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Finding my place
Date posted: 19 November 2021
After a wide-ranging career, Marcia Edwards found herself rooted in Stourbridge, West Midlands and embraced this by forming ME Dance Company in 2017. Here, she shares her passion for honouring your roots, appreciating your journey, giving back and striving for more in the communities you come from, live in and want to build for the future.
Marcia Edwards introducing site-specific performance at Spaghetti Junction photo by Peter Medlicott

It is my belief that ideas can come from your surroundings, whether they be personal life or experiences – taking that reality can lead to so many wonderful things. Dance allows us to have that voice to tell people not only what’s happened in history, but in our life.

My story: starting local, going global

My own story in dance began on my own doorstep and in my own home, yet it was still full of ambition, hard work and high standards. Little did I know it was going to lead me round the world!

When I was seven, my family moved from Germany to the UK. My parents were sick and tired of me singing and dancing around the sitting room, bashing into things, so they decided to put me in a local group called the Mandeni Show Stoppers, based in Thirsk Town Hall, North Yorkshire. This was the time I realised that I wanted to be on the stage… and I took that feeling home with me! My brother and I would find cardboard and have dance-offs in the garage and learn moves from the likes of 5 Star, Michael Jackson and MC Hammer from video tapes.

After school, I went to a performing arts college to study dance full time. It dumbfounded me to know that something like this existed. No-one ever told me that a dream like this could be possible!

My first audition was for the degree course at Northern School of Contemporary Dance which did not go well as I did not know any dance terminology - not even what contemporary or ballet were, at that time. However, when it came to my solo I just danced as if I was in the garage!

Impressed, Alison Beckett asked me to audition for the foundation course first, which I completed under Shirley Jacobs, followed by the degree course with Sharon Watson. These teachers pushed me to the limit, and opened my eyes to what being a successful dancer meant physically, psychologically and creatively. If these foundations weren’t there, I don’t think I would be where I am today.

I graduated with a BA (Hons) in Dance and went on to perform for leading Black British contemporary dance companies - RJC Dance, ACE dance and music, State of Emergency – and for internationally renowned choreographers - Barwen Tavaziva Koffi Koko, Andile Sotiya, Vincent Mantsoe and Akiko Kitamora. A national tour with all female choreographic showcase ‘Mission Re-Position’ also led to work with a fellow dancer on it, Zeze Kolstad, at Dida Dance Productions, Norway.

Finding my place: back to local

I then settled with a family in Stroubridge, went into education and taught in schools, colleges and universities, providing students with the knowledge and experience they need to start a career in dance. During this time, I started to think about choreographing my own work. I approached dancer/lecturer, Guiseppe Marcarelli, and created a solo work, Man in A Suit, that could be shown at a community platform, about the ever present struggles of being a man in society today.

Then the idea of ME Dance was born which you can hear much more about in my online interview with People Dancing last summer: Knocking on doors with biscuits

As a Black woman in Stourbridge who has worked in the industry for over 20 years, I felt that I could provide a sense of hope and inspiration to the next generation of dancers in an area where dance is not seen as a profession. Opportunities for performance do exist locally and I wanted to create a company with the capacity for professional and youth work as dancers often leave the area to train and don’t come back. Having a professional dance company in the region shows that dancers can gain experience and work outside of the big cities.

ME Dance Company is the only professional company in the Black Country led by a Black-British Caribbean woman. Since, Man in A Suit, the company has grown from strength to strength and now has a core of 6 professional dancers, a youth dance group and numerous partnerships with local schools, colleges and arts organisations.

A dance company does not just rely on an artistic director and its dancers though. I knew, from watching others over the years, that you also need a community of professional advocates for the quality of your work. Since I came back into the industry, Gail and Ian Parmel, (leaders of ACE dance and music ), Louise Katerega, (Associate Producer for Change, People Dancing), world record breaking mass-movement choreographer, Jeanefer Jean Charles and, then, Arts Council Relationship manager, Yaël Owen-McKenna have all supported me immensely to establish and build a reputable company and develop links within the arts.

Sharing the space: old stories for new worlds

Chain Stories, our new work for 2022, is a large scale site specific project, which came about through a discussion that Fleur Hall (Assistant and Company Dancer) and I had about people in the Black Country who did not know what came before them.

Living in such a beautiful area, with many unknown and untold stories from its past, inspired me to bring dance and history to the community.

Lockdown gave us time to research and discover the historical connections between us in the UK, Grenada in the Caribbean where my immediate family roots are and Ghana, West Africa, where my older ancestry and roots of some of the dance forms I incorporate in my work in come from. How could we produce a piece of interactive work that could leave a legacy and draw people into becoming part of our shared history?

We made connections with NOYAM (Ghana) and Conception Dance Theatre (Grenada). This initially started as an online exchange, then, since both are also Commonwealth countries, we were fortunate to be commissioned as part of Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Cultural Programme in partnership with our international research and development funder, the British Council.

As a British-Grenadian, it was important to me to share ME Dance’s development, opportunities to the island and establish strong links between each country. This funding led to an experimental live stream, Oceans of Independence, from Wolverhampton’s Arena Theatre featuring the three countries in July 2021.

Also in 2021, through our partnership with Black Country Touring, we developed a relationship with Canal and River Trust, who commissioned us to create and perform various dance pieces around the region as July continued. Each piece told the story of women who lived and worked in the Black Country. The similarities of working women across the ages, and their fight to make a better path for their children, offer an insight into how we can support each other in love and life.

By putting on work in obscure, unused and ‘unloved’ spaces such as Spaghetti Junction, Ickneild Port Loop, Smethwick Locks and The Bumble Hole we wanted to inspire people to go outside and explore their surroundings. Alongside each performance, we worked with Windsor High School, ACE Youth and Eloquent Praise Dance to create curtain raisers at each location and look forward to continuing relationships with these organisations.

With each location and story being so different, the audience and dancers were able to immerse themselves in the narrative of the piece and find their own connections to it. This led to positive responses and unexpected effects. For example, at our performance at Ickneild Port Loop, where we performed a piece about the military and nurses, one gentleman whose daughter is in the army said that the piece was beautiful and personal for him because he missed being with her.

Long term, I want to develop our professional work and establish a three year dance education programme in the Black Country, where dancers can learn about the professional industry so they have the tools to be successful in their careers. It’s not just about technique, but giving people the freedom to develop their own creative voice in a safe place where dancers don’t feel intimidated or under pressure to be ‘perfect’. In bringing dance to the region, we will be able to nurture the next generation of dancers and guide professionals in their journey, celebrating the community as a positive hub for the arts.

With thanks to: Neil Reading from The Arena Theatre, my company dancers – Guiseppe Marcarelli, Melissa Edgar, Fleur Hall, Abi Raybould, Claudia Thompson and Gemma Pilgrim, my family & best friend Sadie Belleh and everyone who has supported us along the way. 


Image credits from top

  1. Fleur Hall performing at Spaghetti Junction photo by Peter Meddlicott
  2. Marcia Edwards introducing site-specific performance at Spaghetti Junction photo by Peter Medlicott
  3. Youth Performance Company and Eloquent Praise Dance performing at Ickneild Port Loop photo by Brian Slater.