Interview: Meet the teacher - Melanie Clark

Friday 14 October 2016

Melanie Clark

In the first of a new series in which we’ll profile some of the hundreds of dance teachers working across London, meet Melanie Clark who teaches contemporary and ballet for City Academy in North London.

Originally from New Zealand, dancer Melanie completed a Masters in Creative Practice at Trinity Laban in London and has been working as a research assistant for Wayne McGregor’s company. She has performed with Nutshell productions in Secret Cinema among many other projects.
Melanie teaches contemporary and ballet classes for City Academy at a range of different levels – and there are opportunities to join her coming up soon…

When did you start dancing?
I started ballet when I was five years old at the Dance Education Centre in my home town. Gradually over the years I started to learn jazz, tap, contemporary, musical theatre and singing. I absolutely loved it and from about the age of 11 I knew I wanted to dance; I don’t think I really knew what was involved but I just loved being on stage performing and being in the studio practising and rehearsing. At the age of 17 I moved out of home to train full time at the New Zealand School of Dance and focused my training on Contemporary dance – this is where it all became real and since then I have managed to keep dancing!
When people leave the class feeling better than when they came in – that’s what makes it worth it!

What do you enjoy about teaching?
It is an absolute pleasure to be able to pass on some of the knowledge that I have gained over the years and share the joy of dance. The most exciting thing about teaching, especially at City Academy, is seeing the progression people make, whether it is in building their confidence, becoming fitter and healthier or seeing how they transform as a dancer – it is very rewarding! When people leave the class feeling better than when they came in – that’s what makes it worth it!

How would you describe your classes?
My contemporary classes are usually quite fast-paced, athletic and dynamic. I teach a released based class which uses a lot of momentum and suspension as well as moving in and out of the floor. I also try to challenge the students with changes of direction, timing and building stamina. In Beginners we focus on the basic fundamental techniques of contemporary dance and build combinations of movement over the course. At Improvers level the classes are more challenging in terms of speed and length of combination – it is a good brain and body workout.

You’ve led the City Academy Contemporary Dance company for a while now. What’s the experience been like?
It has been awesome! We started in September 2015 with 13 ladies and have now grown to 22. In December we put together our first piece for the showcase and it was a great success. We meet for two hours a week and work on technique and choreography and it is amazing to see what can be achieved. The company members are passionate about performing and working together as a group and they really get involved in the creative process of making the performance piece. We have a lot of fun so it is really enjoyable for me.

It seems Contemporary Dance is more popular than ever – what do you think is so appealing about the form?
It is true – there has been a massive increase in people wanting to learn contemporary dance. It has definitely been made more popular by TV programmes such as BBC Young Dancer and by popular music videos but it is also much more accessible to see contemporary dance these days. Performances, especially at places like Sadler’s Wells, are exciting, inspiring and entertaining and people are drawn to this and want to have that experience themselves.
It is exciting and challenging to master contemporary dance… the vocabulary of movement is endless.

Why do you think so many people are motivated to do dance their spare time?
I think dancing, in any of its many forms, is a great way to exercise in a more fulfilling and fun way. We also know that exercising in a creative way reduces stress, it improves our mental function and memory by having to remember combinations of steps, and you get to enjoy it all with many like-minded people. It’s inspiring the way that the form is constantly reinventing itself, pushes the boundaries physically and dramatically and allows you to express yourself as an individual. It is exciting and challenging to master contemporary dance as the vocabulary of movement is endless.

How does the dance scene in London compare to the other places in the world you’ve worked?
London has it all! You can go and see a show almost any time of the day, every day and you can also take a class in whatever style almost any time of the day, every day. This is awesome. When a dance community gets together it is always vibrant and enthusiastic. It is much like this in New York and there is also a wonderful dance festival – ImPulsTanz – in Vienna over the summer that brings people from all over the world to dance, teach and choreograph – and there is a great food festival with traditional Viennese food – perfect!
London is buzzing with energy. There is always a festival of some sort going on – short film, dance, light shows, theatre – it is very inspiring. I also like to go and see music, theatre and dance that is a little bit off the radar, in the basements of pubs or in an abandoned building, you can see some very interesting places.

Melanie Clark teaches beginners with a five week beginners course starting on 16 November at Old Finsbury Town Hall and for improvers with an eight week course beginning on 24 October, at Sader’s Wells. She also leads The Contemporary Dance Company which meet weekly on Thursday evenings at Old Finsbury Town Hall.

For more information about City Academy’s full range of dance classes across several venues:

This interview also appears on City Academy’s website

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