Rebecca Rowlands-George: A Personal Meditation on Dance

February 9, 2023 by

You live as long as you dance
(Rudolf Nureyev)

Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Contemporary, Commerical, Street, Disco, Lindy-Hop, Salsa, Tango, Ballroom, and Line-dancing – you name it, there is a class in Wales that will teach it. Usually, it’s run as a private business by dedicated and passionate teachers. Dance-in-education settings, however, is ‘pocketed’ exercise that reflects the geographical location of schools and colleges. There are exceptions to this; but most of the time the sentiment is, ‘It’s on the curriculum; so I guess we have to do something about it.’ I know: I have taught in both privately-run businesses and educational settings.

We’ve seen the rise in popularity of TV shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing on Ice – even dance on Britain’s Got Talent results in colossal viewing figures.

I first put on a pair of ballet shoes just before my third birthday with much excitement. At 16, I went to London for a major ballet exam and was offered a place in the examining school. After much deliberation, I turned it down mainly because I was young and scared and probably would have to survive on a diet of crisps. Instead, I found a new joy in literature and Contemporary dance at college and Street dance at a new local dance school.

A couple of years later, I left Wales to study dance; no educational institution offered an undergraduate level of dance in Wales at the time. Currently, there are two: Cwmni Ballet Gwent and Diversions dance company. They were then the most highly professional in Wales, and both regularly provided schools with an educational outreach programme. Since then, they have re-branded as Ballet Cymru and the National Dance Company of Wales and continue to be based here. Theatres would have small-scale productions from touring dance companies outside Wales, and sometimes you could be lucky to catch them if they made it as far west as Wales. After a quick internet search – admittedly post-pandemic – not much has changed. There is still a significant lack of live dance in theatres compared to other performances. And yet, with bated anticipation about who would be crowned its champion in 2022, Strictly Come Dancing’s final viewership reached 9.2 million.

I headed to London a few years later, a little more level-headed (albeit still on a diet of crisps). My eyes opened to a world that, as a great contemporary dance legend Merce Cunningham says, ‘gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.’ As a dance student living in London, I saw the finest contemporary dance companies and world-class ballet dancers.

I hung up all my dance shoes permanently aged 25 after my father died and I suffered a miscarriage. I found myself struggling in a pit of grief, depression and anxiety. I was heartbroken, and dance was the casualty. I fell back into the world of literature, taking up writing to ease the pain and creatively working through emotions in words rather than physical action. And in doing so, I found a kind of quiet patience and dedication that somehow are found in both the art of writing and dance. When I write, I play classical music, and scenes unfold in my mind like choreography, leaving me trying to capture the essence of imagination before the track finishes.



Many years have gone by, and emerging from the pit is still one hell of a climb. For the last five years, I have found myself chauffeuring my little daughter to an excellent local ballet class. I have waited patiently with the other ‘ballet mums’. Hidden by bubbling feelings of jealousy, and lived vicariously through the pastel-coloured corps de mini-ballerinas in hurried Saturday morning ‘buns’. One Saturday, after class ended, the principal of the school, Mrs Flower, appeared, her eyes glancing at me. I run through the deeply ingrained checklist: engage the core, turn out from the hips, relax the neck, imagine the string through your centre, think lines and Épaulment, and the pleasant open face. She says, ‘I have just done the Academy’s silver swans course.’ I don’t know what that meant, and my face probably showed precisely that. ‘I’m starting an adult ballet class,’ she added. ‘Would you be interested?’ Holy Darcey Bussell, I thought – YES!

At the first lesson, there were quite a few of us—some ballet mums from when classes change over but who had never spoken to complete unknowns. Mrs Flower asks us in turn about our dance experience. It ranges from, ‘Absolutely none; I begged and begged to go to class, and here I am, fifty and giving it a go’ to ‘I used to come to lessons with you, Mrs Flower.’

Mrs Flower is an experienced Royal Academy of Dance examiner and teacher with an established ballet school in the Swansea area. She explains that the Academy has developed the Silver Swans initiative for over-55s to get people moving and help with mobility, posture, coordination and energy levels. The programme will roll across the world in the next two years. She has classes running with a regular turnout and she sees more and more participants turning up. (Incidentally, I saw Mikhail Baryshnikov in his fifties leap across Sadler’s Wells stage. ‘Awestruck’ doesn’t cover it.)

We are a mixed bevy of swans, some nervous and excited. Others are ‘don’t-stick-me-in-the-front’ swans, and are instructed to head to the Barré. We work through a series of exercises to prepare for the centre work: The Plié, the Tendu, the Rond de Jambe, the Fondu, The Passé, The Frappé, The Developpé and finally, the Grand Battement. Did I not mention tht your French gets a workout too?

We move to the centre, where the elongated ballet arms float through Port de Bras positions and into the Adage, which requires musicality, balance, control and extension. Then the Cardio portion of ballet with the Allegro exercises and ending the class with a thank-you Reverance. In lay terms, we work on legs, bums and tums, Classical ballet style.

I remembered how dancing would make me feel: I could lose and find myself in that single fleeting moment. Any stress and wear of the monotony of daily life are stripped away in the freedom of space and music. My body is in control, and the classical music quietens the noise in my brain. Dance changes your entire being, and you have to give yourself wholly; no other art form will make you bleed to the depths of your soul. Then, after a few weeks of classes, you find yourself standing differently; the shoulders pulled back, the neck long and graceful, like the swan gliding across a tranquil lake.

Martha Graham said, ‘Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are great because of their passion.’ And Wales is known for being a passionate nation. So, let our bodies show dancing passion, too. After all, we live as long as we dance.

Rebecca Rowlands-George was born in Neath. Most of her early career was spent on the stage, she having trained as a dancer before turning to education and writing. She has delivered dance for Sports Wales, Sports Leaders UK, Carmarthenshire county ouncil, the city and county of Swansea, and Neath/Port Talbot county borough council. Working in Theatre-in-Education as a performer, she has toured South Wales and has also taught Dance and Drama in secondary schools in London, Bristol and South Wales. Writing has run alongside her performing and teaching career. She is undertaking a Masters degree in Creative Writing at Swansea University and is due to complete her MA this year. She organised and hosted the first postgraduate research festival for the Creative Writing department last year. She’s working on a historical fiction novel and a screenplay.


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