Dancing through lockdown: How one Bristol dance company is thriving online

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By Katie Chalk, Arts Deputy Editor

It is probable that the Covid-19 pandemic will hit the Arts harder than other industries. Given these unique global circumstances, individual creatives and companies have had to come up with new and innovative ways of continuing their work through the pandemic.

One of these fantastic individuals is Angie Edwards, founder of Bristol-based dance company AE Dance and Fitness. Having been President of Dance Soc in her final year of studying psychology at Bristol, Angie has remained heavily involved in the Bristol Uni dance scene.

It’s been ‘about a decade I’ve been associated with Bristol Dance Soc,’ she laughs disbelievingly.

A dance class | Courtesy of AE Dance and Fitness

Alongside her Dance Society classes, Angie leads her own dance company AE Dance and Fitness. Classes are held at Bristol Grammar School, Hamilton House, The Island and The Big Act. Due to the onset of Lockdown, the in-person schedule changed, with an extensive programme of online classes being provided instead.

I sat down for a Zoom interview with Angie, who called me from her impressive make-shift, spare room studio. I wanted to find out how, as a local Performing Arts provider, she is continuing to work during these uncertain times.

First, she tells me about the online setup she’s created since the beginning of lockdown: ‘so, what we’ve done is launched six different packages. People pay a weekly membership for each package, and it includes live, online zoom classes and also pre-recorded tutorials.

Having been President of Dance Soc in her final year of studying psychology at Bristol, Angie has remained heavily involved in the Bristol Uni dance scene

‘We do Lyrical Contemporary, Jazz and Ballet Bar Fit, which are our ‘signature’ classes, and then Amy, who’s one of our teachers, has a dance package which includes Commercial, Burlesque, Lyrical Ballet and Sweaty Mess. We also have Tap taught by Phoebe (who teaches at Bristol Dance Soc) and Jen. So there’s a real range of classes! They run Monday to Saturday, mainly in the evening... and they’re just really fun!’

I can certainly vouch for that.

However, her current success has certainly not materialised without hard work.

Zoom classes | Courtesy of AE Dance and Fitness

‘At the beginning, I think I was working 6am to 10pm, it was non-stop. It was so much because you’re setting up a different business, it’s a totally different structure.

‘No-one ever trains you for that. You're also really conscious of what other dance schools are doing, which can be helpful, but can also knock your confidence and make you doubt yourself.’

‘When we first went online, one of the biggest reality-hits was that suddenly everyone in my industry was a competitor, because in day-to-day life, if you don't live in this area or if it doesn't fit with your timetable, you're not going to come to class. At the beginning of lockdown, we were suddenly all on a level playing-field. It was terrifying.’

According to Angie, Zoom-teaching has also presented unique challenges.

‘Teaching on Zoom is more of a performance than teaching a class. It's obviously far less interactive; I just have to assume that people are having a good time. It’s a little bit heartbreaking, because there's no feedback.’

When we first went online, one of the biggest reality-hits was that suddenly everyone in my industry was a competitor Angie Edwards

That being said, she was keen to emphasise: ‘It’s been lovely during lockdown, because it’s the most social part of my day. I actually feel like I'm part of something. I don't think I notice so much now that we were not physically together? Like, at the beginning when we’re all chatting, I still feel that community and connection which is lovely!’

She adds, ‘The biggest surprise was how committed and strong I realised our dance community is. I was overwhelmed at the beginning by how supportive, encouraging and engaged people were, it was IN-credible. It's a testament to the dancers and the connection that they have to each other and the connection that we have.’

This was especially poignant with a recent ‘showreel’ project which involved all the dancers submitting home-videos which were put together in one spectacular video.

What I love about Angie’s classes is the demographic is so diverse including all ages and abilities, including but not at all dominated by uni students.

Angie agreed: ‘It’s SO important to me.’

‘I think you learn so much more by having a more diverse group of people around you. When you go to a dance class, especially because we have different levels, you will meet people who might completely excel in some areas and are completely intimidating: maybe you're a law student and you meet someone who’s been a lawyer for twenty years. But when you’re all there as beginner, intermediate or advanced dancers, you're all on a level playing field.’

I was overwhelmed at the beginning by how supportive, encouraging and engaged people were, it was IN-credible. It's a testament to the dancers and the connection that they have to each other and the connection that we have Angie Edwards

Looking to the future of the dance industry, Angie insisted that ‘we’ll be surprised by how back-to-normal it goes.’

She continued, ‘I think perhaps there will be more interest in at-home, online classes and workouts for people who don’t have access to things. I do see how in the future I might run maybe one online class a week and also keep up some tutorials.’

AE Dance and Fitness performance | Courtesy of AE Dance and Fitness

So, how can Bristol students get involved?

‘They can sign up for packages, but the best way, if students are interested in doing a dance class, is to drop me a message on my email or to have a look on instagram or facebook. It’s a good way to see the kind of things we get up to, there’s lots of videos on there, and you can probably get a good feel of what we’re all about through social media.

‘Then send me a message, and we can have a chat about what they want to do, and if they want to give something a try. When we go back to reality, they can come to Dance soc class, or an AE Dance class in person!’

As we wrapped up the interview, Angie was keen to add: ‘I would like to say thank you to my dancers so much and the other teachers, I am so appreciative of how people have stuck with it, is what I’d say. It was unexpected, and it gives me so much faith about the future.

‘A big thank you!’

You can find AE Dance and Fitness on the website (www.aedancefitness.com), Instagram (@ae.dance.fitness) and Facebook (AE Dance + Fitness).

Featured: Courtesy of AE Dance and Fitness


Have you been dancing on Zoom over lockdown? Tell us how it has been for you!

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