by Neil Nisbet

Charlotte is a 25 year old professional dancer. Trained at Newcastle College she has performed across the UK and Europe and will begin a new creative period with Earthfall Dance Company in September 2002.

How has your career progressed since you graduated 4 years ago?

I’ve learned a lot, I’ve developed a lot and I’ve changed a lot. I haven’t necessarily done all of the things I have wanted to do. But it’s hard to call it progression because you have to find the sort of dancer that you are and it takes a long time to experiment and play with things to find out what it is that you’re really interested in and what you can do and what you have to offer. I’ve worked as a dancer; I’ve performed and toured lots of different things. I don’t know if I can call myself successful but I’m not failing.

I’m satisfied and dissatisfied. I think at this age now [25] I’m beginning to find my niche and what interests me. When you leave college you get caught up in the whole pretence of dance and you want to dance for bigwigs whether you like their choreography or not.

The more mature you get you decide what is creatively important and you develop your own integrity. I haven’t gotten there but I’m starting to now. Hopefully it will carry on progressing and I’ll carry on learning and developing until I can’t move anymore [laughs]

Can you separate personal and professional development?

I think one affects the other quite a lot. That’s a strange question. A lot of the time when you’re dancing or working professionally you’re shutting out the personal thing anyway. The rules are; all egos and baggage are left at the studio door. Then you have to find the balance between the two because you can’t lose yourself. You can’t become this sort of robot that is not affected by things. I think the professional affects the personal more so the other way around.

What are the high points and low points for you so far in your career?

The choreographers I have worked with are not comparable, every process has been so different. The high and low points for me are not about who you are working for. Its days to day, you have a good show you enjoy that you have a bad show you don’t enjoy that. It was very exciting going to Montréal with Isabelle van Grimde but I didn’t like that work so much. Although it was a fantastic experience there was a down side to it.

High points are when you are working with good people and enjoying it. When you’re not enjoying it and not connecting with the people you are working with that can be quite lonely. But when your not working at all that’s the worst [laughs] I get very frustrated if I’m not doing anything if I don’t dance or do any exercise for a couple of days I get very irritable.

It can be quite scary when you’re looking to the future and trying to plan. It’s so difficult to plan ahead and have some real, concrete stuff. There’s a lot of “oh, we’re thinking about doing that then”. And when you get let down by things it’s always very difficult because suddenly your drowning and you have to find a lifeline to get yourself back out. There’s been lot’s of good things and I’m glad I’ve been able to stay in the region, not all the time, but I’ve managed to feed back into the region.

So many people go away because there is not the biggest dance scene [in the North[ but I was born here, went to school here and trained here so I want to give something back. It’s always good when I get to do something here. But it doesn’t happen very often

Do you see yourself as an artist or a commodity to be used by choreographers?

Personally I feel like an artist professionally like a commodity. I could quite happily go into a studio and do anything that I’m told to do. I’m there to be used basically. It’s up to them [the choreographers] how well they use me and how well I can respond and connect to the choreographer.

The more I develop the more I feel like an artist. The whole choreography thing is something I would like to do but I don’t know what I’m saying yet. Gradually I’m beginning to find that out.

Are you a female dancer or just a dancer?

I’m a female dancer but I have always tried to be able to do anything. If you’re a female dancer you very often will respond in a female way but physically I have always tried, not be as strong as a man, but to be able to carry my own weight as well as anybody can. That’s not male or female that’s just developing a tool. It depends on where you’re at in your life.

I used to be much more aggressive and that can be perceived as quite male. But the older you get the calmer you get and so it changes but you can’t be different to what you are. You can have a good go at pretending if you want to.

What specifically makes you a female dancer?

Good question, there’s a different attitude with female dancers and it’s a lot to do with our environment and the sheer number of us compared to the number of guys. I think we go in [to the studio] with a different attitude. It’s much easier for men. I shouldn’t say that [laughs]

You have to accept very quickly, I mean I can’t speak from a male point of view, there are better dancers than you, there are worse dancers than you but that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with it. It’s a look; it’s a way of doing something. If you go into an audition and they are looking for two guys and there are only 3 in the audition they are not comparing themselves to so many other dancers.

Have you ever lost out in an audition to what you considered to be a less capable male dancer?

No, and I think it would be wrong for people to rank themselves. I think it’s wrong to do that because everybody likes something different that’s what art is. In your eyes you might be fantastic but in someone else’s eyes you might not be. For me it often feels a lot better than it actually looks. When you see yourself on video and you go “oh! I can’t believe I look like that”.

You can’t judge people on what they like and what they don’t like. What they see as beautiful isn’t what you see as beautiful. If that was the case it would be very dull and boring. You have to have people that compliment each other [on stage] If you have amazing dancers but they all look rubbish together because they are not connecting then that’s not achieving anything, you have to look at the big picture.

What is it like for you to be on stage?

I get very nervous. I’ve felt differently about a lot of the work that I have done. There are some things that I have done that I have been terrified of; a short solo that was hell for leather for five minutes, under a spotlight that my feet very sweaty and slippy.

I used to be terrified of it. I had to really gear myself up for it with every ounce of energy that I had and pray that I wouldn’t fall over. But different things with more theatrical, story like themes, they can be very fulfilling. You’re allowed to let off some emotion, it’s not just movement. You’re allowed to experience something and actually go on a journey.

It can be very frustrating when you don’t do that. But I love to perform its very exhilarating and it’s a challenge and it gives you a challenge for the next day. You come off [stage] and think “that was great I hope I can do that again tomorrow or I hope I can do that better”. It keeps everything alive.

It keeps the days ticking over. I couldn’t deal with a totally repetitive environment it has to keep progressing and moving and changing. Performance lets you do that. Teaching doesn’t, it almost regresses you I think because you don’t get fed, ever.

But performing opens it all up for you particularly when you are performing with really good people. People that you really trust and you feel confident enough to let go, that’s very exciting. You can play with emotions that you don’t let out all the time because you have an excuse to. Performing, dare I say, is the be all and end all of it really for me it’s what I want to do as much as possible.

How do you think dance is run, in general?

It’s run the same way everything else is run only with less funding. At the end of the day we do what we can and we can’t expect the whole world to appreciate dance. I think the audiences in this country are quite poor. Most of the time when you go to a dance performance you are surrounded by dancers [in the audience]. A lot of it has to do with the region as well and how it is graded. If they are not from this school or way of thinking or this area it must be less valid because anybody that is worth anything is here [in another place]. I think that’s a bit of a problem. I do think it is run by some people that are possibly out of touch with what’s going on. I don’t want to say by people who are too old but there, it’s said [laughs].

Dance comes from young people; dancers are young; you have a short life time in it. Your very luck if you can dance until your 40. Then you have a lot of people who have a lot of years on that who are saying what is fresh and exciting and new. I’m sure they are incredibly knowledgeable and know an awful lot more than I do. Sometimes I think [dance] is held back because of that.

Of course you work with your friends don’t you, people who you get on with. It’s very political; it would be very nice to see young exciting choreographers given a free reign to see what they could do. But you have to work so hard and for so long by the time you get there its not fresh or new to you and the essence is lost. Very often choreographers do their first few pieces and they are great and then it becomes repetitive and you’ve seen it before or it’s not quite as good.

Then they have to build back up to a stage in their life where they are producing something that is interesting. You have to wait until your 30 until people take you seriously as a choreographer. Whereas some very interesting choreographers who have come straight out of college have some great ideas. Maybe not the experience to do all the marketing and the stuff that goes with a dance career but with the right help and guidance it could be very exciting. I wish that you didn’t have to spend so long earning your right to be something. The two ends of the spectrum can be just as interesting.

You shouldn’t have to wait until you know everything and then your opinion counts. It boils down to [administrators saying] “you’ve never managed this amount of money before so therefore we won’t give it to you, we’ll give you a tiny little pathetic amount that you can’t do anything with until you have proven over the years that you can be trusted ” . It’s a real shame because a lot of people are perfectly capable given the chance but people are not given that chance.