Last week we gathered some of the country’s most talented dancers in one room, to work through the choreography for our Bringing Books to Life dance workshops in primary schools. From numerous Matthew Bourne productions, to Chicago, to Mamma Mia!, the experience on show was something special.
Inspiring children to bring books to life with dance is one of our favourite things to do at West End in Schools. Our workshops are created to encourage them to see the subject and story from a new perspective, while learning to express themselves in new ways.
Next week these choreographers will dance their way through schools up and down the country for the nation’s World Book Day celebrations. Ahead of this we spoke to a few of our regular West End in Schools choreographers to find out more about their work with us to inspire children to dance.
Why do you dance?
Eleanor Brown: I started like most young girls at around 3 when my mum sent me to ballet classes, I loved it so I just kept it up. I then started doing all other types of dance, for me it was just the joy of the music. I was a very creative kid so it was another form of self-expression. I was aware [that dancing could be a job] when I was in primary school because I was in the choir for Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat because they got local communities to sing on stage. I was in Year 4 and I remember speaking to the actors and that was the moment I realised I could do it and I was like ‘ok well this is what I’m going to do’. Eight year old me was like, this is it, this is it for me.
Charlie Bull: Because I’ve always loved it, and it’s one of the only things that makes me truly truly happy.
Vivien Carter: I dance because it makes me happy, and it’s just the best, most wonderful feeling.
Matthew McLoughlin: I dance because I love the way I feel when I dance, and I love that it keeps me fit. it’s a great way to be doing exercise because it doesn’t feel like exercise it feels like fun. And it helps me get out of my head sometimes and just relax and focus on something new.
Oliver Roll: I dance because it’s fun. And it keeps me healthy and happy, and I like to use movement to express myself.
Lizzie Wofford: Because it’s fun, because I don’t have to be good it to enjoy it, and because it’s for everyone - everyone can dance. There is no-one in the world who can’t dance and it is inclusive no matter your ability, no matter your limitations. It is limitless, and it’s great.
What is the best thing about teaching dance to children?
Eleanor Brown: I always love seeing the [classroom] teachers’ reactions, especially to children who when they come in they say ‘oh, so-and-so won’t join in or be careful with so-and-so’. It’s often those kids that get the most out of the sessions because they spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, finding it really hard to focus. Naturally, taking them out the classroom and doing something a bit different means you get a lot out of them. The way the workshops are structured is amazing as you get so out of children in such a short space of time. So, it’s the surprises you get from the children you don’t expect it to come from - they always end up leaving the room super positive and super hyped-up about the book. I just think movement and dance is really important, it just feels good doing it!
Charlie Bull: Their faces, and, for me, the kids that come in not expecting to like what they’re about to do. They’re the ones that come up to you at the end. The ones that don’t join in at the beginning and by the end you see them loving it.
Vivien Carter: It’s really wonderful to pass on the joy of dance to kids and see them move their bodies in ways they never have before, also knowing that it’s healthy for them, not only mentally but physically. To share a room full of joy is a great way to spend a day.
Matthew McLoughlin: The best thing about teaching children is probably the fact that you start to really see them come to life and start to see lots of their different individual characters. Sometimes you often get teachers coming up to you and saying ‘I’ve never seen them do that before’ or ‘that’s amazing, this is a whole new way of me trying to connect with the child now’. And just the pure fact that they just love it, and they get to have fun for 40 minutes of the day rather than think academically.
Oliver Roll: The best thing about teaching children is seeing their faces smiling from ear to ear when they get a step right, or when they understand the story they’re telling. And the sense of achievement they get at the end of the workshop when they’ve told this story through dance.
Lizzie Wofford: I never get the same day twice. I will work with schools and have a teacher come up to you at the end and say ‘that child has never spoken in their entire life but she told you what she enjoyed about the workshop today and she’ll probably not talk for the rest of the month, but she got involved today and that means a lot’. Also the hugs - I get so many hugs off small children! Having lots of children know your name and yell it as you walk through the school, you feel like a minor celebrity. And also, being able to tell really bad jokes!
What will children get out of dancing?
Eleanor Brown: It’s a good form of self-expression. Especially for children that aren’t particularly academic, or have different strengths in different areas, it’s a great way to communicate and express themselves, and be good at something that doesn’t necessarily involve a pen and paper and being marked. It’s just a really joyful thing, movement is a really wonderful thing. We all have these bodies which we live in and it just makes you feel good doesn’t it?
Charlie Bull: It gives them an escape from normality. It’s something fun, it’s something active and it’s something creative, which isn’t on a phone or a tablet. It gets them moving and it’s not staring at a screen.
Vivien Carter: They will get a connection with the group that they’re working with, so they’ll feel closer to their classmates and the people that they see every day through dance and teamwork, and expression. They’ll feel creative, they’ll feel ownership over their bodies, they’ll feel strong and powerful, empowered, and they’ll have a real great sense of play and fun.
Oliver Roll: Children should get out of dancing a real sense of fun and adventure, and also a way to keep them fit without really thinking about it. Because if they’re really concentrating on the story that they’re telling and they’re thinking about their faces and their body movements, the exercise comes in after that. So they’re thinking about the story, they’re thinking about the characters, and the aerobic exercise becomes second nature.
Matthew McLoughlin: I think it gets them being really creative. It’s taking things that are on a piece of paper and it’s bringing it to life and it’s creating images in their imagination. It’s getting them more physically aware of themselves as well. And actually it’s getting them to exercise without them really even realising it.
Lizzie Wofford: It allows them to be creative, especially with the way the arts cuts are going. It’s huge for the kids to be allowed to be creative and express themselves in ways that aren’t reading and writing. Some kids might struggle with that, so in order for them to express themselves in other ways dance is really important because they can tell you how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking.