In September 2007 DanceEast held a workshop ‘EXTRAORDINARY’ for older dancers. It was the start of EncoreEast. Jerwood Dance House gave us a home and a platform to shine, we performed throughout the Eastern Region and at The Elixir Festival, Sadler’s Wells. Three of our members, Pam, Bobbie & Di, attended that first workshop and tell their stories below.
In June 2020, EncoreEast became an independent company. We continue to work closely with DanceEast, holding regular classes, intensive rehearsals and collaborating on projects and events. In 2022 we jointly produced HOST, inviting artists, participants and performing companies to celebrate dance and age through workshops, talks and performances.
During the pandemic we embraced different ways of working, responding to global uncertainty by building a collaborative, agile, and resilient model of self-management. We are delighted with the continuing support from Arts Council England.
We are delighted to have continued dancing together, proud of all that we have achieved and excited about the future.
Glorious Beginnings: Di's Story
Standing outside the studio door, I felt a moment of apprehension. What was it going to be like? Would I keep up? Would it just be too difficult? I took a deep breath and went in. There was a small group of women clustered at one end of the large room. I made my way over and was greeted with nods and smiles. I could see that I was not the only one feeling nervous, although there was also a definite air of anticipation, even excitement. Two young women were waiting for us to change, then they introduced themselves as Mary Davies and Natalia Thorn.
And so ‘Extraordinary’ a week of dance workshops for older dancers began. I had seen the advertisement in the local newspaper and recently retired, was able to attend. I had danced before, lots, but this was new. This was something for me, my age range. Would it be ‘dumbed down’? Would it have the creative element I had so far been unable to find in any other classes, which was and still is so important for me.
After a warm-up, Natalia explained that the company she danced with, Tilted Productions, was interested in exploring creative aspects using ordinary objects. She produced plastic bottles and we began to investigate how we could use them, to prompt movement or as an extension to our movements. Both Mary and Natalia were reassuring and encouraging, giving us time and space to develop ideas into sequences which we shared with the group and then built into longer group sequences.
During lunch, we chatted as though we had known one another for ages, sharing our experience, or lack of experience, as a dancer. Some people had never tried this creative process before and were amazed at how quickly a group could come up with a ‘piece’ of dance. I think we all shared a collective relief that there is no right or wrong way of moving in a class such as this and that we could all express ourselves in our own way.
Over the week, bottles were exchanged for newspapers or other items, including one day when we had to take in something special to us. This resulted in some really thoughtful ideas and it was heartening that we all felt relaxed enough to share both why the thing was special and our movements inspired by it. By the end of the week, we had bonded as a group and were overjoyed to hear that Mary would be continuing to run a weekly class. It was to be called ‘Glorious’ and, I think, summed up how we all felt about this experience, knowing that we could continue to develop as dancers.
Dancing life wasn’t over. It was just beginning!
Courage: Bobbie's Story
It was September 2007, I had retired the year before and hadn’t really settled into my new freedom or found an interest to occupy me. My daughter was working at DanceEast at that time and told me about a workshop for older dancers that was going to be held at the Wolsey Studio, she encouraged me to go along. I hadn’t done anything like this for many years, since I was a little girl when I went to dance school. I didn’t know what I should wear or what would be expected of me. I was very nervous and when I arrived I was so hesitant and worried that I walked past the door a few times. Eventually I plucked up the courage to go in. I asked if I could just pay for the first day and see how I got along. I was told, very firmly, that my daughter had paid and signed me up for the full week. The workshop was run by Mary Davies from DanceEast and Natalia from Tilted. The morning session led by Mary was the warm up and some lovely movement stuff. I really enjoyed the morning session and it reminded me how much I liked to dance. I found the creative afternoon quite hard, scary and challenging as I had never done anything like that before. Both Mary and Natalia were very kind and supportive, the other dancers were so nice and friendly and helpful, so to my great surprise I actually stayed for the week.
At the end of that really enjoyable and different week for me, Mary told us that she would be taking a class for over 50’s at Northgate School on Wednesday evenings. The class was called Glorious, I think there were five of us from the workshop plus some new people. During the first-year other people from the workshop left, but me, Di and Pam continued. The class was a success and was well attended. When we started we were in a nice studio but later moved to the hall that was used for school lunch which wasn’t so nice or so clean.
We were thrilled when DanceEast opened their new dance house and our class moved to a lovely new dance studio. However, the numbers dropped quite a bit after the move and we struggled to keep going. At one point there were only five of us. Mary had been trying to get us to perform at one of the performance days for a while but not all of us wanted to. However, that reluctance changed when one of our group announced she was moving to Australia and would like to perform with the group before she left. So, with great trepidation I said yes. Mary created a piece around a Beatles song and we had a fun time rehearsing and eventually performing. It was on the performance day when we were chatting in the Green Room that the name Elderberries was thought to be a good name for us. After our performance our numbers started to grow and we became an established performance group.
I am so glad my daughter encouraged me to go to the workshop and that I stayed for the week and that led to a lovely part of my life with Glorious and the Elderberries with Pam, Di and Mary.
Extraordinary: Pam's Story
Sometime around 2005 I went to Snape to watch a dance performance.
DanceEast had a promotional stand and I got chatting to Assis Carreiro (then Artistic Director & Chief Executive) who assured me they had classes for people of my age and ‘that I wouldn’t feel out of place’. Soon after that I began attending a weekly ballet class at Northgate School. After a couple of years, I ended up being the only person in class being taught by an ex – Royal Ballet teacher with a live young pianist all for £4. Needless to say, the class eventually closed.
So, in 2007 when the Extraordinary Workshop week was conceived, I found myself invited to explore a new dance venture. Although in my mid 60s I was still working but my very understanding boss encouraged me to sign up for the week and there began a new journey.
I had no idea what I was getting into and had no experience of ‘creative’ dance but ready for a challenge. Mary and Natalia were lovely and very inspiring and encouraging. So, playing around with plastic bottles and rolled up newspapers, though way out of my comfort zone, became no longer scary and a bit bizarre but a creative and thought-provoking way of developing movement and expression. Between sessions we walked to Christchurch Park with our picnic lunch, my very first visit there. I learned that a new class would begin the following week. ‘Glorious’ began at Northgate but the real excitement was when we moved into the new Jerwood Dance House in 2009 and the it became our new home. Sometime later Glorious became ‘Time to Dance’. We did our first performance in Summer 2011 ‘All Together Now’ (the Beatles). Then in Autumn 2011 we performed ‘Night & Day’ using our new name Elderberries (up in lights for the first time)
So much has happened since then. So many performances and experiences and so much more to look forward to. I thank my lucky stars for that extraordinary glorious week all those years ago. And for the lovely friends I still have from that time.