Sam started her dance training at a very early age, studying ballet, tap, modern and jazz. She appeared in professional pantomimes before completing her professional dance training at Stella Mann School of Dancing in London. Soon after she started teaching and choreographing and at 21, she taught for two years at two Italian dance schools and choreographed for RAI 1 Italian TV. Since, she has gathered 18 years of teaching experience in various contexts.
What was the initial attraction that launched your career as choreographer and teacher? Could you pick out the milestones that have been significant and helped you along the way, initiating the set up of your first dance agency, Beaus and Belles, in 2004?
I started to create dances when I was 6, improvisation in the dance class was encouraged thankfully, and I found this part of my dance studies exciting and a challenge. Trips to the theatre were frequent, seeing ballets, musicals and later contemporary dance works. I first saw Ashton and MacMillan ballets in the 70’s, and was mesmerized as much by the poetry of the choreography, as I was by the dancers. My early influences I could say were shaped by my dance studies which encouraged creativity and freedom of expression as well as a solid dance technique, and the dance theatre that I saw.
By the time I left Stella Manns in the 80’s, the career choices open were dancing or teaching. The dance industry was not as diverse as it is now and for dancing jobs; the opportunities on reflection were very much stereotyped according to physical type. This limited my chances of joining a full time classical ballet company as I was too tall. However, teaching and choreographic opportunities came my way in the UK and abroad, and I started to develop my skills in this area.
My dance and teaching experience in Italy was invaluable. I learnt a new language and lived in a completely different culture. I also studied whilst I was there, gaining a further executants major examination of the Royal Academy. I coached a major student through a classical ballet piece for Beauty and the Beast, which was televised.
In common with many dancers I have always enjoyed all aspects of the arts, from drawing and painting to designing costumes and performing. I had not had a formal university education, and so I decided to embark on a university degree course. This was a turning point for me, as the multi disciplinary approach to studying arts engaged my thought processes for teaching and choreography and opened my mind to more contemporary ideas.
The business of the first dance agency, came about at a turning point in my life. I had after 18 years of dance teaching, felt the need to develop the choreographic side of my work. I was really looking for a commercial or artistic opportunity to develop myself as a choreographer, so when a young couple approached me 4 years ago with the view of having their first dance formally choreographed, I was delighted. Shortly after to gain further experience, I joined another major first dance company, but the low pay and the informal recruiting policy was enough to fuel my own desire to create a far more professional first dance agency.
It was a great success in Gloucestershire, and by year 2 we were coaching well over 50 couples a year. Working within your agency Beaus and Belles you focus your skills base to choreographing and teaching wedding first dances. You also train and mentor other teachers who teach under the Beaus and Belles umbrella across the UK.
Please give us a brief overview of your work within Beaus and Belles.
What are the factors that attract you as professional choreographer and teacher to this specialist field? What interpersonal and professional skills are you seeking in potential teachers working for your agency?
I still currently teach couples across Gloucestershire. However, now that our company employs choreographers on a freelance basis across the regions, my direct job is to interview, meet and in some cases train those choreographers and manage a busy website based company of national enquiries. Creating a first dance is an immense privilige and very rewarding. Each dance is unique, the chosen music/idea quite different and therefore the work is diverse and challenging. Couples are only too grateful to have their 2 left feet organized and therefore grateful for your expertise, consequently you feel valued and that is rewarding in itself.
Preferably we look for teachers with dance teaching qualifications eg RAD, ISTD, IDTA or NATD etc… it’s not vital, if a dance teacher or choreographer has a degree in dance related studies/ musical theatre and/or plenty of teaching experience this is also taken into consideration. Teaching a couple to dance is a different skill to that of teaching large groups of children for example, so experience of working with adult couples is preferred. A basic ballroom/latin knowledge is in most cases essential, as this covers quite a range of music styles eg swing, latino, romantic etc. Overall, we look for a passion for choreographing simple and eclectic routines, good interpersonal skills with clients and a desire to work for Beaus & Belles.
Beaus & Belles was selected as a Finalist in the Wrapit Wedding Industry Awards and was regional winner and National Finalist for Special Touches. In 2008, you directed and choreographed the DVD 'First Dance Fever' which is on general release with distributors Black Horse, and on sale at your website.
What is your long term vision for Beaus & Belles and your own professional development within the agency and beyond?
Our long term vision for Beaus & Belles is to see a growth and expanse of top choreographers who can create first dances in every region of the UK. The DVD First Dance Fever, teaches a simple waltz or salsa routine from home, and we felt a useful learning tool for those who cant afford to or get to a studio based lesson.
With the recent demand in corporate and bespoke dance events, we needed to develop an umbrella company. Our new company just launched is DanceMakers, www.dancemakers.co.uk and takes care of corporate and bespoke. We have found ourselves responding to many dance requests eg cheerleading workshops for netball teams, hen dance nights, shadow dancers for James Bond parties, line dances and dance workshops for company team events… plus many more interesting and creative ideas! In future, the company would like to work with tv/film producers on entertaining dance formats for tv and film. Personally and back to my earlier influences, it has always been a goal of mine to choreograph for a leading classical ballet company…..and I already have some ideas….
Throughout your training and career you have worked nationally and internationally. You are now teaching from your main base in Cheltenham.
What are the advantages but also challenges of setting up and running a successful specialist dance agency in a more regional context?
When there is only one of you, with literally 100’s of enquiries across the UK, your only choice is to expand and take on regional choreographers. This has proved vital to the growth of the business. In addition providing this extra work for dance teachers is healthy for the dance industry as a whole. The challenges are that costs are greater on a national level and our business skills have to be as astute and as creative as the choreography! We have to implement a sound and solid working system which can be interpreted across the regions without sacrificing the quality of our services. This is why we always interview and ask choreographers to demonstrate their teaching, before employing, so that we can be certain that the good name of the business can be carried through.
Looking ahead where will your ambitions take you?
I would very much like to expand the company with more choreographers across all the regions of the UK. We have just formed DanceMakers, www.dancemakers.co.uk which handles all enquiries for the corporate and bespoke opportunities and we hope that more of this type of work will flourish. We would like independent tv companies to take an interest in our work. I think there is much potential, perhaps one day viewers can learn part of a dance through the red button integration?! When I look ahead, I can see so much potential with all the ideas and ambitions I have, its exciting…but much of that needs focus! It would be great to have a company name that people remember.
Thank you very much Sam!
For more information and contact details please visit Samantha Jennings / UK Choreographers Directory, www.dances4u.co.uk or contact Alice Firth at Dance UK on 020 7713 0730 or email email@example.com.