by Andrea Atkinson (dance tutor and co-founder)
Being co-founder of the Freewheelers Theatre Company places me in the privileged position of experiencing the development of the company over the past 25 years. We have gone from a merry band of 14 based at The Dorincourt Centre of the Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation, through a scary but necessary move into ‘the community’ in 2006, which enabled us to open our sessions to all, and on to the present day – with our membership of over 100 students, including our new youth wing, with more on waiting lists.
Viv Colvill as drama tutor, and myself as dance and music tutor, were soon joined by Brandon as artistic director and Chris as media tutor. Jay has now taken over the music and we are soon to add visual arts to our ever-expanding list of creative offerings. Positions have changed and developed, and with Viv for many years acting as company manager, we now have a marketing manager, an operations manager, a thriving community of volunteers and a hard working board of trustees.
We have achieved so much already artistically, working with exciting professionals, taking part in national and regional competitions, and performing and touring many fantastic productions.
But it is the grass roots of our work which, to me, is the most important aspect of our work. The sessions that we run every week are gems in their own right – they are unseen by huge audiences and don’t ‘shout loud’, but it is teaching these sessions where I get most satisfaction. We work very hard, and the dancers are often tired – mentally and physically – by the end; but exhausting the students is never my main aim. The most important part of my work is striving to make the session ‘fun’.
People (including some creatives) will often wince at the word ‘fun’, as it is often interpreted (by those who judge) as meaning that the sessions are somehow ‘lightweight’ or unworthy of serious attention – but I would dispute this. Students come back week upon week because they enjoy what they do, and enjoyment does not make the result of their attendance less worthy. We have achieved what the judgers would label as ‘fantastic standards’ in our work, but these standards have resulted because we all have a love of what we do and at the root of this is the ‘fun’ we have while working.
There are always those who need ‘proof’ that we are achieving and reaching goals, so to justify our ‘having fun’, here is the science bit…
Having fun makes you smile; smiling releases endorphins which in turn help you feel more confident. Feeling confident helps you to try something you were too scared or unsure of doing before. Trying something new can often mean trying something you didn’t know you were capable of doing. When you realise you are able to do this ‘something’ and realise you can be confident, that in turn gives you even more confidence. In dance and movement, all of this can result in an ‘improvement’ in strength, reach, balance, spatial awareness and stamina; and above all releases you from the chains of ‘I might get it wrong so I won’t try it’. Being released from the fear of doing it ‘wrong’, allows your creativity to flow…
So, dance (and drama and music and media) sessions at The Freewheelers allow the students to ‘improve’ their skills, but above all, we as tutors try our best to make them FUN! And we should never be afraid of admitting that the most important aspect of our work is embracing the ‘F’ word!!