Drama

“The moves may change, but the groove remains”: Old Men Grooving and the Joy of Dance

I seem to exist in two utterly different worlds. My name is Bret Jones. I am a PhD student in the Drama Department at Queen Mary. I am also a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent with the dance group Old Men Grooving (OMG), a group of older guys who are reclaiming dance and getting back our groove. This was not a designed career move. We had been put together for an internet commercial for Christmas jumpers for a national retailer. The next thing I knew, the video had gone viral. Something about the incongruity of older guys – ‘dads’ – doing a form of Hip Hop seemed to have resonated. The decision to go on Britain’s Got Talent was unexpected. One of the original guys became injured, and we got a new member who was a friend of one of the existing group. We all had some kind of dance background, in clubs, or competitions, or a bit of performing. Some of the group danced in Hip Hop clubs in the 1980s and 1990s, when many of the moves you see in these young dance crews were invented and developed. What is often missing is what we can bring – the ‘feel’, the ‘groove’. We dance because the music tells us to. The groove is who we are.

Of course, Britain’s Got Talent plunges us into the very depths of popular culture, but what is clear is just how complex and rich this culture – musically, kinaesthetically, and emotionally – actually is. It has been three weeks since our audition was broadcast, and the YouTube video has reached over 15 million hits:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggswWVZ8zKA

We’ve had to jump on board the Facebook wagon to help spread the word. After all, Britain’s Got Talent does require audience support. The ‘feel good’ factor that seems to be very much a part of the response is actually a connection to something very profound within people. The younger audiences seem to like ‘Dad dancing’ done by guys who actually can dance and know how to express our own groove. The older audiences seem to identify with that love of dance that they once had, but that never really died. It’s still there. We’ve even created a little ‘Dad Dance’ that people can learn and join in with us:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzHiZM7GCmY&feature=youtu.be

The Anglo-American culture seems to relegate dance to the young, but this is not true in other cultures. We, in OMG, remember what it was like to dance in clubs and what that dancing meant to us as individuals, but also to the larger community. Dancing can help bond us, as well as be a means of personal expression. We have at times been humbled by the responses. We recently had a comment by a woman who lives in chronic pain, but who said that we had helped to lift her spirits. Yes, we are out there to have fun, but to have our dancing touch people in profound ways has been very moving.

My own dance background is in older forms like American rhythm tap and Lindy Hop, Swing, etc. However, this is directly related to later forms of African American dance, such as Hip Hop. Still, it has been a learning curve as a dancer. As hard as that has been, it has also been a joy. That, I think, lies at the heart of it. We are reclaiming dance as part of who we were and as part of who we still are. The moves may change over time, but the groove remains. We feel as young as ever when we dance, and so do the people who watch us. Unlike some of the young dance crews, we don’t dance at the audience. We share our joy with them; and they share their surprise and joy with us. We are both equally validated. This has engaged both body and soul, and although the body may ache at times, the soul is soaring. We need the support of all people, young and old, so that we can continue to reclaim dance for everyone, to make dancing part of our own continuing development as human beings, to embody and to share joy. In the end, it’s about joy.

To Be Or Not To Be: The process of Adjustment.

Coincidentally about three weeks ago I was asked by the Guardian Newspaper to have a telephone interview about my experience of going through the adjustment process – to me this eludes to the fact it’s a hot topic at the moment. This is no bad thing.

For those that haven’t heard about it before (and I must admit before I chose to go through it myself, I wasn’t entirely sure what it was), adjustment in the simplest terms is the opposite of clearing. It’s designed for people that get a higher set of results than they are predicted, enabling them to get into a university which requires a higher set of grades.

Like many of you I spent countless hours trawling through university prospectuses and  websites adding up UCAS points (which at the time felt like the DaVinci code) in order to work out which uni’s I could feasibly apply too based upon my predicted grades. I had my heart set on attending a London uni, which made my decision making slightly easier as I had a smaller selection to choose from. Queen Mary had always been at the back of my mind for a number of reasons – the location, the course and the fact I was well aware that for drama it was the top of it’s game. However back then, during my A-Levels I was stuck in the mentality “rather be safe than sorry”, at the time the grade requirements for my course were 320-340 (AAB/ABB), I chose not to apply because I didn’t want to be disappointed, furthermore my predicted grades were BBB so it was unlikely I would even receive a  conditional offer. With all this in mind I considered a place at Queen Mary to be just a pipe dream.

Stress!

Stress!

As results day drew nearer and nearer I began to consider my options carefully – planning for the best and the worst scenarios. I saved various clearing number’s in my phone. By this time I had confirmed Roehampton as my firm choice and I was happy with it however QM was always sitting there in the back of my mind. I vowed to myself that it (by some miracle) I met the requirements for Queen Mary I would ring up and try to apply through adjustment.

For me the strange thing was I hadn’t actually been informed about the adjustment process at school. We’d had assemblies on clearing and taking a year out, it wasn’t until I did a bit of digging on the internet that I even realised there was such as thing!

I got my results and I was happily surprised, I had exceeded expectations. I immediately got on the phone to the Queen Mary admin team, they were incredibly helpful, they talked me through the adjustment process. Explaining that I would be put through to the School of English and Drama admin team, then a module director (in this case Nick Ridout) would interview me over the phone.

Eventually, to my delight, I was offered a place at my dream university. Nick Ridout gave me his telephone number and told me I didn’t have to decide straight away. This was such a lovely and important piece of news. I needed to take my time to decide as there was now a lot too consider. I decided to take a day off work and visit the university.

I fell in love with the campus and it’s little quirks – the canal, the grave yard, the sculptures, therefore chose to accept my place. Quickly my UCAS offer was changed over, all I had to do was log on and accept it. The same with student finance, I just had to swap the institution.

Jewish Graveyard on Campus

Jewish Graveyard on Campus

My only issue was having no set accommodation. I was quickly entered onto a waiting list, however I was told it was VERY unlikely that I would receive campus accommodation.  This news was extremely daunting, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to do a flat share, in East London, with strangers. Eventually I got a phone call from Nick Ridout, informing me that I had been put on a list of people to be put forward for campus accommodation. Albert Stern House was the halls that was set aside for people that had got in through clearing and adjustment. Later that week I got my accommodation offer through and I knew I was off to QM for sure. I was over the moon!!

Overall my experience of adjustment was a good one. I can genuinely say that taking the risk and going through the process was the best decision of my life. But my main message is that people shouldn’t feel locked in or trapped by applications they made on UCAS.

It really is true that universities want you as much as you want them!

End of a successful first year with my best friends and flat mates!

End of a successful first year with my best friends and flat mates!

Countdown Begins

I’ve got exactly four weeks left here! I’ve got two and half weeks left of working at the pub and then I’ll have some time off to travel before I head back. I’m currently debating between going to Ireland and Scotland, or heading around a few countries in Europe by train. I’ll have about 7 days after my leaving do to travel, which seems like a fair amount of time to see a couple of cities. It’s all going to depend on my next paycheck!

I’ve just been at work lately, and it’s been a crazy few weeks ~ I’ve been trying to enjoy the gorgeous weather we’ve had too! I try to spend each day off in a park or outside somewhere, especially as I only have one day off a week! Today, however, is mainly going to be spent doing laundry and cleaning before I head out and about.

It’s crazy to think how fast this year has gone. I can still remember moving into halls on campus and my first day of work at The White Horse. It’s also been weird to make plans with my friends from home before we all head back to college again – I only have a week before I move into campus, so I probably won’t even unpack much! Right now though, I’m just going to get everything sorted and ready to go! I am looking forward to going home and getting back into my routine (I miss my car!) Till then ~

Being a Tourist

21st May 2013:

Well I’m officially done with exams! I finished last Thursday, and now I’ve got just under three months until I return home. This week I had a friend from home visiting, which gave me the perfect excuse to be a tourist. I am currently a terrible tourist – I knew I was going to be in London for a long time, so I just kept putting things off. I still haven’t seen Big Ben or the London Eye – but today I finally went to Buckingham Palace. It was a nice short morning trip, and we went to see the changing of the guard. We didn’t stay for the whole thing, instead opting to head to the Natural History Museum.

I love this museum. It’s gigantic, and there’s so many exhibits. We only went through maybe 5 or 6 of them, and we were still in there for four hours. I’m definitely going to go back when I’ve got some more free time!

14th June 2013:

Well almost a month has passed and I completely forget to finish writing this! After Victor left I was busy packing and getting ready to move out of halls into my new house in Stepney Green. Now that classes and exams have officially ended I’ve doubled my hours at work! Which is great, money-wise! I only get a couple days off every week now though, so we’ll see how much touring I’ll actually get to do.

Currently my plans for summer mean I’ll be quitting my job at the end of July, so that I’ll have two weeks in August to travel a bit and enjoy myself in London. I’m planning on going to Sziget, a festival in Hungary (of course, this depends on my paycheck in July!) For now, I’m set to work straight through until August, and I probably won’t take any time off other than to do the occasional day trip.

I’ll be back in Easton, PA by the 15th of August, and then it’s back to Lafayette!

Days off

I had a few days off before I went home to surprise my parents a couple of weeks ago – ended up spending it playing football in Regent’s Park and doing some last minute shopping before heading to the airport!

My parents had no idea I was coming home, and the only person on my campus who knew was my freshman year roommate – I then spent the next two weeks on campus, and trying to get some sun.  I saw former President Jimmy Carter’s speech on the quad, and got to see all of my friends (especially everyone who is going to be graduating this year).  It was a really nice trip and it was good to be home after eight months!

Now I’m back in surprisingly sunny London, about to get back into the swing of work and revision!  Only three weeks to go before summer’s here and I’m done with school!

 

Breaktime and Birthday

It’s been almost a month since I last wrote ~ these past few weeks I’ve been running around just trying to get things done. Now that the Easter break is here, I’m basically free! Well, except for revision and training and work of course. 😉

My birthday was just this past Sunday (I’m 20 now) and I spent it by playing football in Regent’s Park with my coworkers  – we’re training for charity match later this month – and then headed down to Hammersmith Bridge to watch the Oxford Cambridge boat race! Go dark blues!!! It was so much fun, I was so glad to be able to watch the race in person this year (this has basically been my only goal for the last year) and Oxford won! When the crews passed us at Hammersmith, Oxford was ahead by half a boat length, and I believe they won by two boat lengths. I was sitting right on the bank of the Thames (and I got waked out).

Right now I’m waiting for the nice weather to make a grand entrance.

Travel

TRAVEL!! Last term I went to Wales for a day, spent a couple of weekends near Manchester, and went to Totnes with my friend Ellen for Christmas. During this term’s reading week I finally managed to travel out of the UK! I booked off of work and decided to head to Prague and Hamburg before heading to Copenhagen to meet my friend Bri for the weekend. She’s studying there for the term, so it was perfect timing!

I spent the first four days of the trip travelling alone. I ended up flying into Prague on the 18th of February, and I stayed in a hostel there until Wednesday. It was snowing on Tuesday when I went out to explore, but it wasn’t too cold. I also managed to aimlessly wander to where I had been told to go! I thought I had gotten lost but miraculously I ended up entering Old Town Square!

Old Town Square

I walked around the area for a bit (once again, aimlessly) before heading back to the hostel for dinner. On Wednesday, I checked out and headed to the train station to get the train to Hamburg. Seven hours later, I arrived at Hamburg Hauptbahnhof! I took the metro to my hostel there, ate a light dinner, and then went off to bed – I was intent on getting an early start the next day!

Thursday I was up and out in Hamburg by 9:30am, and I ended up going to the St. Michaelis Church (below, left). I climbed to the observation tower (the lift was being repaired – so many stairs!) and explored the church’s crypt. Next I walked through Reeperbahn (the red light district) and after a quick lunch break at the hostel I headed out to see the U-Boat museum in near Fischmarkt.

 

The U-boat museum was probably the highlight of the day. The views from the top of the St. Michaelis were amazing (above, right), but going into the U-434 was the best – and the creepiest thing to walk through alone! They have mannequins in different rooms to show you just how small it would have been for a 6′ tall man. I struggled to get through some rooms, and I’m only 5’4″!

Friday morning I got on the train to Copenhagen! I made it there by mid-afternoon, and Bri and I met up at the main train station. We walked through a lot of the city to get back to her halls in Bispebjerg. After dinner and a few glasses of wine, we met up with some other study abroad students and went out clubbing that night, which was awesome! The next day we went walking around Christiania and Nyhavn, and went to a vegetarian buffet for dinner. That night her halls were hosting a party in their common room (led by RA-type figures), so after drinks at a chic little place called Mexi Bar, we headed there. A fairly early night though, since I had to get to the airport by 1pm for my flight back to London.

Got back to Pooley (my Queen Mary hall of residence) around 6pm . . . just in time for a flat dinner to Nando’s!

Definitely a week well spent. 🙂

 

Hello . . .

My first blog post! I guess I’ll just make this a quick introduction. I’m Sami, and I’m a sophomore at Lafayette College in Easton, PA. I row and I’m attempting to make my comeback in football (aka soccer) after my untimely retirement two years ago. I’m studying History and Drama, and back home I also minor in Geology and help with Studio Art classes.

Today is Wednesday, which means I don’t have any classes. Wednesday afternoons are basically set aside for the sports clubs to train, and normally I would be at the London Regatta Centre right now however I’m sick once again and I’ve decided to rest a bit. Also, I’ve got concert tickets for Walk The Moon at Scala London tonight, and I do not want to miss it! Living here is great – I really miss being in a big city. I’m originally from Singapore, but I moved to the states when I was about 7 years old – hence my obvious American accent. I actually moved to Easton, PA and haven’t left since . . . so basically coming to London was my big escape from the town!

As far as classes go, I’m really enjoying the classes I took, especially for this term. I’m taking two final year history courses: Cold War America and Film History of Post-War America. My drama course is a Group Practical Project and it has been amazing so far! It’s a lot of fun, and we’re putting on a performance in May for it. I’m looking forward to the rest of term too – especially for the Boat Race in March! Then training week in April, maybe a bit of travel, and finals in May! I’ll be going back home in August just before my junior year starts.

Spring Semester starts!

When first considering destinations for a Study Abroad semester, I’d looked to Japan, France, Ireland… before my lecturer in Melbourne suggested Queen Mary. Mistakenly thinking that a foreign language country would offer a richer ‘cultural’ experience, I couldn’t have been more wrong now that I’m immersed in the theatrical wonderland that is London town.

 

However, the basis for my lecturer’s recommendation was never purely cultural. Rather, when seeking advice for my Honours thesis last year, I was directed towards the work of QMUL’s Jen Harvie – specifically Theatre and the City (Palgrave Macmillan 2009) – which related winningly to the focus of my studies. Whilst I’m eager to engage with further practice-based theatre courses, Queen Mary’s academic reputation was the strong point of this recommendation, and solidified my decision to list it as my first preference.

 

The recommended read: Jen Harvie’s Theatre and the City

 

You can perhaps imagine, then, how it feels this week to have started a module taught by Jen Harvie, namely Offstage London (DRA333), which explores “the political and artistic aims and effects of non-theatrical performance in the twentieth-century and contemporary urban environment” and seems pretty perfect now I’m (very luckily!) connected to the urban centre of Europe’s creative pulse. The Theatre Studies department at Melbourne always drew us towards exploring new dramaturgies and performative cultures, so this module is exactly my cup of tea. View the module description here if you’re likewise inclined.

 

I’m also quite thrilled to be undertaking the Dramaturgy and Translation module (DRA306), taught by Maria Delgado and Sarah Grochala. Having always approached theatre from a writer’s perspective, the chance to collaborate in an intensive scriptwriting module is so exciting, to say the least. Added to this is the incredible wealth of industry and academic experience of both lecturers: Maria as a critic and reader of new writing for a number of major theatres – including the Royal Court and National – alongside her editorship of Contemporary Theatre Review and broad theatre industry involvement; Sarah as a staged playwright in both Australia and the UK and reader at Theatre 503.

 

For obvious reasons, I’m secretly hoping that none of them see this post. Fair to say though that for all my earlier destination dilemmas, I’ve found myself welcomed into an immensely dynamic department of academically-engaged creative practitioners. It might well be timely to send a thank you email to my lecturer in Melbourne…

 

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