17 January 2021
By Eleni Green
Experience of a community dance school performance
Last December, I had the privilege of watching the RJC Christmas Showcase and was amazed by how this small dance school’s performance has affected me. Working at only 40% of their normal capacity, the show comprised of performances from young children, to an all boy’s group, to a large and diverse adult group. The last time I experienced a Christmas show, with all the cheese, excitement and finale numbers involved, was at secondary school and I remember them becoming one of my favourite parts of the Christmas period. Crowds of children and families of the community in the cold, rainy, dull British weather would bring their baubles and their tinsel and their unashamedly dramatic use of pink strobe lighting. I had forgotten what it was like.
RJC is a charity organisation founded in 1993 which is now directed by Kathy Williams, NSCD alumni, Olympic gymnast and 2020 winner of the One Dance UK Lifetime Achievement Award in Dance of the African Diaspora. It is a leading inclusive Black dance organisation in the North which empowers its students through dance, movement and exercise. This Christmas showcase was RJC’s first performance in 19 months and their normal classes only resumed in September. This has had an enormous impact on the number of students attending classes and has led to real financial difficulty for the organisation. That said, the vitality of the organisation filled the Riley theatre in a way I have never seen it filled before. The overwhelming love and commitment of the students to each other and their teachers demonstrated that this performance was not just for the audience but for the friends standing beside them on the stage.
One pleasant surprise was how sound was used constantly to interact with the others in the space. In rehearsals, kazoo-like instruments were played by performers, teachers and spectating students to add encouragement and energy throughout the pieces and, in the Showcase itself, this level of noise grew more through the audiences’ constant shouts and applause. RJC staff and students seem to have found a way of manifesting performance as dialogue while still allowing their performers to feel the elation of the stage.
At the end of the show, the microphone was offered to the students to speak about their journey at RJC and the students were not scared to speak. Nearly a dozen young people of different ages spoke clearly and eloquently, directly addressing their audience. I was genuinely shocked by this amount of assurance in a group of young people and this, to me, is an enormous testament to the achievements of the school and of the work of the students.
Needless to say, the long, well-rehearsed speech of a governor was a bit of a buzzkill to audience and performers alike but even she managed to embrace the energy of the community and start the post show celebrations with an RJC chant.
In conclusion, the RJC Christmas Showcase was my most enjoyed Riley theatre performance and I hope this is something you can all experience.