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My Dance Rebellion

A really satisfying dance with a partner is like a ruddy good conversation. Both listening intently as the leader offers an idea and the follower responds, both offering themselves openly with intention towards each other, supporting, being held... potential even for the roles to swap and flip the conversation! Wild idea! When you imagine two people dancing together around a Ballroom what do you see? Two people in sync, in hold, maybe a bit snooty looking, how old are they? What are they wearing? One is in charge commanding and strong, supporting and displaying their partner. The other responsive, holding beautiful lines awaiting the next step.

What if the leader was a women? Is that different to the image in your mind? Traditionally partner dancing like Latin and Ballroom, Tango, Swing dance, Salsa have been danced with the man leading and woman following. Quite often the roles are even named ‘man’ and ‘lady’ LADY?! I know, I know - I ain’t no lady and this has always seemed an outdated mode particularly as a Queer woman. Having trained in many traditional dance styles as a child I had an eye/body opening experience when I studied contemporary dance for my degree. I lapped up the opportunity to break form and discover the broader possibilities in my dancing body. This is where my dancing rebellion began. I decided that dancing shouldn’t just be for the elite, highly trained, muscularly toned - but it should be possible and available for everybody. Every body.

I diverted away from dance as a career for a number of years due to injury, however, in this time I gained a deeper understanding of why people are the way they are. Mentoring GCSE level students to build resilience, emotional intelligence and self awareness to improve their prospects academically taught me that the barriers to learning run deep. Training volunteers and supporting young people on a UK wide helpline helped me to understand the value of listening without a personal agenda. When I came to starting my own business in 2015 I returned to Latin and Ballroom dancing because every time I watched Strictly Come Dancing I wanted to cry! I was a hypocrite - I believed that dance was possible for everybody, but had written myself off due to a knee injury. I dusted myself off and got to some dance classes again - but having realised I was bisexual with queer politics during my 20s - I wasn’t satisfied with dancing traditionally. I wanted the choice to dance Leader and/or Follower - I didn’t want my gender to define the role I had to take. It turned out that same-sex dancing has been going on since the 80s! But as with many LGBTQ+ communities they somehow can go undiscovered.

I found my spiritual dance home in The Rivoli Ballroom at Jacky’s Jukebox social dance night for LGBTQ+ people. I also had a taste of Queer Tango London - where Argentine Tango is taught so that anyone can lead/follow no matter their gender and lead swapping was also taught! I was encouraged by the founder to Irreverent Dance to start teaching gender neutral Latin and Ballroom - this is where my ethics became fundamental to the learning environment I wanted to create. My classes, private lessons and events are founded in the fact that; I acknowledge that we are all whole, capable and resilient - there are no ‘problem’ people we are all at different stages of learning and development. Mistakes will happen and this is key to learning. I acknowledge that we all have an embodied history - wrapped up in shame of shape/disability/height/weight etc. So there is no body shaming in my classes - every body can dance.

I recognise gender diversity and respect the pronouns of my students - partner roles can be danced by anyone and with anyone. There is always choice - I encourage people to pay attention to their state - choose to participate when you’re really willing - take time to rest - it’s ok to say no to a dance. As beautiful and elegant as Latin and Ballroom can be to watch and admire - my interest remains in what we can learn about ourselves in the dancing partnership rather than the complexity of the steps. If connection is missing then, to me, dancing with another person would be pointless. It’s like a conversation where two people are speaking to each other but neither are listening. Never satisfied with following the trend and always eager to dive in deeper this remains my mission to help people to connect authentically, to really listen to one another and learn a little more about themselves whilst they learn to dance.

Please contact me with any questions related to my services and events including general enquiries

hello@rachelsparksdance.co.uk  /  0787 500 1931

©2018 Stephen Ellis on behalf of RACHEL SPARKS

Photography by Henri T Art & Laura Aziz