It’s 7:45, a sunny morning in Ipswich. I’m in a room full of bleary-eyed people my age, with a damp cloth in hand, listening to soft chatter filling the room and watching bodies shuttle back and forth across the floor wiping it clean. No, I’m not describing a morning clear up after a wild party. It’s simply the scene of 40 extremely dedicated dancers, working alongside world-renowned choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan, to collectively prepare the studio for a day’s work in the National Youth Dance Company.
I was a member of NYDC for 3 years and those memories are peppered with unique moments like this. For me, periods of reminiscing have become all too frequent at present. Time, as it has for a lot of people, has taken on a sort of endless quality, leading me into rabbit-holes of thought that just aren’t excavated enough in the franticness of everyday life. But as the great philosopher Channing Tatum said one time in some interview; ‘I don’t know what you’re going through life doing if you’re not really trying to collect some really great memories’. Going through my personal catalogue of memories (and some quite literal Snapchat ones) has caused me to arrive naturally at some reflection of those stand-out points that have impacted me most as a person, and therefore as a dancer. At the risk of sounding like an ageing popstar in an auto-biographical documentary – those were some truly great times.
Joining NYDC when I was just 15 was an incredible experience. Not only was I set to work with some of the most exciting and interesting choreographers – proffered by Sadler’s Wells no less – but I was in a huge network of dancers; people who were older than I was, from different backgrounds to me, who had different skill sets, but who were, crucially, all as passionate and committed to boogieing as I was.
Now I know the diverse, national nature of NYDC is already one of its biggest selling points as a youth company, but it’s not emphasised enough. Growing up in the east of England I was extremely lucky with the opportunities and access available to me as a young dancer. Being in close proximity to London and from a middle-class background meant I was truly privileged growing up. I was a member of my brilliant local dance school King Slocombe, as well as the invaluable Centre for Advanced Training (CAT) in Ipswich at the Jerwood Dancehouse. But I vividly remember, at the NYDC final auditions in London, my dance world expanding… there was more than one CAT scheme, there were youth companies, there were hip hop crews, there was a whole youth dance world!
Within NYDC, not only did young people from different geographical locations collaborate and work together, these were dancers from different socio-economics backgrounds, different dance genres, of different ethnicities, with different life plans, personalities, star signs, you name it. ‘Melting-pot’ could never have been a more apt phrase. And, in light of now, in a world full of separation, anxiety and fractured beliefs, it highlights the camaraderie and collaboration of my experiences in NYDC.
As well as positively trying to tackle social inequalities within the dance world, assimilating a wide range of dancers all in one place during some of the most developmental stages of life is a smart move. Each cohort of NYDC becomes its own network, a segment of the interaction-based dance industry, working as its own ecosystem which creates ties and relationships crossing over years and provides a shared platform between a large group of dancers, which strengthens associations between dancers and can inspire artistic working relationships. Another plus: a ton more follows on Instagram. That being said, establishing these kinds of tangible relationships with people not in one’s social circle is extremely rare now. Unless you posses the enviable self-confidence to walk up to total strangers after a performance (let alone smile at someone on the tube), in this digital age, these personal meetings are especially hard to cultivate for oneself. This is never more apparent than in London, a city of opportunity but nearly oppressively so. I’m in my second year at London Contemporary Dance School which luckily has extensive experience of inviting the outside dance world in, but for other regional schools, it could be easier for students to feel a little isolated – a bit like everyone at the moment. That being said, there are intricate webs of mutual friends and people meeting in one-off workshops, leading to ‘I’ve seen them on Facebook’ or ‘they were in my audition’. As we are connecting digitally now like never before, we may discover opportunities, and people, that we might have missed in the everyday processes of dashing to the toilet, stretching and getting water manically before class.
Creating these links is only really one facet of the NYDC machine. To really understand what NYDC does, go and see a performance, it’ll speak for itself. But whilst that’s not possible, look at the dancers of NYDC, look at the rich variety of performers and creators that have passed through this catalyst of excellence. Each dancer carries with them the experiences and connections they made through NYDC, which if you asked them, probably still influence them in some capacity today. But NYDC, as a whole, carries the legacy of each of its dancers and contributors; it celebrates the power of collective effort which needs to be preserved and nurtured for upcoming generations of dancers and creators.