Adapting as a Dance Graduate during lockdown

Leanne Welland, University of Lincoln dance graduate (2016) and a One Dance UK Ambassador.

Graduating from University is a daunting time for anyone, you are plunged into the unknown, unless you have been lucky enough to secure a job before leaving University. Personally, I have found that it is all about building a ‘portfolio’ career, securing a mix of jobs and freelance roles that may be part-time or temporary, engaging in volunteering, building a network base and finding jobs where you can develop transferable skills.

As a fairly recent graduate, I have learnt that it does take time. It took me over a year to establish myself and settle into this way of working. In my experience, you have to draw on your discipline, creativity and work ethic. Before ‘lockdown’, I was starting to feel more and more established in my way of working and I really started to feel I was reaching my goal of working in community dance practice. I am lucky to work with such a supportive and encouraging organisation like Imagination Arts, alongside my own freelancing practice, and have the opportunity to adapt and provide classes online.

However, of course, this meant that a lot of the weekly classes that I delivered were reduced. For example, some of the participants I teach do not have access to the internet, or there are unforeseen technical issues, which means you cannot run the class. As a graduate myself, I felt as if I was taking a few steps back, through no fault of my own, but just when I felt that I was becoming to be established as a community-based artist. However, as dance graduates, we are prepared for uncertain careers, and that is what makes our journeys diverse and our careers interesting. I have not seen ‘lockdown’ as a setback, but I have adapted and used this time to engage in various online courses and webinars, read articles, research and fully immerse myself in continuing professional development.

Even though it has been challenging financially, emotionally and socially, having to step away from dance work to apply for other part-time jobs to stabilise my income, COVID-19 has really emphasised the benefits of dance. In this crisis, a lot of people have taken new approaches to exercise and social interactions when other options have been taken away. As an advocate of dance and a One Dance UK Ambassador, this has really reinforced and empowered me to continue to vocalise the importance of dance to others. The benefits of dance are something that I have been researching and noticing throughout the pandemic, which in turn has encouraged me to find new ways to make a difference and to reinforce the overwhelming benefits of dance!

I have also been able to connect and network with organisations, individuals that I may not have necessarily connected with before. I think the concept of lockdown has really made everyone become so adaptable in the way they work to making it accessible through online platforms. Additionally, this gives people the chance to connect, network and collaborate from the comfort of their own home without the worry of barriers such as travel expenses.

Being a One Dance UK (ODUK) Ambassador has taught me to think outside the box and that creativity is always changing and learning that you can always adapt. It has provided a host of wonderful opportunities to collaborate. Jodie, a fellow ODUK Ambassador has been able to collaborate with friends, colleagues, even strangers, even though they are disconnected geographically. In her experience, “Dancers are creative problem solvers”, and everyone has really come together, inventing new ideas, adapting to working on Zoom and focussing on video projects. Sophie, another ODUK Ambassador, felt that when you graduate, you sometimes feel that you are leaving a network behind, but lockdown has reinforced how valuable these connections are going forward. There is also a mutual understanding that everyone is in fact going through a similar experience or uncertainty.

I think this final point from Sophie is so important to realise. As recent graduates, sometimes it is nice to take a step back and envision all the other artists and dancers that are taking similar pathways and to let this motivate you to never stop networking, connecting and collaborating. Adapting in this unexpected way during lockdown has really emphasised the different, creative ways you can actually achieve something positive.