Leading the dance

Sixteen-year-old Sydenham School student Patricia Kamara from Camberwell has the usual challenges of a Year 11 GCSE year before her, and then some! Since September 2013 she has been running her own dance company made up of 20 Year 8 students; honing them into a cohesive group and preparing them for a succession of public performances both in-school and beyond.

She has now been honoured with a £200 Jack Petchey Achievement Award which she has used to broaden her girls’ dance horizons by taking them all to a street-dance performance called ‘Back to the Lab’ - part of Sadler’s Wells ‘Breaking Convention’ Project in its Lillian Bayliss Studio. “We are a contemporary dance company,” says Patricia, “and so I thought it would be good for the girls to see inspiring performances in another style: a way of highlighting the different ways they could take their dance careers, if they choose to continue.”

Patricia’s company is called ‘New Vision’. She explains: “I suppose it is fairly unusual for a girl still in education to be running her own dance group, and it is a stepping stone for me on the way to achieving my dream of running a professional dance company: so it’s new and it captures my vision of the future I hope for.”

She owes the opportunity to Sydenham School dance subject leader Polly Barker. “Ms Barker asked me at the start of the year if I could help her out with a new company made up of Year 8 girls (12 and 13-year-olds). After a short time watching me with them, she said: ‘just take them’ - and I did.”

She adds: “The girls have really grown up over the course of the last two terms, and a really solid group of twenty has emerged, several of whom are keen to make a go of their dancing; staying in the group into Year 9; signing up for classes at the Laban Centre in Deptford and helping me audition the next group of Year 8s. “

“I really suffered from stage fright before joining the company,” admits Elika Deans (12) from Nunhead, “but now, apart from normal nerves before a performance, I am far calmer.” For her company co-mate Talia McCann (12) from Sydenham, the reason for this is possibly due to the rigour with which he group rehearses and the many performances they have put on in just two terms: “We have already been to the Catford Broadway Theatre as a part of a Laban Dance Showcase which was great, and all this week we have been performing in assemblies promoting dance to the rest of the school. We have had a really positive reaction from everyone so far.”

For Alice Hannah (12) from East Dulwich one of the best things about being in New Vision is the way the company has quickly come together as a supportive unit: “If someone misses a rehearsal, you’ll find that the girls will help her at lunchtimes with learning new routines so that she can catch up and not feel lost at the next meeting.”

The way that Patricia put her Jack Petchey award to use also proved very successful. “It was really interesting seeing such a different kind of dance style,” commented Selda Selgjekaj (13). “It made me appreciate the contemporary style we perform with Patricia.” For Marina Pisano (12) from Forest Hill part of the pleasure was being able to watch the performance from a dancer’s perspective: “I was able to appreciate some of the performers’ technique far more.”

And mirroring the praise her company have for her, Patricia is keen to acknowledge the chance she has been afforded by her dance mentor: “If I could end up being half the teacher Ms Barker is, then I’d be pleased.”

Words: Jerome Monahan