Q&A with our 2017 Musical Theatre Directors

We caught up with Director of Urinetown Michael Howcroft (MH) & Director of Made in Dagenham Guy Unsworth (GU) ahead of this year’s musical theatre showcase at Stratford Circus.

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What are you most enjoying about working with the Trinity Laban students?
MH: I directed The Clockmaker’s Daughter last semester here at Trinity Laban and the great thing about both groups of students is that they are all unique. They have an individuality and a quirkiness which makes them great fun to work with. The students work really well together and have a fantastic sense of humour! The group that I’m working with on Urinetown are particularly talented – considering they’re at the end of their second year and still have another year of training. They’re an exciting bunch!
GU: It’s always great to work with final year students at the end of their training as they’re putting all their many skills into practice. This particular bunch each have their own character as a performer too, and this show is a chance for me to make the most of that. The musical itself is also a great showcase for everyone – there are great principal roles for some, and those with smaller parts are playing 3, 4 or 5 different characters. It’s a fantastic show to display their talent.

What can audiences expect from the works?
MH: Coming to see Urinetown, audiences can expect a funny, raucous, anarchic, political, thought provoking and fun evening at the theatre – with great tunes!
GU: Made in Dagenham is brilliantly entertaining with excellent music and we’ve got a full band from Trinity Laban’s Faculty of Music which is tremendously exciting. Although it dates back to 1968, it’s also an incredibly relevant story today – it’s heart-warming, real and important.

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What are your favourite moments?
MH: I’ve got lots of favourite moments. The writing is very clever. It has a brilliant way of playing with our understanding of musical theatre tropes – the things we take for granted with the form. For example, the love duet in the middle of act one where the hero and heroine get together, we’re given just enough sentimentality and then it’s subverted by doing something silly. There are lots of moments like that, something familiar is set up and then, hilariously, it’s finished off in a ridiculous way. It’s like a Mel Brookes movie. Or Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.
GU: There’s a brilliant scene in the Ford-Dagenham social club with everybody in. It’s been a tricky one to put together but it’s really good fun – there’s music, dancing and a quantity of good jokes.

Why should people come to watch the show?
MH: Urinetown will be performed the week after the general election. Politics in the west has become incredibly polarizing in recent years and there’s a similar, if exaggerated, situation in Urinetown. The piece speaks to 2017 with a sharp political relevance, especially now Donald Trump has pulled out of the Paris climate agreement and the Conservative Party in the UK seem ideologically driven to privatize everything. Urinetown is all about what happens when the world runs out of resources; there’s a massive drought that means there’s no longer any water and people have to pay a private company, run by a corrupt, Trump-like businessman, to go to the toilet. If the world does not stand up to Donald Trump and his cronies (just look at the nasty business practices of Nestle, or Ivanka Trump’s dreadful employment conditions in China, not to mention the countless scandals Donald Trump has paid his way out of), the reality of Urinetown might not be so far away. Also, it’s not produced very often so it’s an opportunity to see a rarely performed piece. Finally, we’ve relocated the work. Urinetown is normally set in America, but because this year is Hull City of Culture and in 2003 there was a book called The Idler Book of Crap Towns with Hull as ‘crappest’ – we’ve set Urinetown in… Hull!
GU: I love promoting student shows because the students are at a very exciting point in their career: they’re about to go out and do it for real. They are the undiscovered talents and in a year’s time they won’t be – they’ll be the discovered talents. This is a chance to see them before you have to pay hundreds of pounds for a ticket.

For more information and to book tickets visit our Events page.

Alice White

Graduate Intern – Press & PR

Beyond The Walls

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Image: Age Exchange July 2016 

Beyond The Walls was a multi-sensory interactive arts performance from Age UK and Trinity Laban, utilizing cutting-edge research to improve the wellbeing of people living with dementia. The project was led by Lucy Evans and Stella Howard, two Trinity Laban alumni currently working in our Learning and Participation (Dance) department. Lucy reflects here on their experiences…

The ‘Beyond The Walls’ project followed from on charity Age Exchange’s three year’s research entitled ‘Radiql’, which investigated improvements in the wellbeing of people living with dementia when they engaged with visual and movement arts.

In spring 2016, Stella Howard and I were commissioned by Age Exchange and Trinity Laban’s Learning and Participation Team to undertake further research, the outcome of which would not be an academic paper but an actual dance performance.

The first stage of the process was a great privilege; we were invited to participate in 24 workshops with a group of older people in a Wandsworth care home.  The workshops were co-led by visual artist Mathew and movement therapist Christina.

As the weeks progressed – and as we observed the approaches and also the relationships facilitated by Matthew and Christina – we were able to interact more meaningfully with both the methodology itself, and also with the new people we were getting to know. In the later weeks, when I approached the residents, I experienced them taking my hand and warmly moving it to their cheek. We jived, sang and painted together, and shared memories (at one point a lovely lady turning to me and started to recite a verse about sowing seeds and growth – a precious moment indeed).

Of course we also met with some more emotionally challenging moments. We saw feelings of isolation and anxiety, a side to living with dementia not often evident in participatory activities. And we were occasionally told in no uncertain terms ‘I’ve grown out of this a long time ago!”.

Following the research phase, we moved to the studio to begin developing our observations and at first fragmented conclusions into movement and dance.

Initially, we worked a lot with improvisation to embody the shifting relationships and levels of engagement we had experienced and witnessed. We set up scores which enabled us to explore a variety of ways in which one could feel engaged or disengaged. We explored issues of whom or what we might choose to engage with (or not), and questioned the idea of agency: when and how did the participants exercise choice around engaging in relationships in the arts practice? There was something special for us about investigating this at Laurie Grove studio, away from our roles as practitioners at Trinity Laban, with a view of Goldsmiths and the sunlight painting patterns on the studio floor.

A further exciting element of this stage of the work was the commissioning of several artists: composer Eliot Lloyd-Short, who created an original live and recorded score; prop-maker Andy Pilbeam-Brown, who made nine cardboard suitcases which displayed artwork made by the workshop participants; and filmmaker Roswitha Chesher, who documented the workshops, the devising process and the final performance.

Throughout the process we were determined that our decisions should truthfully reflect the context, practice and its outcomes; that we should face not only the joyous but also the difficult moments. We referred to and quoted movement we had observed, whilst being completely clear we did not want to mimic or re-enact the people we had met.

We set up the stage space in the round and used multi-sensory ideas (tastes, smells and textures) to further bring the audience into the world of the workshops. Musically, Eliot used sound samples from nature (suggesting the imagined themes of the workshops), radio extracts (reflecting the more realistic sounds of the care home), and also played live guitar and viola. The majority of the composition happened in the studio, resulting in a music and dance relationship that was invested and complex. The structure of the work gave both art forms space to react to one another and improvise whilst also charting the shifts in engagement and relationships we witnessed over the 24 workshops.

Mid-process we shared our work with the most truthful and well-informed people we know: the Trinity Laban Boundless over 60’s dance group. It was nerve-wracking to test our interactive ideas on a live audience! But finding out they were both appropriate and effective in evoking an emotional response in our audience was a relief, and spurred us on to push this element of our work further.

The work was presented at Battersea Arts Centre on 2 February, following a panel discussion by leading academics in the field of dementia and wellbeing. It was fantastic to be part of a platform where music and dance, as a means of explanation and communication, held a level pegging with statistical documents.

If you are interested in seeing the work it will be shared again at Trinity Laban on the 14 June, and we’ll let you in on a secret, there’s chocolate involved!

Vibrancy and Transparency: Fascinations of a Fulbright Scholar

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Image by Megan Moore

Madison McGrew, a student from the University of South Florida, has received a US Student Fulbright Award to enable her to study MSc Dance Science at Trinity Laban. Here she talks of her journey as a dancer and her dreams in osteopathy.

What attracted you to study at Trinity Laban?

It is hard to say what first attracted me to study at Trinity Laban, but I think dance injuries had a lot to do with it. I accrued nine musculoskeletal injuries throughout my time training at a dance studio in small-town Florida. Side-lined, I often read articles from the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries and the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS), and I noted that most of the research informing those articles came out of Trinity Laban.

Later in undergraduate school, I visited the Harkness Center in New York City where I met Leigh Heflin, alumnus of the MSc Dance Science programme; I was in awe of her vast knowledge-base and ability to cohesively communicate dance and science.

Not long after, I attended Performing Arts Medicine Association conferences where I met other notable scholars in the field of dance science who spoke very highly of the opportunities at Trinity Laban—and with it being the first institution in the world to offer a degree in dance science and subsequently contribute the most to dance science research, publications, and conference presentations—I could not dispute them!

I remember when I first visited the Laban Building in 2015, there were two themes quite literally built into its architecture: vibrancy and transparency—which not ironically, I find are values that streamline the conversation between dance and science and have been pivotal in my learning journey thus far. Moreover, with Trinity Laban situated in London, a pulsating, centralized hub of culture and innovation, there is no room for lag in applying scientific theory to community dance practice, and that is equally exciting!

What was your reaction to finding out you would receive the Fulbright Scholarship?

I was speechless. I held off telling anyone for a couple days for fear it was all a dream. Even today, it remains unfathomable. Sylvia Plath, Linus Pauling, James D. Watson…they were all Fulbrighters. And now I am one too? I cannot believe it.

How do you feel the Scholarship will change your life?

I feel it already has. I have always felt a sense of civic and global responsibility, but now with a Fulbright Scholarship and the support of two nations, the responsibility has only grown. In short, I feel empowered because someone out there believes I can make a difference.

The almost year-long application process alone changed my life. I was challenged to reflect on my experiences and examine how I can use those experiences to benefit others; it made succinct my views of the world and my purpose within it.

The Scholarship will allow me to uniquely explore, side by side, two research areas that are important to me but have long been remarked as being at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Dance science as a field is largely unfledged in the US. While there are certainly pioneers and providers dedicated to dancer health and performance, nothing quite like Trinity Laban exists in the States.

But perhaps the most life-changing will be the people I meet. With this opportunity, there is a strong promise of friendship. At Trinity Laban, I will be surrounded by a diverse group of individuals all working toward the common goals of enhancing dancer potential and investigating the means in which dance impacts populations. And through the Fulbright Commission, I will join like-minded students called and inspired to increase mutual understanding between countries, cultures, and peoples in their own creative, thought-provoking ways. I cannot wait to exchange ideas and shape these relationships.

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Image by Kyle Scharf

What do you wish to achieve while studying here?

Beyond the curriculum of the Dance Science programme, I hope to use my independent time to get involved in other research and community initiatives. Recently, I worked with a ballet professor on a film using movement themes to raise awareness for human sex trafficking. The project helped me realize that as many times as I have relied on healthcare for my dance injuries, I have conceivably relied on dance as a form of healing far more.

How might you use your degree to further your career?

Witnessing my own relationship with dance, a healthcare system, and healing, I became interested in pain tolerance. Just as dance is a crucial line of communication, so too is pain. It has been said that dance artists experience the world differently, but perchance they perceive pain differently. I think dancers, and myself included, use pain as a behavioural motivator. Dance is so intimately linked to our self-identity that pain becomes an identifier by proxy. A constant subjugation to pain, however, alters our internal points for pain evaluation. Therefore, when medical intervention becomes necessary, the line of communication between dancer and practitioner can get altered as well.

I recently read an article online in which Marijn Rademaker of the Dutch National Ballet recounted being asked by a nurse: “Don’t you think it’s time to find another job? I don’t think your knees are going to be okay for this line of work.” I do not believe this sort of exchange should be encouraged between any individuals, much less between practitioner and dancer; but it’s this sort of dialogue that perpetuates miscommunication. While at Trinity Laban, I want to look at the psychological and physiological bases for pain tolerance in dancers, and evaluate the role these factors play in communicating pain. It is my greatest hope that upon completion of my degree, I will be able to contribute to the conversation on effective pain communication and treatment straight away.

In undergraduate school, I took all of the prerequisites (apart from taking the MCAT examination) to progress to medical school in the United States. I shadowed a great deal of osteopaths during that time and I believe their holistic approach to medicine echoes a dance science view of the integrated self—the mind, body, and spirit. The MSc Dance Science will provide me the keys to unlock a career as a judicious doctor of osteopathic medicine specializing in dancer care. I hope to continue to help build the dance science community in the States, and I hope that by being a physician housed under the Western model of healthcare, I can encourage others outside the field of dance science to embrace dance as a powerful tool of expressing and assessing sensation that bridges demographic divides.

Charlotte Constable

Graduate Intern – Press & PR

Five Questions: Natalie Su Robinson

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Image: Maresa Smith

Choreographer Natalie Su Robinson completed Trinity Laban’s Graduate Diploma in Dance Studies. She tells us what she learned and how she’s using it…

– Tell us about your experience of study at Trinity Laban.

My year at Trinity Laban was one of unknown growth that I would not fully discover or understand until nearly a year later.

Inspired by amazing tutors, I had my eyes opened to new mediums. I learnt how to collaborate with artists from different disciplines and I made lasting relationships which have led to alumni becoming members of my dance company – namely Liz Kirk-­Channing and David Kam, among several others. Plus, my violinist Henry Webster is a Trinity Laban alumnus.

I had freedom to critically engage and explore my artistic curiosity, which led me to encounter my own movement voice. The guidance of Susan Sentler (former Senior Lecturer) during my year-long independent investigation was particularly helpful. And Tony Thatcher (Programme Leader, MA Choreography) opened my eyes to film, which has sparked an ongoing exploration throughout my work.

– What were the most valuable things you learned during your time here?

Thanks to Trinity Laban I have learned some key concepts which have formed the foundation of my professional practice:

Let Process Guide

I learned never to take the first gesture or idea for my final outcome; I must travel through a world of many other pathways, even allow myself to divert from the theme and see where I can go. My most favourite work created at Trinity Laban was a pure accident, a diversion.

Consider Everything

Thanks to Rosemary Brandt (Senior Lecturer in Choreological Studies), Choreological Studies was my favourite module. She provoked me to rethink how I saw dance and helped me articulate my feelings with new language. Each session was a challenge and an adventure, and I never knew if Iʼd make it to the next assigned task or if I even ‘understood’ what I entered into with my body and mind. Rosemary is a glorious inspiration to me, often answering my questions with another question. She made my choreographic process into an interesting immersive pleasure that I still enjoy today. I now focus on every little detail: ‘why, what, because, does this need to be here?’

The simplest of gestures have become deep monuments within my work. As I add a breath of life to each of them, I learn simplicity is a fantastic tool.

Natalie Su Company Broadway March 2016-3

– How has your dance career progressed since graduation?

Since graduating from Trinity Laban I have been able to develop the pieces I created in my independent investigation and choreography projects to show in theatres.

I danced for a number of companies, continued my own dance studies and at the start of this year I formed my own professional company: Natalie Su Company.

During this year I have been in residency at the Broadway Theatre in Barking, where I have created and curated two performance nights. I have choreographed for music videos, and created a dance workshop for Sex and Relationship education. I have helped the Barbican deliver their Open Lab programme and demonstrated my companyʼs unique collaborative process at TEDx in Manchester.

– Tell us about your most recent projects.

Courage is our most recent work. We began with an R&D phase and followed an exploratory process to create our final pieces. This was a collaboration between my company and illustrator Joanna Layla, producer and composer Robert Logan, violinist and Trinity Laban alumnus Henry Webster and video artist Graham Robinson.

The concept is of three entities sitting on a bench, not related but in their own space and mind contemplating: “When content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that cannot be bought.”

The outcome of the process was described by Theatre Director Mark Civil as follows:

“Natalie put together a team of dedicated artists including film makers, fine artists, dancers, experimental musicians and singer/songwriters who set about exploring the performance potential of our space. The final results were a haunting mix of all these disciplines that thrilled the audience.”

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– Professionally, what’s next for you?

Expanding upon Courage, we are bringing the theme to an unused theatre.

Additionally this August we are curating a theatre take-over experience at the Broadway, Barking. Beyond Boundaries will offer creative workshops to young people, giving them the opportunity to participate in a performance alongside professional dancers. This will incorporate immersive performances and installations, dance companies, illustrators, photographers, musicians and behind-the-scenes access to all areas – no boundaries.

I have no limits on my creativity; I am blessed to continuously meet interesting inquisitive creatives from multiple disciplines. I will continue to be open, to engage and experiment with other art forms, especially those that I have no experience or preconceptions of. I will grow and keep pursuing my dreams, leading my company of inspirational dance artists who engage with societal issues. We will always create work that speaks to the heart, work that provokes a reaction, that informs the audience of what happens outside the theatre… life, poverty, injustice, gentrification, trafficking: the true stories of the people without a voice.

You can watch a video featuring extracts from Courage on Natalie Su Company’s website.

Charlotte Constable

Graduate Intern – Press & PR

 

Breaking Boundaries: Interview with Trinity Laban student Nefeli Tsiouti

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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.

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Catch the Flava 2015 Slovakia

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.

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Catch the Flava 2015 Slovakia

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.

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Catch the Flava 2015 Slovakia

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.

Charlotte Constable

Graduate Intern – Press & PR

 

Richard Carne Intercollegiate String Quartet Competition

Richard Carne Intercollegiate String Quartet Competition

Royal Greenwich String Quartet Festival, Saturday 24 April

The Richard Carne Intercollegiate String Quartet Competition occupied a prime position in this year’s Royal Greenwich String Quartet Festival. Generously funded by the Richard Carne Trust and offering substantial prizes to the winners of the two categories (best overall performance and best performance of the set work) this event regularly attracts the cream of young string quartets from all major UK conservatoires. This year the ensembles from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama unfortunately had to withdraw at the last minute due to personal circumstances, but all other six schools were represented by their chosen quartet champions.

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Promoting the Dance Scientists of the Future

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It is well known that the future success of students is not based on curriculum content alone. Higher Educational Institutions need to provide opportunities for learners to engage with and interrogate life after study, whether that is further postgraduate study and research or becoming a professional. Networking with those from beyond the student’s home institution and engaging with narratives of learners’ journeys help current students make decisions about their future in an informed way. In addition, the health and wellbeing of performing artists is a firmly established element of the provision Trinity Laban has been developing through a range of support mechanisms for current students and professional performers.  To incubate the future batch of specialists, trained in understanding the performing body, our Dance Science department is a world leading centre of research and teaching. As part of our provision for MSc students studying Dance Science, and undergraduates who may be interested in further study in Dance Science, an annual networking and careers day has been opened up to Dance science students and graduates from across the UK.

The first Dance Science Student and Graduate Networking and Careers Day, held on 12th June, enabled students to establish connections, share ideas and discover opportunities. Organised by Edel Quin, Programme Leader of the MSc Dance Science, the day served to provide a professional insight into the world of Dance Science. The programme included presentations by current and past students from a range of MSc Dance Science programmes. Helen Laws, the Manager of the National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science, also provided a talk on the educational, health care and research activities of the Institute and the role that Dance Science plays in the realisation of these endeavours.

One attendee noted ‘…the atmosphere created and the encouragement to share ideas and experiences with people from various institutions was great!’ and another commented on the inspirational entrepreneurship within the narratives of the past graduates as giving her ‘…confidence to find ways to share my knowledge with the dance world.’

For more details of our Dance Science programmes and provision for the healthy performer please visit the Dance Science website