This summer we have collaborated with the Royal Academy of Dance on an eight-week online dance programme to encourage reconnection with our bodies (and each other), through movement, creativity and self-expression in this ongoing period of uncertainty.
Here we speak with one of the teachers responsible for the development of this series, classical ballet & modern dance, RAD Registered Teacher teacher Imogen Knight, to learn more about her own dancing journey.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST GET INTO DANCING?
When I was four years old, I asked my mother to take me to ballet lessons. She was very surprised as I‘d never seen a ballet at that point. My first class was jazz, though ballet was what I wanted to do. My mother thought she would let me get on with it and see if it was what I really wanted, but I kept asking for ballet classes. My teacher said I had an aptitude but needed another teacher. When my mum found a RAD teacher, I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t join in and just cried for the first few lessons. When I did join in, I stayed with her until I was 16!
What are, in your view, the physical and mental benefits of dancing?
Speaking as a teacher, a student is at their most receptive when cognitive, emotional, and physical realms are engaged. This is what we call the ‘sweet spot’: you learn well, retain the information, and feel achievement. Dance sits in that sweet spot.
Did dancing change how you feel/ think about your body?
Not when I was younger. Now, it has made me appreciate that I am heading into middle age. Because of dancing, I'm really engaged with my body and its needs – I feel strong, I have healthy muscles, and know how to use them. I'm naturally energetic, and dancing is good as an energy release. It allows me to be calm.
How do you think dancing can improve body confidence and boost body appreciation?
I teach people of all shapes and sizes and need to make them feel that they are appreciated for their line and their shape – that they felt beautiful today when they danced. Aesthetics change according to the person and hopefully they feel fabulous about themselves. This comes from understanding and intimacy. I'm not an artistic director - I want them to feel good about themselves, to find their own beauty or drama.
Can the dancing community help to improve someone’s body image?
Yes. To dance well and to develop, you have to gain an improved knowledge of your musculature, and stimuli. You can gain self-respect through that knowledge and self-awareness. No matter who you are, dance improves your posture and breathing, giving you a more confident aura. This creates confidence in others – a virtuous circle just from moving your body.
Do you have any advice for people who might not have the confidence to start dancing?
Phone around and talk to teachers and find someone you like. You want someone with experience who is interested in you. Go for a trial class and see how you take to the teacher and the other people in the room. Don't be afraid to interview a teacher - how long have they been teaching? Have they taught people your age? Where did they study? If they feel nice and you feel safe, then give them a try. And, a teacher shouldn’t ask you to buy anything – they should make you welcome as a beginner and adjust their class.