Candoco Dance Company

 3 February 2011

Candoco Dance Company started in 1991 as a series of workshops and developed into the UK's first professional dance company that integrated disabled and non-disabled dancers.

Candoco is the UK's first professional dance company that integrates disabled and non-disabled dancers.
Candoco is the UK's first professional dance company that integrates disabled and non-disabled dancers.

 Education Manager, Luke Pell, spoke to Choices about a career in professional dance.

A more diverse group of performers

"The company's an integrated company, working with disabled and non-disabled dancers, so immediately we have a more diverse group of performers who are working with the company.

"Diversity absolutely increases the possibilities, because you're bringing in so many different variables into a space."

"We believe that enriches the artistry of the form, because it brings in a variety of movement vocabularies, experiences that your standard group of non-disabled dancers wouldn't have.

"Alongside that, we have our commissioning policy that we always bring in new choreographers to work with the company. These are choreographers who want to work with Candoco and want to take on that level of engagement, working with different kinds of bodies, a different kind of physicality, a more exciting kind of performer, perhaps.

"So the combination of our diverse performers and that innovation from the artists that we work with, I think those two things contribute incredibly towards pushing the boundaries of dance as an art form."

Getting people involved in Candoco

"There's a huge variety of ways. Increasingly we're using digital technology, so our website with webcasts and podcasts, Twitter, Myspace, Facebook, all of this kind of new digital social networking.

"We have relationships with all the national dance agencies in the UK. We have relationships with most of the venues in the UK. We are building relationships with a lot of the conservatoires, so the dance training schools within the UK. 

"Then we have strong relationships with international promoters across the world. We have a variety of ways of communicating with people, but a lot of it is about work-of-mouth."

The job of education manager

"I oversee all of the education and training work in terms of the youth companies through to our staff development. I'm involved heavily in advocacy on behalf of the company, in terms of changing people's opinion and informing people.

"I do a lot of work talking at conferences and higher education institutions about the work we do. So really my work, my main responsibility is about everything that might lead up to a career as a professional dancer that relates to inclusive practice."

Opportunities for dance at Candoco

"There's a variety of opportuities. Through the Moving Bodies project at the moment, there's an emerging artist strand which is called Artist Associate.

"So we take on five young people a year from five different parts of the UK, and they might be young people who are in the final year of their degree, or they might be young people who haven't been able to access a degree or conservatoire training because of the barriers that are there because of disability. And we offer them informal mentoring and an opportunity to shadow the company, take a professional class with them.

"We bring in new choreographers who want to work with Candoco and want to take on that level of engagement, working with different kinds of bodies, a different kind of physicality, a more exciting kind of performer."

"Last year we had an intern from Surrey with us for a year. She was in her second year and came out on placement. I do various meetings with degree students who are writing their dissertations about Candoco and offer them guidance on where they might research and how they might move their ideas on.

Obviously there are lots and lots of activities. Our young peoples' groups are for 14-25 year olds, so that encompasses the age of most students. A lot of people come and join the groups to broaden their experience with the kind of bodies that they might be dancing with."

Diversity and creativity

"I think diversity absolutely increases the possibilities, because you're bringing in so many different variables into a space.

"You're not limited to working with a body type or a particular sensory range. You've got so many different kinds of physicalities, different ways of learning and processing information, how people perceive.

"That immediately creates a rich creative environment, because you're not just working with one standard kind of body, or one standard way of seeing or understanding information or trying to communicate a feeling or the sense of the dance or an emotion. So I think it makes the work infinitely richer."

Working with disability

"I think there's a lot of fear about working with disability, and I think that's got to do with historically how disability's been seen, particularly in the Western world.

"Very often people come to work with disabled people, there's this binary that's created: disabled and non-disabled. People assume that you have to do something to fix or treat or make different for the disabled person.

"Actually for me, best practice is that you work with everybody on the same level. So it's not about whether somebody's disabled or non-disabled, it's about working with an individual and responding to them. Work with people and respond to those people individually rather than putting them in little boxes."

Training to work as a dance teacher

"There's a variety of routes into working as a dance teacher. That's such a broad career now, back to being a technique class teacher within a conservatoire or a training institution, or that could be a creative teacher who's working with the students in making dance.

"It could be somebody who's running an after school youth dance club. Or it could be a role called an 'animateur', which is working professionally with people in the community for them to engage in dance and enrich their experience of the world and exercise.

"So there are a real variety of ways into working as a dance teacher. I think it's really good to think about what you might want to do, whether you want to work in a very specific art form like ballet, and you would need to go through ballet training and perhaps take a teacher training programme through somewhere like the Royal Academy of Dance.

"If you wanted to be an animateur, there's an organisation called the Foundation for Community Dance, which gives opportunities to trainers to become a Community Dance Practitioner. So there are various routes, and I think it's worth kind of looking at the huge variety that are open to young people now and seeing what interests you and excites you before jumping straight into something that might not be the right thing for you."

Preparing for a career in performing arts

"Our courses offer a lot of routes in, at a variety of levels. So the young peoples' companies give our young people a sense of what it might be to become a professional dancer on a much smaller scale. They do a weekly rehearsal, rather than a daily rehearsal, but it gives them a sense of what the pattern is like.

"There are a variety of ways into working as a dance teacher.Think about what you want to do, whether would need to go through ballet training and perhaps take a teacher training programme."

"I arrange for our youth companies to go on mini-tours around the UK, so they get to perform the work they make, in the same way that our dancers tour around the world. So that echoes what a professional dancer with Candoco is doing.

"There's a real lack of opportunity for disabled dancers or disabled professional dance-makers, particularly in the UK, but across the world as well. I think that our masterclasses and our artist development work show those people that it is possible.

"The company shows people that it is possible to do that as a professional career, and give people the opportunity to move their practice on, and really fill the gap that they might have, because they haven't been able to get the same kind of training or professional development as non-disabled people have, because there are barriers up to disabled people getting into dance training."

Advice to become a professional dancer

"It depends on where you're at in your career. Say if you're a young person, who's just about to think about maybe going into a degree course or going to a conservatoire, I'd look at the range of courses that are out there.

"There's so many options now, I think there's something like 370 dance programmes that you can do at undergraduate level. And that's great, that would give you a real grounded theory and a sense of the beginning of practice.

"Practical experience is really really important, so find groups that are in your area that you can go along and observe and be part of. You learn much more from being part of a group than you do from observing. So if you can get involved with a local dance group, if there's a show going on in your area.

"When I was a young person, I worked in a theatre, and every time a dance show came in and there was a project attached to it, I would ask my manager in the theatre if I could shadow or if I could take part in the project, so that I could meet other professionals and find out what it was really like.

"That's the key thing in any sector, but especially in dance. It's a really competitive market. There are more professional dancers out there than there are jobs. Networking is really, really important. If you can shadow and meet the professionals doing those things that you want to do, seek advice from them, find out how they got into what they're doing, what put them ahead,

"Get your name known, make a good impression on people and show that you're genuinely engaged, I think that takes you a long way for pursuing any kind of career within dance or performance."

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