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The Birth of The Blair Academy, and why Dance matters to me

‘Write for yourself first’

The most cliché way to start this would be to say, “I’ve been dancing since I can remember”, but honestly, some of my earliest memories are centred on movement. My house was always alive with music, loud, loud music which would cascade into the crevices in the walls and seep its way into my soul. Music has always moved me, and it always will.

Although Dance was always there, in my spirit, I haven’t always given it the time and energy it deserves. As a child, I danced tirelessly as a hobby, but never could I have anticipated being able to study and work in this field. My parents very much echoed this ethos. Dance was fine as a past time, but they weren’t going to let anything interfere with my school work.

Throughout primary school, I danced in the hallways of ‘Linda’s club’ or in an unused corner of the football pitch. Then, I would be in a hurry to get home and re-arrange my bedroom, desperately trying to create floor space to dance in. It became increasingly apparent to my mum that this hobby of mine was transpiring and I needed somewhere to let it grow. (She was also pregnant with my first brother and didn’t want me to feel left out). She enrolled me in ‘Future Faces’ Theatre School in Chingford. We did an hour each of singing, drama and dance each Saturday but the dance sessions resonated with me above the others. My first ever dance teacher Charlene completely altered my perspective in those first few weeks at Future Faces. She taught me that the movements I was doing at home in bedroom had actual names and belonged to a dance style. My dad had nurtured me into a Hip Hop head musically, but this realisation of Hip Hop as a genre of dance blew my mind. I was completely in my element. Charlene thought I was talented, the older girls let me perform with them- I was really living my best life. A couple of months later, mum was strapped for cash and the dance classes came to an end. This festered somewhat of a subliminal anger within me. I felt like my dream was over, I wasn’t going to be able to dance anymore, and it was because my family was too poor to facilitate it. Disposable income isn’t a thing in the ends. Parents have to prioritise sheer necessities that they’re not always able to cover. Anything beyond that is a needless expense. For me, this was the sowing of the initial Blair Academy seeds. I wanted to make sure that no one else had to part with their dance journey because of their circumstances. Age meant that I didn’t really have the ability to capitalise on this anger and put changes into fruition so I went back to dancing in my bedroom.

Throughout Secondary school, I pounced on any opportunity to dance. This was massively aided by my form tutor Sam Bennett. She turned the school plays into dance shows and drove me up and down to country to performances and competitions. Then, there was Maria Straw-Cinar, my Drama teacher who would let me sneak into the drama studios, after school had finished so that I could train and choreograph. My first ever dance piece on YouTube was filmed in her studio. Thankful as I was for these fleeting dance moments, I was annoyed that my school didn’t offer dance as a GCSE option. I felt like I had been dancing for years with nothing to show for it.

Off of the back of this resentment, I begged my parents to let me chose dance as one of my A Level subjects. They agreed- reluctantly- still fearing that my academic success could be ruined. In line with this, I always worked hard in my studies to prove that I could be disciplined and find a balance between academia and creativity. Through the desire to branch out of my hometown, Walthamstow, I decided to study my A levels at St Marylebone Sixth Form. There were seven of us in the A level dance class, and very little room for Hip Hop. This was apparent from the offset when I turned up to the audition with a boombox in tow, not knowing what first, second, third, fourth or fifth position were.

My time at Marylebone festered more angry roots for The Blair Academy. I felt like my art wasn’t appreciated because it was Hip Hop, and because I was from ‘The Ends’. Despite this, my time at Marylebone also sparked an immense drive within me for dance to take a more prominent position in my life. I spent two years at Marylebone dancing with some incredible women. I danced alongside Ella, Flora, Katie, Mahri, Issy and Tannaka. They showed me the beauty in contemporary practice and helped to fill the huge hole in my classical dance knowledge. I also had the privilege of working under my dance tutor Francesca Mccoid who had an innate passion for all things dance-including Hip Hop. She opened my eyes to the possibilities of hybridity by helping me to understand the core values of choreography and opening my body up to contemporary movement. Ultimately, she gave me the courage to turn down all five of my psychology degree offers at the end of Sixth Form. She also guided me through starting the UCAS process again to apply for a dance degree. There was, however, a reoccurring problem. None of the courses I came across offered any modules in Hip Hop. At best, I was offered ‘Street Dance’ classes as part of some extra-curricular club. However, one day, whilst in the sixth form library, I stumbled across a course in ‘Urban Practice’ at the University of East London. I was mesmerised by the course content and immediately formulated an application.

My audition at UEL already felt like home. Most of the other dancers were in tracksuits and even the lecturers had wavy trainers on. I felt privileged throughout the duration of my degree. I would have never anticipated being able to study Hip Hop at degree level. Finally, I had found my balance between academic study and movement. UEL opened by body up to styles that I didn’t even know existed and I was taught by utter pioneers in the industry. Particular pillars of inspiration were Clara Bajado, Delene Gordon, Baris Yazar, Kamala Devam and Sunanda Biswas. Foundation is key in Hip Hop and they were instrumental in helping me to lay mine.

Two lecturers in my time at UEL shaped the course of my future beyond their academic duties. Sarah-Leigh Castelyn secured funding for me to engage in a research internship with her over my second year summer. Through this internship, I was given a membership at the British Library as a researcher. I was in absolute nerd heaven and as I sat drowning in books, I realised my love for both reading and writing about dance.

Holly Miles deserves a blog post of her own (that may actually follow come to think of it). Holly transpired from my lecturer to a lifelong friend and inspiration. Following a bout of depression, Holly pulled me into a better place without even knowing it. She offered me a part time role managing the finances at her dance company b.supreme. The female led company based at Studio b became a second home for me and a hub of creative inspiration. Fast forward two years, and I’ve run regional events for Holly and saw my first 3 funding successes under her mentorship. Holly nurtured me as an arts manager, a dancer and a person. She enrolled me in courses in everything from spoken word to aerobics. She saw my willingness to learn and supported the continuation of this.

Through studio b, I met a handful of women who have gone on to hugely impact my life. Judi McCartney’s relentless passion and incredible achievements drove me to want to be an arts manager. Hilary Townley pushed my dreams like a mum at studio b and diminished any fears or pre- conceived ideas I had surrounding my capabilities. Georgia Garrard cared about me when I didn’t care about myself and got me through the final stages of my degree as well as the first stages of my career. Andrea Swainson introduced me to inclusive practice and how to work with vulnerable people to create incredible movement. Andrea entrusted me with students that she had spent several years fostering relationships with. She gave me the opportunity to experience fulfilment through teaching unlike anything I’d felt before. Ultimately, Andrea secured the final piece in the Blair Academy puzzle. I’d always wanted to work with demographics facing barriers to accessing dance. In line with this, I’d considered societal circumstances such as finances but Andrea opened my eyes to the possibilities of working with people facing physical and psychological barriers to accessing movement. This solidified my desire to create Hip Hop dance experiences which welcome everyone.

Upon leaving university, I was blessed to get a graduate job as the finance assistant at Stratford Circus alongside my continued work with b.supreme. Five months on, Stratford Circus promoted me to their events and hires manager. The role gave me incredible insight into the varying aspects of running an entire arts focused building. Despite the lessons learnt, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of unfulfillment at Stratford Circus. My job in the arts wasn’t very arts orientated. I spent a lot of time organising teas and coffees for corporate events. I sat at home one evening, sobbing. There was almost a sense of betrayal because I had worked so hard at all the ‘right things’ in the hope of a promising career, and I still wasn’t happy. I considered what life would be like if I gave the time I ordinarily gave to Stratford Circus, to my own business venture, thus the Blair Academy planning really started to come into fruition. As I began to transfer my childhood dreams into adult plans, there was an element of fear that hung heavy over my heart. Courtney Wedderburn recognised and abolished this fear within a conversation. He made me realise the impact of dictation and forced me to come to the realisation that it was only I who harnessed the power to actually make my dream work.

There are two other men who have been instrumental in the birth of The Blair Academy. Benny Zahid brought my drawings to life to develop my logo, and Dennis George has created all of my digital content thus far. They both believe in my brand as if it’s their own, and I’m grateful beyond explanation.

After month of strenuous planning, there came somewhat of a breaking point whereby I needed to get started with actual dance sessions with actual participants. Again, Courtney reminded me that all the planning in the world will never fully prepare you, sometimes you simply have to take the jump. I worked tirelessly to develop a database of contacts throughout Waltham Forest who may be open to discussing purchasing my services through The Blair Academy. Within a few email exchanges, I had several bookings in place throughout 2018. I cannot explain the pride I felt at wearing my Blair Academy t-shirt at my first session at Oakland Care Home and seeing the elderly people embrace a style deemed only for the youth. Two months in, and The Blair Academy sessions have transcended across London locations including homeless shelters, disability centres and schools.

Ultimately, this journey is still a baby, with so much to learn, but the feeling of pursuing my dream is indescribable.

Dance matters to me because it’s been a constant in my life. It’s been a light for me in dark days. Dance started as a non-verbal outlet for me because I lacked confidence as a child. It has transpired to be my biggest confidence boost and daily drive. If the Blair Academy can help other people to discover why dance matters to them, I will have achieved my goal.

I can’t wait to see where this takes me.


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