MSc Dance Science student Nefeli Tsiouti is a dancer and researcher totally dedicated to her passions. After facing an injury in dance, she has worked hard to manage her own project to prevent dancers’ injuries. Walking into our interview on crutches, she tells me about the challenges she’s overcome, and the adventures she has yet to face.
Tell us about your life in the dance world before embarking upon your MSc in Dance Science.
I’ve been dancing for 21 years now, and professionally for the last 8-9 years.
I was a ballerina all my life, but I started breaking because I was inspired by watching breakers dancing. I would dance on marble outside in the streets with them all the time. There was no guidance really – I was just seeing and doing. Because of this lack of awareness, I got seriously injured – I had to have major surgery on my shoulder. I was told I wouldn’t be able to dance again, so I just felt I had to back out of my passions. I experienced depression… my life just switched all the way around. But I had to stay true to dance. I decided I could maybe take a theoretical route in dance, and that’s when I decided to move to the UK, studying MA Choreography at Middlesex University.
It took me 2-3 years but I got into breaking again, because I found a coach – maybe the only coach worldwide – DJ Renegade. He took me under his wing and he’s been training me ever since 2011. Frustratingly, I kept getting injured, and I noticed that the surgery actually had a knock-on effect on the rest of my body. I learned that the body is a kinetic chain; everything is connected. This realisation taught me that it’s better to prevent injuries than cure them. I have too many injuries to fix them now, so all I can do is just make sure I condition myself and keep progressing. I am very passionate about preventing other people’s injuries, so they don’t have to go through what I am going through. That’s when I created Project Breakalign in 2013.
I had been thinking about the idea since 2011, but I was too scared to say it. It was still nurturing in my head! When I finally decided to speak about it, One Dance UK came on board straight away. From the first day I spoke to them, I had amazing people join me in helping the community.
What made you decide to study at Trinity Laban?
I chose the MSc because I was looking to do a PhD afterwards, and to do that the MSc is a prerequisite. I was also acting upon advice I received from One Dance UK’s Healthier Dancer Programme. I was partially funded by a Trinity Laban Scholarship, which gave me a boost. It was a great decision to come here.
What are the biggest challenges of studying the MSc Dance Science?
Continuing all the work that I’m doing and studying at the same time is the biggest challenge. It’s hard to be on top of my game in everything that I do. Project Breakalign is international now, so I have a lot of responsibilities. I’m trying to still help people, still continue the research, start slowly writing up papers and publish at the same time. But it has been very difficult to balance the two or the five… I don’t know how many things!
Tell me about the Healthier Dancer Programme 2016 Conference.
The Healthier Dance Programme 2016 Conference I have been invited to be involved with is the first conference ever in the UK – as far as I’m aware – that focuses on health for hip hop and circus artists. It’s something we’ve been working on since September 2015, and will be happening in London in November this year. The speakers are going to be really high level, established people. It will cover a lot of different areas that artists need to know about, and maybe they’re not aware of yet – but we are trying to make it as financially accessible as possible.
What does your role on the steering committee involve?
The steering committee is compiled of people that come from all different backgrounds, so obviously Project Breakalign had to be on board – there aren’t many people doing something like this. Being on the committee means that I suggest speakers for the areas covered for breaking or hip hop dance, so I’ve given my suggestions for that. I’m helping with organising the day too. One Dance UK is leading this, but we are just helping out.
What’s next for you?
After I complete my Masters in August or September, I plan to move to the USA. I’m applying for lecturing jobs over there. I might apply for an internship – maybe at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries in New York, so I can continue exploring Dance Science.
I also got a great funding opportunity last year from the Centre Nationale de la Danse in Paris. It has offered to fund me to formalise the Breakalign Method – a methodology like Yoga or Pilates, like a supplementary programme for breakers specifically. It’s a very long journey myself and my team have already begun; and we are going to spend two months testing the methodology on different age and experience groups in the summer. I actually just applied for more funding and I hope I get it. We hope to prove it actually prevents injuries and aligns people’s bodies – hence the name!
Then in January 2017, I’m going to present the methodology in France to the funders and hopefully the Breakalign Method will be successful enough to travel the world. Eventually I want to get it to deprived communities such as the Phillippines for example, where there is nothing like this. Prevention of injuries doesn’t even exist as an expression there.
What’s your long-term plan?
The dream is to get the Breakalign Method universal. On top of that, I’d like to do a PhD, or even just find a good lecturing position that makes me happy. I might not be the most experienced researcher, and I’m pretty young, but I think the experience that I have as a dancer and as a breaker is so essential in the type of research that I’m doing.
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