National Youth Dance Wales

Diary of a Dance Addict

Rhian Lewis embeds herself with National Youth Dance Wales and gives an honest glimpse into life preparing for a tour.

Earlier on this week, I joined youth dance company, National Youth Dance Wales on their first mini tour to Caernarfon, North Wales. The tour took them up north to the Galeri theatre, where they were performing at the U.Dance North Wales Platform. U.Dance is a national programme run by Youth Dance England, which brings together over 400 young dancers in July of this year at the Southbank, London, to showcase some of the dance talent we have in the U.K. The Welsh regional festivals have been held in the Taliesin, Swansea, and the Galeri theatre, Caernarfon. Over twenty groups have participated, showing works ranging from hip hop all the way to contemporary dance. Two of the Welsh groups will go with NYDW to the Southbank if selected by a panel of dance experts, offering them the opportunity to perform on a much larger scale to an audience of their peers and other dance professionals, as well as the public.

This is the diary of my experiences working as a journalist during the trip to Caernarfon, which truly impressed me with the amount of enthusiastic dancers that are out there, waiting for the opportunity to show off their talents.


Sunday April 1st

Proving dance is not a 9-5, Monday to Friday job, the dancers of NYDW have been rehearsing since 9am on a Sunday. They must love life.

When I join them at the Welsh Institute of Sport, Sophia Gardens in the early afternoon, they’re exhausted and in need of a good rest. But, no such luck! They’re scheduled to work until 5pm, when they will be rewarded with a Sunday roast.

The reason for this monster of a rehearsal is that they are missing half of the company. Some are injured, like Matt who is tagging along to support. I suppose it’s always a risk having a programme which commits people to long term events, especially when the dancers are in university.

Being half a company down is never a good thing, and it’s meant a huge reworking of the piece by rehearsal director, Suzie Firth. I watch as they pick through the choreography, moulding and rehashing sections in a new version.

The original piece was choreographed by Errol White back in 2011, when the NYDW company participated in their 2 week residential, and Suzie is keen to stress she’s just making it work. Having seen the piece twice already at other platforms, I’m amazed at how easily the dancers adapt and learn to make a mature, edited version. Even just in rehearsal, the piece is alive and breathing. The movement has grown and expanded, and I’m seeing movement I’ve never seen before. They’re a whole new company, one with maturity and commitment who are insistent on getting the job done and performing to the best of their ability.

This is what I love about dance. It’s interesting to watch a dancer think. A dancer’s body always remembers movement, and can be flexible to adapt to any new situation.

By 5pm, the piece is done and dusted, more or less ready to perform. Everyone is tired and ready to eat, as well as eager to get to Caernarfon (my Dad has stressed to me that it’s going to take at least 5 hours to get there!).

However, two bus drama’s later (too much baggage, too little space), its nearly 1am before we reached our destination! It’s going to be such a long day tomorrow, everything kicks off with an 8.30am start.

So far, I’ve enjoyed getting to know the company again, and learning how they work to achieve a goal. As a dancer myself, I’m relishing the opportunity to sit back and experience a piece being remade, rather than having to throw my blood, sweat and tears into something so physical and never get to really see it. Can’t deny, though, I do miss the adrenaline of working yourself to the bone.


Monday April 2nd

 Part One

After a hearty breakfast and a tour of the theatre, the first group arrived at half past nine and it’s all systems go from then until I get into bed 15 hours later.

The dancers are so aware that they have a massive opportunity, and their racked with nerves and trembling with excitement. Being an alumnus of NYDW, I relate to them and how nervous they are. Some of them have never even performed with their groups before. The Unknown have only been together for 4 months; this is all very new to them and I can tell they’re eager to impress.

Spending the morning locked away in The Hub, which is my designated space for doing all my work, I get to interact with every single one of the 9 groups. I’m not going to lie; it’s hard work. It’s only the copious amounts of caffeine that keeps me going.

I interview dancers, teachers and helpers alike, getting a range of experiences and opinions on what dance means to them. It’s really surprising how interested the kids are in talking to me, people normally run a mile when a journalist comes knocking.

Watching the dress run from the side of the stage, I get more and more excited about what’s going to happen tonight. There’s hip hop, contemporary, jazz, tango and even Simon Cowell. All will be revealed in my review.


Part Two

Post show, I’m even more sure that this kind of event should happen more often. It is fantastic for getting young people excited about performing arts. The platform allowed for a broad range of dancers to be involved, and enabled North Wales to really showcase what they can do. I believe that events like this can put Wales on the map in terms of developing talent, and inspire young people to go on to professional level work in the arts.

Working with young people is always a touch-and-go thing, I think. It all hinges on how much they enjoy the activity, and if they don’t, you’re in trouble. But this bunch of youth groups were brilliant. They wanted to get stuck in, and were really proud of what they’d achieved.

National Youth Dance Wales worked as a professional company throughout the entire process. From the early morning where they worked as Ambassadors to their groups in order to keep everything running smoothly, to their own performance on stage. The piece itself has developed and matured from the early stages back in 2011 to a piece that they can be proud of in London.

It’s definitely something to shout about when we have a group of young dancers at the standard of those at NYDW. Most are coming through professional dance education at schools in England, such as The Place, Laban (of which I am also an alumnus) and Roehampton University, but still maintain their links with Welsh dance. There are good things to come from this lot.

Today has been such a learning curve for me. Not only have I blogged and interviewed, I’ve managed and organised teenagers. To really experience what I’ve always dreamt of doing and actually enjoy it is, in my opinion, quite special.

I love to dance and perform, but to have the opportunity to get others excited about it is something else. Combining writing, journalism and performing arts in a way that’s accessible to everyone is great, and today has taught me it can be done.


Tuesday April 3rd

Today we trek back down south to return home. I’m exhausted as I didn’t get much sleep last night thinking about everything I wanted to say about U.Dance. The experience has been fantastic and has really cemented my belief there needs to be more emphasis on dance and performing arts in the media, be it via Twitter, Facebook or blogging, so that more young people can hear about what’s nearby and get to classes.

Company breakfast is, as is always the case with NYDW, a really good laugh. I get mocked for my full cooked breakfast while others nibble on their croissants. I don’t mess about when it comes to food, especially breakfast.

We spend most of the trip back talking about how much we enjoyed the show and the experience in general. I wish I wasn’t 23 so I could audition for NYDW this year. Hopefully I’ll get to do this again on a larger scale as part of their residential scheme.