BIG Dance Stoke - by Caroline Ambler

Sporting Stories writes: This is a great piece about Stoke on Trent's Big Dance Festival in the summer of 2016, from Caroline Ambler, one of Appetite Stoke's cultural reporters.  Appetite is a three year programme that gets more people in Stoke-on-Trent to experience and be inspired by the arts - see more here.  Dance is a great form of physical exercise and is also a wonderful bridge between sport and culture.

BIG Dance Stoke

In early July, Hanley came alive with dancing. Not just in our theatres but in our streets too, and it was all thanks to Stoke-on-Trent’s Big Dance Festival. The weekend was organised by North Staffordshire Dance Development Partnership (NSDDP); a consortium of charities, companies, individuals and educational establishments who are passionate about improving access and communication in dance. Inspired by the national Big Dance organisation, they developed a 2-day programme of events that amateur, professional and dad-dancers alike could all enjoy.

Restoke kicked off the festival with an outdoor performance on Piccadilly, which definitely made a change from the shoppers and professionals that usually frequent the area. Dressed in blue from head to toe, a handful of dancers started the piece at the Brunswick Street/Cheapside junction. The audience then followed the performers as they gradually danced their way down to the Regent Theatre. No piece of street furniture went untouched, whether it was dancing on the benches or using lampposts as a barre. This wasn’t just a dance performed outside, it was a real outdoor performance.

By the time we’d crossed Pall Mall, the tempo of the music had increased and the group’s movement synchronised with everyone moving as one. Speaking to the youngest member of Restoke, 12 year old Hannah said that the piece was supposed to represent the connections that exist between different people; a message which was strengthened by how much fun the group had clearly had while practising.

Later on that evening, Mitchell Arts Centre hosted a wonderful celebration of the diversity that exists both within the dance discipline and within our city. The Regent Academy began the event before we’d even made it in to the theatre with an energetic performance in the foyer. After we’d taken our seats, Breakthrou' Dance took to the stage. The integrated dance company performed an enthralling contemporary number and received an enormous round of applause.

The evening also featured solos from two Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form students. Their pieces couldn’t have been more different, with an all-action jazz number followed by a slower acrobatic performance, but the girls certainly share a talent for dance and are bound for significant success in the future.

Up next was an elegant ballet solo from Daniel Jones Dance, intricately using a barre as a prop throughout the routine and finishing with an impressive splits which was met with cheers and applause from the audience. Likewise, Lucie Labadie & Caroline Sherrett’s French cabaret number was also an audience favourite. I thoroughly enjoyed all of these performances but my absolute favourite has to be The Darshy Sheker Company. I’ve never watched any live Indian dance before but I found it completely mesmerising. The outfits and jewellery were absolutely beautiful too.

The first day of the festival was rounded off with a fantastic performance of ‘Hands Down’ by Company Chameleon. During the Q&A that followed the routine, Kevin (artistic director at Company Chameleon) discussed the inspiration behind the piece and how they sought to represent the tensions that often exist within a relationship between 2 people. This was certainly evident throughout the series of embraces and fights that made up the dance as well as the emotions that Theo & Dave so accurately portrayed.

The festival continued on Sunday 3rd July with free workshops at The Regent Theatre in all manner of dance styles; from Ballroom & Latin to Musical Theatre and French Cabaret. Company Chameleon also stuck around to perform another of their own pieces entitled ‘Push’ but this time they were out in the open too, dancing outside Hanley’s Marks & Spencer as well as the city centre bus station.

As a once-passionate dancer myself, Stoke-on-Trent’s BIG Dance Festival has encouraged me to dig out my dancing shoes and get moving once more. Let’s hope it’s had the same effect on everyone else who got involved… 

Caroline Ambler
Appetite Cultural Reporter 

The Appetite Cultural Reporter Team is a roving group of local writers, photographers and bloggers who are passionate about the arts in Stoke-on-Trent. Cultural Reporters discover and promote exciting stuff happening locally and regionally through reviews, blogs, vlogs, photography, back stage interviews and more. From theatre to circus to spoken word, they get to the heart of the action and bring it to you. Got an event coming up you’d like one of the team to review? Contact us at 

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