Classical versus contemporary, how eating helps with dancing, and a group that has absolutely nothing to do with the Edge festival. Mouth is chatting to Dancing Extraordinaire, Eleanor Sikorski, about being a dance student in London.
Her house is warm and filled with gorgeous colours. The bookcase behind me is full to the brim with a complete set of Literary Criticism novels; and I am being offered homemade cakes that resemble small cow pats. I feel very comfortable. But this is always the way of my gracious hostess, Eleanor Sikorski, who, while digging into a homemade cake, assures me that if I make her seem like an elitist bitch, she will not be best pleased with me.
So when did you first decide to go to dance school?
I’ve always been dancing, as a hobby. I sort of realised I was ok at it, I could do it, and then you start being encouraged by teachers, and then I did my GCSE in dance, which was the first time I’d done any contemporary dance. After that, I found out about the universities and colleges that do degrees in dance, went to a summer school in dance, and then… well, it was never, really, a serious consideration for a long time; I applied to universities to study English, but, at the same time I auditioned for these vocational courses because I thought “well, why not?”. I kept flicking backwards and forwards between what to do, and then I just thought “yeah, definitely I don’t want to carry on writing about books; I want to go do dance”: it’s definitely more exciting.
You said you did it as a hobby, what sort of dance did you start with?
Ballet – from when I was, four or five, I used to do it after school, and then when I was fourteen, I started doing contemporary dance.
And did you find the transition from Ballet to Contemporary easy?
(Stutters quizzically) Yes, it was quite easy because there’s quite a culture in this country of children who dance to start with ballet, especially girls. A lot of the Contemporary dance for youth is kind of ballet based; well not ballet-based, but a lot of the Contemporary techniques have similarities to classical ones. There are a lot of contemporary, experimentally, more creative things that people can do, but it’s very much still sort of ballet orientated in the Dance schools of England.
Does Ballet offer people a good basis, then, on which to build?
That depends on whether your opinion of ballet is good It did do me favours because I had a body which was quite supple; I was quite able to do ballet stuff. I was never brilliant because I never did it full-time, but ballet for me was great because when it came to the contemporary stuff, I was already at home with the strength and the lines of the body. Fortunately, or unfortunately I think, a lot of the degree courses are still based in ballet so they do lap up ballet-trained people.
Over the last two decades, there have been a lot more people taking up contemporary dance courses (GCSEs, A-Levels, etc.) Do you think that in ten years there’s going to be a moving away from ballet-based training?
Well, there are nowadays more schools which have a greater contemporary influence, but they’re not easily found. Some clubs offer a lot of choices for children, but not that many people take up contemporary dance when they’re young – I mean there’s a lot of social dancing, but it’s likely that girls, when they start dancing will do ballet. For boys it’s a bit different, they’re going to be doing street-dancing or break-dancing; nowadays boys dance and girls dance completely separately: boys’ dance is a lot more athletic, which is more attractive for them. I think that things are changing, but for so many people ballet is what they think of when they think of dancing, and so that’s what a lot of people put their children into.
Although, for a lot of dancers, it is very important to have the training behind them, but there are other areas of dance, for example Contact Improvisation, if you can strain in ballet that’s not going to help you at all in Contact Improvisation, it’s a form of dancing. If you’re talking about what happens in most dance companies, then, yes, most things are going to be supported by Classical technique because a lot of what is out there is directly Classical, but my opinion is that if you want to be a good dancer, you don’t have to have studied ballet. And there are good dancers I know who come from the theatre or the visual arts, and have got in the performance side of stuff. I mean, it’s tough because they have to do three hours of training every day, so you have to be fit and strong, and ballet does prepare you for that: you have to fit into the timetable of training and studying.
What would your breakfast be?
Porridge is good. I would often feel quite hungry in the mornings in the midst of dancing. Because we have a 15 minute break I would try and stuff something down me, and people would often see me eating massive amounts before I dance, and say you can’t dance after all of that, but actually I’m very good at dancing after eating.
Is there a huge calorie intake?
The first year we did classes in Biology, Nutrition and Anatomy, and they tell you that dancers need more than the average person. It’s good to drink diluted juice for energy levels, but I have never really concerned myself with rules and generally I tend to eat healthy foods and eat what I feel that I need; little and often is good advice.
Were there any people that were bulimic on your course or had troubles with their weight?
Very few, I think it’s a very well known issue in dance schools. Ballet schools have a more traditional problem as it’s all about the physical appearance being more important; it’s hugely important because you don’t see fat dancers or old dancers. Teachers can be quite harsh: being ex-dancers, they haven’t been taught how to teach so they teach how they have been taught. They come with a very archaic approach to what standards should be. I had one ballet teacher who had a bad reputation for telling boys that they should lose some of their tummy fat and it was very inappropriate stuff. He didn’t really understand the impact he would have on people; he thought he was helping people but a teacher telling a kid that they are fat really damages some dancers mentality. There were people I knew who lost and congratulated themselves when they had lost some weight, but I think it exists everywhere.
So the dance group you are part of is called Edge?
I am part of Edge.
It’s a post graduate performance company; it has been something that has been going for several years as a post graduate course. There were 10 dancers and 6 choreographers that worked with us, then a month’s worth of workshops and sessions with various artists. They put together six pieces which we performed in the first half of the year and in the second part of the year toured them around Europe: Denmark, Austria and Portugal. We did a lot of performances at universities. We also performed at the Place in London.
So was the group made up from your friends?
Four of us from The Place got through the auditions and the rest were from other universities and dance places.
So the near-future looks bright for you! Would you ever move into musical theatre? Or do you look down on musicals?
I do not look down on musical theatre; I just don’t find them particularly stimulating, I’m sure I got pleasure from them once upon a time (she laughs) but I am a bit of a fan of contemporary, art and musicals aren’t like that unfortunately.
There is a lot of money in them though!
There is money in them! I might be in them one day! (Laughs)
So have you taught dance before?
In terms of teaching I’ve done a bit with Edge; it’s not something that I am going to try hard to get into, but it is inevitable as a lot of funding from the art council can be got if you can show that you are helping the community with your Art, which I think shouldn’t be the responsibility of the artist to be an educator as it’s not their job and so they shouldn’t need to be educators to get money. It’s often the case, however, and many dancers go into teaching to get funds.
So are you scared?
Am I scared?
That you will have to get a normal job?
There are people who have to work; I didn’t need to work that much to get by. Some of my friends had to work really hard especially those from Europe. It’s often the way with arts that those people who are supported by parents get to go to the auditions or paint paintings, that’s just how it is.
Here’s a sort of childish question, but if say in ten years or so you are doing what you are doing, but you are living on the edge, no pun intended there, would you be happy with that?…
I would have a look around for something other than dance which could give me a better income, but if I ended up in a house full of dancer people in a tiny room I wouldn’t complain as long as I was doing what I loved.
But you wouldn’t mind marrying a rich husband?
I would love to marry a rich husband; (laughs) that would be the dream! But I don’t really hang out with the right kind of people. I could impress them at a show I put on or something and show them how flexible I can be (laughs).
So no regrets?
No my life is great. Being a dancer is fucking great!