Monthly Archives: April 2013

The long day is over

So it’s the end of a very long week, but I’m on a complete high following today’s performance showcase at the RAD’s Dance for Lifelong Wellbeing conference – within a two hour span I saw performers aged 8 to 80 perform ballet, hip hop, street dance, contemporary dance, musical theatre, Indian dance.

And really, it’s been a pretty amazing few weeks. April 2013 will go down as the month I:

  • donned a tutu for the first time
  • met RAD staff from 45 different countries, representing 79 territories in which we conduct business
  • met former Strictly contestant Lisa Riley to talk through her upcoming patronage of the Dance Proms
  • saw Darcey Bussell preside over a group of 3-year-olds as they performed a special Barbie-inspired dance routine in front of the RAD’s good and great
  • met former Pussycat Doll Carmit Bachar at the riotous Step into Dance borough event in Wandsworth
  • learned that dance truly does have the capacity to improve our lives, whatever age we are

Sometimes it’s the picture that speaks a thousand words, so I’ll button my lip and let the following visuals do the talking…









Dance = longevity

I’ve taken a somewhat irreverent look at dance throughout my weeks writing this blog. But I hope that doesn’t mean the more serious aspects of the experience of dance and the teaching of dance haven’t had a chance to shine through every now and then.

Yesterday I saw a masterclass in this type of communication, as Gillian Lynne took to the stage to give the keynote talk at the RAD’s Dance for Lifelong Wellbeing. This is the Gillian Lynne who is about to receive a lifelong achievement award at the Oliviers, the Gillian Lynne who choreographed Cats and many other West End and Broadway shows, the Gillian Lynne who worked once upon a time with Errol Flynn.

As she took to the stage, the first revelation was that Gillian is 87 years old. 87! Honestly, the woman looks at least twenty years younger. It is quite extraordinary, and if that’s not a good enough reason to dance then you’re not wired the way I am.

She began to speak and what followed was a torrent of energy and wit and joy and insight that had everyone in the room beaming and uplifted by the end of the speech.

But despite the storytelling, there were serious points and they were powerfully made. “Dance,” said Gillian, gesturing towards her body, “gives us the knowledge we need to keep this machine going.”

She also had interesting things to say on the nature of dance teaching, arguing that it’s not enough to get the technique right, the teacher must inject a certain magic into the air…the earth needs to move for dance teaching to really hit the mark.

Gillian will receive her Olivier accolade tomorrow night in Covent Garden – tune into BBC Radio 2 for live coverage, or ITV for a highlights programme after the event.

I’m part of the team tweeting throughout the three-day conference – go ahead and follow us at @RADheadquarters, or search using the hashtag #DanceforWellbeing.

To gym-finity and beyond!

It’s no secret that dancers are a pretty fit bunch. And now that the tutu photo has left the building, it’s no longer a secret that I have some work to do on that front.
And so I have joined a gym. Moreover, I have BEEN to said gym, three days running. Moreover I have RUN to said gym, three days running.
It’s a fairly well-known fact that Brits sign up to gyms in droves and then fail to turn up on any kind of frequent basis after about a week of attempting to tackle the BOSU balls and free weights and treadmills and other instruments of torture.
I am determined this will not apply to me. (For this week, at least.)
To support my fledgling ballet career, I’ll be focusing my efforts on the following:
  • Core strength – developing the tummy muscles and those in the lower back in order to be able to strike the correct pose
  • Stamina – a ballet class, clocking in at around an hour and a quarter, is not the same as a quick jog or a brisk walk from the Tube – it demands sustained output of energy
  • Flexibility – my hamstrings are so tight you could play a violin concerto on them – this needs attention
  • Strength in my legs – I’m not bad going up on my toes, but lifting my leg in the old grand battement (which autocorrects as ‘battlement’ – perhaps more insightful than it seems at first) is a struggle 
Plenty to be going on with then.

Metaphor in motion

Our regular ballet mistress was away today so we had a ‘supply mistress’ (do we call them that?) instead.

We covered the same steps as always and the class followed what I assume to be the tried, tested and true format.

But having a change in teacher has got me thinking about two things: first, and I suppose obviously, how the different personality and style of the teacher changes the feel of the class even though the content remains the same.

But second, how ballet teachers all seem to use metaphor to great effect in order to describe the various comportments and techniques of ballet.

Just describing how to adopt the right basic stance is fertile territory for our creative ballet mistresses (and, presumably, ballet masters although I don’t have personal experience).

Holly always talks about imagining your vertebrae as marshmallows that must be allowed to expand to their fullest extent in order for the dancer to achieve the right extension of their back and thus the right pose.

And today our supply mistress talked about visualising yourself as a fountain, which I thought was a lovely image: the solid column of water representing the strong line of the body’s core, with the picturesque spout at the top representing the graceful lines of the shoulders and arms.

This is all important because ballet isn’t of course just about getting the mechanics right, it’s about overall presentation and fluidity and musicality. Which I suppose is what makes it so bloody difficult.


“Arms DOWN, Matthew…”

Thus came the refrain today, as I took part in a ballet class led by RAD Artistic Director Lynn Wallis, and accompanied by resident maestro Jonathan Still.


In the photo I’m the ‘black’ swan; I’m joined by RAD Principal Dancer (well…Financial Controller) Richard Slatford, who’s sporting the white ensemble.

Our hour’s coaching culminated with a gala performance featuring all sorts of fancy footwork, but my stubborn arms wouldn’t play ball – hence Ballet Mistress Wallis’s siren call: “Arms DOWN, Matthew…”

One to pick up in tomorrow’s weekly ballet lesson – after a three week respite, it’s time to get those toes back to the grindstone.

I should perhaps point out: I don’t make a habit of wearing the tutu to class – only when fundraising is on the agenda (we’re raising money for our ballet competition the Genée – it’s for elite young people, so I fail on every count). If you’d like to contribute please go to

BUMPER WEEK sneak preview

Well I know I’ve been conspicuous by my absence over the past few weeks.

So as a special bonus, I am going to blog every day for the next seven days.

As an extra special bonus, some of it will be blogging whilst wearing a tutu. Don’t believe me? See the attached photo and gird yourselves for tomorrow’s update…