To become a successful contemporary dancer, excellent technique, passion and musical interpretation are obviously important.
But that’s not all a contemporary dancer needs to stand out from the competition. In order to enjoy a long and successful career in this highly competitive field, dance students also need to develop their creativity, adaptability, collaborative thinking, critical reflection, teamwork and communication skills. Students who are able to develop these additional soft skills while training are best placed to make the most of any opportunity, and have the confidence to pursue their own projects.
In any field, building entrepreneurial skills and an ability to think outside the box makes graduates resilient and dynamic individuals. As many who study dance have the chance to start their own company, open a dance studio or work as independent choreographers and producers, it is vital for dance institutions to provide their students with these sought-after skills.
As such, dance training today needs to offer much more than just technique, in order to prepare students to confidently enter the industry, and to go on and shape it. Students should seek to choose an institution which has its finger on the pulse of changes in the sector, and that helps students develop into confident, well-rounded and independent artists.
Laying the foundations for future success
The Northern School of Contemporary Dance (NSCD) is one such conservatoire offering an innovative and holistic approach to dance education. Based in Leeds, UK, it forms part of the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama, currently ranked 5th in The Guardian University Guide’s subject league table for Dance & Drama.
Students on their flagship 3-year Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Dance (Contemporary) programme undertake rigorous daily technique classes in ballet and contemporary, laying the foundations for future work in the industry. A broad mix of guest tutors deliver ‘laboratory-style’ practical sessions, workshops and intensives to supplement this, sharing expertise that covers more hybrid and evolved techniques such as gaga and flying low.
These take place alongside lectures and seminars; a blend of practical learning and theory is a major focus of the institution. This broad curriculum is designed to help students develop artistic intelligence and a comprehensive understanding of movement so that they can confidently adapt to the shifting tides of contemporary choreography.
In order to ensure continued professional relevance, students are given multiple opportunities to enhance their academic experience in a variety of professional and community contexts, taking their practice out of the studio and into the ‘real’ world. Students regularly reap the benefits of NSCD’s network of partner organisations and professionals; bringing diverse live performances to unconventional spaces across Leeds.
Further enrichment opportunities ensure students leave NSCD with a breadth of knowledge of the wider arts, as well as guaranteeing value for money. These include career development workshops covering audition preparation, and additional skills such as yoga, lighting for dance, gymnastics and percussion.
To top it all, the school’s professional Riley Theatre is right on students’ doorsteps, granting them discounted access to inspiring cutting-edge work by acclaimed international choreographers and artists.
Developing independent and entrepreneurial artists
As well as opportunities that enable students to develop into well-rounded contemporary performers, NSCD equips students with essential skills to enter a variety of other professions. Empowering students to choose any number of connected careers in the fields of choreography, teaching, arts management and producing, NSCD ensures students gain real-world experience of working in the industry during their studies.
For example, students are able to choose electives in dance teaching and work with partner schools to devise and deliver workshops for children, and in their second year, BA (Hons) students gain hands-on experience of managing their own two-day dance festival, taking responsibility for budgeting, fundraising, programming and marketing the event, with guidance from expert tutors and guest professionals.
NSCD also offers more advanced courses in this area such as the MA Dance & Creative Enterprise. This unique course provides students with the necessary tools in arts management, business planning, fundraising and marketing for them to truly thrive as independent artists and professionals.
Students at NSCD test their ideas using industry-standard facilities to spur innovative thinking. Throughout their academic journeys, students are able to book state-of-the-art studios outside of teaching hours to refine and hone their individual choreographic practices, as well as opportunities to platform their work before their peers on the Riley Theatre stage.
An innovative and forward-thinking institution
NSCD is a conservatoire which is consistently connected to and on the pulse of the professional dance world, regularly inviting emerging and established guest artists to teach workshops, classes and intensives to students. The teaching staff body is also made up of practising artists who, outside of class hours, are performing their own work at festivals and venues nationally and internationally.
The staff’s current, up-to-date insight on what skills and characteristics are needed to thrive in today’s challenging landscape is what allows NSCD’s teaching to remain at the top of its game. Module content is revised each year to reflect developments in the discipline and the demands of employers.
What’s more, NSCD’s size as a small specialist conservatoire means it can offer intimate class sizes as well as one-to-one tutorials and high-quality student support services. This level of individual support and emphasis on health and well-being as well as academic achievement is a key factor leading to the high attainment of its students.
The proof of the advantages of this training model is in the continued success of NSCD graduates. Olivier-award winning choreographer Akram Khan OBE and Kristina and Sadé Alleyne, co-founders of internationally-touring company Alleyne Dance, are just some of the School’s alumni who have sustained international careers in the field, long after graduating.