Help to take the first step

For some, life as a professional dancer may seem like a faraway dream.

Take that first step towards life as a professional dancer

By WAYNE SAVAGE, entertainment writer

For some, life as a professional dancer may seem like a faraway dream. But if you have the passion and commitment, DanceEast Academy staff will be with you every step you take. Jerwood House, on Ipswich Waterfront, is ready to throw open its doors to those with exceptional potential - giving those talented few the training they need to make that dream a reality.

It is the third year of recruitment for the eastern regional centre, one of nine government-funded sites, and it all starts next Friday with the first of six open days.

“Professional training is getting increasingly difficult to get into, what we do is prepare them for that next level and a career in dance,” says academy manager Lucy Hegarty.

“What we're looking for are young people who have the potential to reach that goal and we then give them all the tools they need to get there.”

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More than 100 hopefuls apply each year. Ideally, they come to the academy aged ten to 15 and train there until exiting into full-time professional training which is usually at 16 or 18.

“This year we'll take as many fabulously talented people as we can find. We're aiming for about 15, a maximum of 19 and that depends on what happens to some of the ones we've got this year. We've got a couple auditioning for some schools, so if they leave we'll obviously have a little more space,” adds Lucy.

The free open days comprise a series of three-hour sessions. Those interested just need to call the academy team who will decide which is the best to attend depending on their age.

“It's really quite informal and low key. It's not an audition at all, there's absolutely no pressure on the day; it's just an opportunity to meet us, the teaching team, try out some classes and find out what it's all about,” she adds reassuringly.

“They shouldn't worry about preparing anything or being watched, it's more for them to find out if they like what we do. A lot of them have questions which relate to their individual situation and circumstances too, particularly those who might live outside Ipswich.

“That's an opportunity as well for us to talk to them about how it might fit in with what they're already doing, fits around school and how they could manage all of those conflicting demands on their time.”

For those who like what they see, there is then the two-stage audition process.

Academy members will be looking for the physical skill, motivation and all important passion for dance needed to seize that moment in the professional spotlight.

“What we don't necessarily need is a lot of previous training. Some have had training before coming to us, some obviously go to a dance class once a week, some three times; but some come to us having very little experience - that's what unique about this programme.”

Parents daunted by the cost implications needn't worry either, assures Lucy.

“Means-tested grant funding is available through the Department for Children, Schools and Families Music and Dance Scheme. So it means we can cater for untrained, undiscovered talent; giving them all the facilities they need in this building and the skills of the teachers they need to get to professional level.”

Additional financial support is also available to grant holders to cover up to 100 per cent of dancewear and travel costs.

The dance programme covers classes in ballet, contemporary dance, body conditioning, fitness and dance health as well as introducing students to choreography, dance history and appreciation plus other styles.

It all adds up to a strong basic grounding in technique and creativity and they can then apply to vocational schools armed with a range of skills relevant to the dance industry.

Lucy adds: “It's all the things you usually get at professional training but watered down for them to learn when they're a lot younger. We're drip-feeding the same ideas over a longer period of time.

“We work with very highly skilled teachers and the programme is informed by the latest developments in dance training. We have constant links with the profession to make sure what we do at the moment is directly relevant, so it's not built on a system created 50 years in the past; it's built on what the demands of dance training is now.

“The outcome should be when they go on to their professional careers they've got very strong bodies from training from a young age, they're very healthy and well equipped to look after themselves because dance has a high risk of injury.”

Students will attend classes every Sunday at Jerwood House and once a week in Ipswich, Norwich or Cambridge. There are also intensive weekend, Easter and summer holiday workshops.

All of which could make that crucial difference to students' success going on to other schools and come auditions.

If this sounds like serious work, you're right; but there's plenty of fun to be had including theatre visits and performance projects - working with a professional choreographer to create a unique piece for students.

The academy is proving highly successful so far, beams Lucy.

“We've had students perform at the opening of this dance house and at the New Wolsey. This year we've got groups performing at the South Bank Centre, on the Royal Festival Hall stage which is absolutely amazing opportunity for them.

“They're working with the music centre at Aldeburgh with the Bonachela Dance Company, which is one of our associate companies, to create a piece for the main stage. That's quite massive.

“We also did a residential course at White Lodge, the Royal Ballet School, last year. We're doing another one this year, a Big Boys' project with some of the other national centres which allows our students to perform along with the other children from around the country.”

Auditionees who don't make it needn't worry their dreams are over. The DanceEast Academy tries to keep in touch with all those who apply because it and other dance agencies have lots of activities it can direct them to, along with any help and advice they can.

n Open days will be held in Ipswich on February 19 and April 10, Colchester on March 13, Bury St Edmunds on March 20, Norwich on March 27 and Ely on April 17. Call the DanceEast Academy on 01473 295230 or e-mail