Today I’ve been thinking back to when I first started dancing, a mighty 14 years ago now!
Back then a 7 year old Matthew was living with his parents in our apartment in Easterhouse, a place synominous with gangs, poverty and bleak outlooks for the youth – despite all of this going on around me I had absolutely no idea about any of this going on as I grew up there, thank’s to my parents bringing me up the way they did, a good bunch of friends -I remember always running around outside with my childhood friends James and Scott, one of them is a father now and the other I’ve lost contact with over the years.
I attended Glasgow’s Steiner School, something I will be eternally grateful to my parents for – I can’t even imagine how differently I would of turned out had I been to a local school or what kind of path I would of followed had we lived in that place through my teenage years. The engaging and inspirational teachers I had in my time there, notably Isaac whom I last heard was teaching at the Edinburgh Steiner School, always made the subjects interesting and left you wanting to learn more about the subjects we studied – Greek and Roman history, eurythmy, gardening, painting and pottery, hand crafts and so on – the essential Steiner schooling which I most definitely intend upon putting my own children through in years to come.
Both my parents are musicians so we always had a lot of the stuff in the house growing up. We used to have these talent competitions in our house where all the kids in the street would come over once a month or so and we would all dress up in things from the fancy dress chest and dance around and make horrendous noises on all sorts of instruments we had in the house until my parents ears had had enough or we tired ourselves out.
I remember hearing the Bee Gee’s playing, Saturday Night Fever & all those other awesome funky songs & not being able to stop my body just grooving around the kitchen, that music just got into me and took me to a place!
One week my mum took me along to Cadzow Parish Church in Hamilton, home to The Valerie Brown School of Dance. I remember it well, sitting on a wooden bench watching a room full of kids around my age doing a Jazz class led by the teacher Kelly, i wonder what happened to her she was a talented dancer herself. I just wanted to jump up and join in myself, it looked like they where all having such great fun. Watching the class I remember feeling a bit nervous in my stomach imaging I might need to stand up and introduce myself in front of a room full of kids i didn’t know. Thankfully that didn’t happen – The school’s director Valerie spoke to me and told me about what they did there after the class finished.
At home I spoke with my mum and with encouragement from her, the fact there was a girl in the class i definitely fancied – Jennifer Bruce, the first girl I ever fancied actually, never found out what happened to her sadly – and that there was at least one other boy in the class I went for it and decided there and then I wanted to start taking weekly classes.
I started off with Jazz classes which I did weekly in the old church hall, and gradually started building up the amount of classes I took. After a few months Valerie suggested i try ballet, I did, and enjoyed it just as much as jazz so thought why the heck not.
Thinking about it now, it was such a great happy time for me, I remember doing shows in the Motherwell Civic Theatre – a big and impressive theatre – and making some real nice friends who I always looked forward to seeing at class. Time passed by and after about a year or so Valerie talked to me about Scottish Ballet, she told me how they ran a Junior Associate Programme and that it would be a good place for me to audition for – it was a more intense course with a lot of experienced teachers around me and would help to take me to the next level.
Soon after I auditioned and before I knew it I was doing dance classes all the time, still only at weekends and evenings – it wasn’t until I auditioned and got into The Dance School of Scotland (DSS) that I began to really study dance full on. At 9 we relocated to a more affluent area of the city and it was not long after this at age 11 i moved into boarding school for The Dance School of Scotland. We had dance classes in the morning, academic classes throughout the afternoon, and the dreaded ‘late-night’ where you would have a dance class after school time. In the younger years at DSS it was only really around R.A.D and I.S.T.D exam time or end of year shows that you would have late night’s – by the time i was in the senior section of the school i looked forward to getting out of my academic classes and into a nice dance class to finish the day off.
Plenty of amazing experiences and people awaited me there, that’s a story for another day. Of course that all led to me going to Uni in London to study (and get) my BA (Hons) in Contemporary Dance from London Contemporary Dance School, an affiliate of the University of Kent which led me to where i am now, Bern Ballet.
What stands out most to me, is a few individual inspirational teachers. Teachers who really believed in me, encouraged me and backed me when it seemed no one else would. Without Valerie Brown all the way back at the beginning I have no idea how my life might of panned out. In later years there was Maxine Railton my contemporary teacher at the Dance School of Scotland and Ms Holland my director and ballet mistress during my time there, and most recently Patricia Rianne, Kate Price and Laurent Cavanna at London Contemporary.
It’s been an interesting 14 years, I would love to go back and give 7 year old Matthew an inkling of what he was in for, no one would ever expect all this to of happened, especially me. It all started from fun, me simply enjoying moving around and the love of music my parents passed to me and I’m very proud of where it’s lead me to.
It will be interesting to see where the next 14 years of my life will take me and the experiences and people i’ll meet along the way.