Developing A Professional
by Godiva Apedo
My parents were not impressed by my 7 day a week physical training regime filled with frequent visits to the ballet school in Balham and local visits to the basketball courts. So I was told that I had to make a choice, which as a child brought up by strict Ghanaian parents was rare. I chose to stick to the ballet. My parents were relieved and reminded me that it should remain just a hobby…. Little did they know!
During my time at school I had the opportunity to join the Inner London Education Authority Youth Dance Company. A group that gave young and enthusiastic dancers the opportunity to train perform and work with known and unknown Choreographers. It was great; I remember performing at Chisenhale Dance Space wearing a home made costume with accessories from a shop called ‘What She Wants’. My Passion for dance increased and led me on to joining a two year foundation course at Lewisham College, London training in the areas of jazz, ballet and contemporary dance plus choreography. For me, it was an excellent course and its track record shows a number of well known professional dancers and choreographers trained there.
After the disappointment of not getting into ‘The Place’ (London Contemporary Dance School) I found my self at an audition for Ballet Rambert School. By now I was convinced that all along my parents were right about this ‘interest’ being just a hobby, but after a very sweaty audition where I was the only black person in the room, I was offered a place. Then followed three tough and exposed years to the world of ballet and its prejudices. It was a challenge being there - a challenge that when completed led me on to join Phoenix Dance. After my 2 year burst of company life, its pleasantries, and politics, it was time to move on.
I moved back to London after Phoenix and took the opportunity to work with Chorographers like Richard Riley of Ballet Negres, Sharon Wray, Jonzi D and Lyrical Fearta. Working as a freelancer was very refreshing for me at this time and the variation in the work, although at times ‘ad hoc’, kept me motivated.
The frequency (or infrequency) of jobs allowed me the time to look into other areas of interest and I enrolled on a part time access course in IT. I was very much aware of the impact and changes in technology on our daily lives. With some encouragement from my lectures went on to do the a degree in Information Systems Design (Bsc Hons) at Kingston University
Throughout, I kept dancing along side my full time study at University and in my second year of study I was also doing an 8 show week at the Lyceum Theatre as an ensemble member of the Lion King. Lectures from 9am-4pm at university, then the dash for the train to get to the theatre for 6pm to start the show at 7.30pm. I was optimistic enough to get through what with hindsight, was a crazy schedule.
An opening came up for me to work at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as an IT Support Professional, this while also working a second time for the Walt Disney Theatre production of the Lion King. With the added blessing of my first born child, life became more and more interesting.
Teacher of autistic pupils-fashion designer, barrister-musician, journalist-vicar, scientist-poet, English teacher-film director, as brothers and sisters you could say diversity runs in the family! Anyway who’s to say that you are only allowed one occupation/career per life?
In 2003 I was asked to be on the Panel for the Constellation Change film festival (CCSDF), this then led on to me working as an arts administrator for the Carol Straker Dance Foundation (CSDF) where I was able to utilise some of my IT and media expertise. Within the film festival, courses for further professional development within Choreography and film were available. The dance world as we know it continues to change with the prospect of a wider audience - this being the ‘Global Village'. Constellation Change makes a doorway available for professionals and those still training to be exposed to international dance, around the world. See http://www.constellation-change.co.uk/
Never the less, few of the opportunities and courses I had over the course of my training are still available now. It seems that for many people, the options available for their professional dance development in Britain are limited. Many take the opportunity to go abroad as it seems that more variety is available, especially in the area of black Classical dance and history.
This is why Carol Straker and her foundation school are important. As a well known dancer and choreographer, Carol trained at Le Gat School of Russian Ballet then went on to Urdang Academy. After graduating she left to go to America, to join Dance Theatre of Harlem, then later at the age of 21 joined Alvin Ailey. On returning to England she formed the Carol Straker Dance Company along side her dance foundation.
For 15 years now, the Foundation has provided opportunities for over 300 students, young and old (from 3-45 years) to train in different areas of dance. From ballet and tap, to contemporary and urban dance styles. But the future of the foundation remains vague, with no clear backing or provision being made for a new building for the school by local authorities.
Parents and students are shocked as the foundation has made a huge contribution to the residents of the area and world wide. An irony as with the changes in the local council grant system that used to be available when I was training, it now means that many people looking to continue their training, may have to step into the area of Student Debt - this when an organisation aims to be accessible and offer lowered tuition costs, its future in unknown. The current CSDF building lease will run out in 2006, where the organization will move to next or if the lease can be exchanged are questions that remain currently unanswered.
A small amount of Student Funds and scholarships are available but with almost *50 applicants to one place auditioning for some schools and only 1,560 scholarship places allocated to 29 schools in England for vocational dance training, competition is high and places available are short. (See www.he.courses-careers.com/dance.htm) www.cdet.org.uk.
Despite the obstacles individuals may come across (and in my own experience it was being continuously reminded that my physic was incompatible for classical dance) whether you are told you are too tall, fat, short, black, faire, or slim - if you aspire to dance, go out and do it.