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Animated Edition - Autumn 2008
Lighting the touchpaper
In April 2007 Scilla Dyke began a series of conversations with Kiki Gale, Artistic Director of East London Dance, about the story of her journey in dance. Here Kiki tells us about that journey and points out some of the important landmarks that have kept - and keep - her going
My earliest memories of dancing were slipping down to the sitting room and simply dancing around in front of my parents - it gave me a wonderful feeling of freedom and, of course, smiling parents - I loved it. Reflecting back I wonder if it was just a brilliant excuse to avoid bedtime but I insisted it was the sound of music that compelled me to dance and that I could not possibly get to sleep until I had done so.

I went to a local dance class - there was always the free section at the end of the class when anything seemed possible. One of my first performances was as a butterfly in a dance piece performed outside in a formal garden (what is now called site-specific!). To this day those memories remind me of the sheer visceral pleasure dancing gave me.

The serious business of training to be a dancer began with Saturday classes at the Rambert School. I learnt that I had to develop my technique. This continued at Arts Educational School where the reality of my survival in the back row of the corps de ballet (if I was lucky) became a serious consideration - I decided it was not going to work and went off on a long search (which I am still on) to see if I could find a way of dancing that connected with the sheer pleasure and inspiration I had felt when I was dancing in that sitting room. I also wanted dancing to connect to my life and what I felt - the bigger themes and questions about life itself. I could not find a way of doing that with Sleeping Beauty or the Nutcracker although I had been delighted to dance with the Festival Ballet at the Coliseum in both ballets at the age of twelve. Looking back, I now see my dilemma then was about the conflict between development of technical ability and creativity, between style and content, between dance and wider life issues.

In the early seventies I travelled the world - Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Afganistan - and on my return attended the Dance Centre in Covent Garden. Jazz with Matt Mattox, ballet with Maria Fay, mime with Ronald Wilson. I performed with Dance Theatre Commune with Ernest and Elsa Berk. I was still struggling to find my place. I did what many young dancers and dance makers still do now - formed a dance company with friends called Kickstart. We made our own work and performed in venues across the country whilst working at whatever we could find that paid the rent.

Kickstart performed in the first Association of Dance and Mime Artists festival at the Drill Hall in London in the late 70's. X6 founders Fergus Early, Emilyn Claid, Jackie Lansley and Mary Prestige, amongst many others, were performing different, inspiring dances of all kinds, challenging preconceptions about what dance could be and how and where it could be performed. Alongside this I performed with Action Space, with and without inflatables, in street theatre, in fringe theatre and in 'happenings' outside the Serpentine Gallery. My eyes were widening. I was beginning to find my own place to dance.

At that time two things happened which were important in relation to my work now - I came across Gina Levete who founded Shape and I saw Ludus Dance Company perform. Both revealed to me that dance could involve everyone in some way or other - that it was not simply a question of technique and that there were many different ways to dance - and that it could address significant themes - in the case of Ludus a dance piece as well as a show about issues, in this case race and racism.

I was then fortunate enough to get both a job with Shape and with Ludus. It was a difficult choice because both options were irresistible in very different ways. I chose the latter. Lots more learning continued, and in addition to devising and performing with Ludus, teaching was an essential part of the job and I discovered I loved it. On my return to London, often clutching Gina Levete's book No Handicap to Dance, I travelled across the city teaching dance wherever anybody would have me - on psychiatric wards, in Day Care centres, in adult education in addition to setting up dance classes in my local community centre for children and families.

Throughout this time I had been challenged by the concept of dancers as mere bird-brains and following several all night sessions, I slowly learned to write essays with the Open University, and then went on to become a mature student at Middlesex University. I originally planned to study dance, to bring together academic and vocational dance studies but quickly realised that what I wanted to focus on at this point was academic study - I chose Women's Studies, Communications Studies and finally got a degree in Contemporary Cultural Studies. It was an extraordinary and life changing experience for me and through the greater understanding of the world that it gave me I felt I was now ready to find a way to connect up my passion about dance and how dancing could be innovative, challenging and life changing.

After graduating I went on to get a job as a dance animateur in Telford, working for Wrekin District Council. I had observed from a distance the start of the dance animateur movement - Scilla Dyke in Suffolk and Marie McCluskey in Swindon - and had hoped that one day I might know enough to be one. My time in and around Telford and rural Shropshire enabled me to get to know the community and to set up projects that aimed to offer all sorts of people opportunities to dance in all kinds of ways. I also met Rosemary Lee at this time and had the opportunity to join the cast of Haughmond Dances - an innovative, site-specific performance in the ruins of Haughmond Abbey. I shall never forget the enchantment of those summer nights, the laughter we had creating the work, and the way in which Rosemary inspired and enabled a large, intergenerational cast to collaborate to create something quite unique and special. My time, wrapped entirely in bandages from head to foot and tied by elastic wires to the grave of an Anchorite was a magical experience - it was created through an exploration of the history and meaning of the site and an open enquiry about what dance could be.

When I arrived at what was then East London Regional Dance Council in 1992 as the part time regional dance officer, my previous eclectic experiences helped me to clarfiy the approach I wanted to take - combining my practical understanding of dance, and interest in the breadth of what dance could be, with a greater understanding of the complexities of communities - who they were, what might be the right opportunity to offer them, how to support them and the challenge of developing provision that always took account of both sets of interests - that of artists and communities. However it has been a huge learning curve for me and continues to be so. It's what makes it so exciting.

By some lucky serendipity Wayne McGregor arrived in East London soon after me as a young dance animateur. He has always been an absolute inspiration - innovative, creative, open, willing to take risks and as a result has delivered some of the best and most challenging projects we have done in east London and continues to do so.

One thing I have learnt is that we have to ask questions of ourselves all the time - both about how we structure projects and about style and content, about the balance between skills development and creativity and context. We also need to ask questions of those we seek to work with - about what is important to them, about how we can create the conditions in which they can participate and make the dances they want to, about how we can connect this up to the broader context of dance practice of all kinds. And we need to create multiple entry points to support the diversity of those taking part and the diversity of the dancing that takes place.

In my role at East London Dance, and in collaboration with my inspiring colleagues, we try to create the conditions in which anybody who wants to can dance. It is the artists and communities who do the hard work, come up with the creative ideas and have the bravery to take risks and make it happen. We work in partnership with our local communities to devise, develop and deliver our programmes alongside our artists and artistic partnerships. Recently this has led to the development of some very successful curatorial partnerships. Examples include Collabo - an innovative event conceived by Tony Adigun, artistic director of Avant Garde Dance - which brings together choreographers and performers working in street dance styles in creative collaborations; Stylefest led creatively by Kymberlee Jay (Funk Physics), Kenrick 'H2O' Sandy and Michael 'Mikey J' Asante (Boy Blue Entertainment) to support the UK underground dance scene through workshops, discussions, battles and performances in popping, house, new style and krump; Two's A Company with Hakeem Onibudo (Impact Dance) exploring the world of duets; Blueprint devised by Vicki Igbokwe to celebrate the work of young dance makers and performers and with Luca Silvestrini exploring the marriage of dance and sport with the film Start to Finish, the live performance event DansAthletic and now the resource pack for teacher and students edited by my colleague Polly Risbridger (there is not enough space here to include all the wonderful artists I have had the privilege to work with - apologies to those I have not mentioned). We are at the heart of one of the most diverse communities in the country and this makes it, I believe, one of the most exciting places to work. Our job is to nurture our artists and communities to make the work they want to make. Our ambition is to support the development of an East London Dance aesthetic that is driven by and can respond to the diversity of our communities.

Questions of access and excellence are an ongoing enquiry. What these are and mean will change depending on the very specific nature of any project or programme. In my work I have had the opportunity to learn about the diversity of dancing - as Ken Bartlett would say - the common wealth of dance.

"Without contraries there is no progression" (William Blake). We question and debate our practice on a daily basis. It is a privilege to be part of this dancing community and it is here that I have had the opportunity to begin to explore the complexities and challenges between the visceral/intuitive nature of dance, what it is that inspires people to dance in the first place, to questions about aesthetics and technique, about form and content, to debates about what dance is and can be and its place in the world around us.

contact kiki@eastlondondance.org or 020 8279 1050 / visit www.eastlondondance.org

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Animated: Autumn 2008