancy first)
– I saw my brothers, my sister-in-law, nephew and niece – not to mention the coolest 91 year old I know – my Zaida
– Unexpectedly got to celebrate Father’s Day with my papa/mama and Zaida
– I got my ass handed to me in a kick boxing class with my badass bestie and her husband
– I sat lakeside, poolside and parkside
– I took in some culture and saw some good art
– I hosted a Sick of Chit Chat session at Soho House Toronto
– I ate a lot of gluten free bagels (maybe to many)
– I hugged many important and wonderful people and held them very close

Heading home on Saturday. I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed, checking my mail (as in post) and wandering through London for a little while in my softer, calmer state. If you’re feeling burned out, make sure you give yourself some time to catch up with yourself. Do an extra workout. Give yourself the night off. Walk by the canal. It’ll do you good. See you soon!

Sick of Chit Chat

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I like to think that I’m a professional conversation starter. Whether it’s dance, rallying funding for an arts project or just connecting friends with like minded people – I like bringing people together. I’ve been spending some time thinking about what it means to build connection in person. How do you curate that first 5-7 min of conversation that could yield a potential friendship or business relationship? Why does it feel forced? Why isn’t it natural for everyone? How could you make it easier?

I’ve given a couple of workshops on the topic and try to focus on the following three ideas:
1. Decide your outcome before you get there – who are you looking to meet? Why are you there? What is success? The number of people you talk too? The number of free beers you drink. Decide the outcome and you’re more likely to feel like it was worth while. Going to a networking event out of obligation is always a recipe for disappointment.
2. Ask ‘good’ questions. Avoid ‘yes/no’ answers. Listen actively to what the other person is saying and respond to it with curiosity. A good response to someone’s statement is ‘That’s interesting, what do you think about ….’
3. Be able to identify the introvert versus the bore. Sometimes the most useful people in the room are shy. Be willing to investigate whether or not someone is an introvert or dull. You may have to put in a bit more work, but I promise if often yields a positive result.

I know it’s energetic work. There is no way for it not to be, but if you can give yourself some structure around what you want from these interactions if often makes it so much better…feeling. What are the bits you find the hardest? Let me know, I’m curious.

Wow: what a response!?

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I’m sitting in a record shop turned coffee shop and the new James Hunter album is playing in the background. Sipping m’cuppa joe and finishing my prep and music for the Oxford Swing Festival classes this aft and I just wanted to say a heart felt thank you.

I have had so many shares, views, notes and offers since I posted my ‘Dance Partner for ILHC’ post. It’s been unexpected and greatly appreciated. I’ve been particularly moved by the followers leaders who have messaged me to say that they have often felt the same anxiety about finding/asking a potential dance partner. Why is it so difficult to find someone to hold hands with (in the dance way, not the romantic way)? Why does it feel so personal and not ‘professional’ or ‘constructive’? There are some great people who have messaged me and I’ll be sorting things out in the coming weeks – but I just wanted to say thank you all those that shared my post. I’m still open to emails/FB messages and have been touched by the kind words and support shown by my London dance partners, instructor friends and dance peers worldwide.

My packing this weekend’s teaching (can you tell I’m gluten and dairy free):

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I’m going to go and teach some awesome people my thoughts on how to move on our own now. I feel  inspired by this community to do my best work, bring the best out of others and to challenge our preconceived notions of what we think we’re capable of. Again, you awesome person there on the side of this screen – THANK YOU. I’ll keep you posted on the journey.