Leanne is a Contemporary dancer based in London. She attended LCDS (London Contemporary Dance School) and is currently enjoying the spontaneity of freelance life. She offers an insight into the world of casting, her views on social media, her recent collaboration with GiF (Girls in Film) and her love for spicy noodles!
We met for a chat on a humid summer evening at The Office in Shoreditch. Munching on some tasty chips and dip – we dived right in.
So, Leanne – how would you describe yourself?
I would say I am quite chilled and practical and love doing fun things. I’m rational and even, and also empathetic – I’d like to push that more in my dance.
How about within dance?
I see myself as introvert, and in the dance world it’s so open – most of the time you do have to fake it until you make it. You tend to only get noticed if you’re really out there and confident. People grab that immediately because they can see how forward and direct you are. For me, I’m always the curious one, questioning everything. A lot of people say they are never sure what I’m thinking.
For those of us who don’t know, how does casting work?
Typically, online platforms are invite only. Immediately, you are judged from your show reel and how professional it looks. It makes sense, but if you’re not very good at promoting yourself you might not get invited to audition – which is hard!
Once you get invited, the process can be over one day to a few days. You do a class, then there’s a cut and so on. People come from all over the world just to try out, and sometimes they get cut after fifteen minutes. It’s devastating.
It sounds really cut throat – how do you deal with that kind of pressure?
A lot of people want to dance and get into a company. As much as that brings a sense of security, you don’t have as much freedom. You tend to follow the choreographers choices and may have to perform the same piece for up to five years if it goes on tour. I don’t think joining a company is the only gate way.
At the moment I’m in freelance, which isn’t necessarily by choice. I am open to joining a company, but it felt like the right direction for me. Some people hate freelance and can’t cope with it. You do have to be a certain kind of person. It can be scary to just go with what you think – you have to be secure within yourself.
Still from ‘At the End’ – link to full film below
What do you like most about freelancing?
I like the diversity and the different pathways and creative outlets it brings. I really like being creative, improvising, and making my own movements. I take inspiration from my own qualities.
There are low moments, but when I’m down and nothing is happening for me, you almost have to enjoy the negativity of it. It helps you push along and get to the next point.
Sometimes you just have to breathe to find your own way.
For me, finding inspiration through speaking to people, being with friends and family and seeing shows are the things that get me going. I am here enjoying my life and doing what I want to do, which makes me really happy.
Do you have any healthy routines to stay motivated?
Before I left Uni, I used to wonder what it would be like to not have a routine. The thought of having to create a routine for myself petrified me. Now having left, I know I have to maintain some kind of fitness and enjoy it. It can be a struggle, but if you place yourself in a location where you can enjoy exercising – like going to classes, then you do it naturally.
Still from Analog series (DAZED) – link to full film below
There is a stigma attached to dancers with regards to eating disorders – have you seen this from your experience?
I think naturally you develop a way of thinking about food and exercise. You can be healthy about it but in some ways that is already an eating disorder because you feel the need to keep up with it. I have seen both women and men who have gotten obsessed with it. It is unhealthy and emotional damaging.
Would you say it stems from issues surrounding body image or is it more to do with the movements and flexibility needed in dance?
I think with ballet you have to be fit and able because it’s so technical. But in the contemporary world, it is more open. Depending on the company and project, there is more acceptance on body type as long as you are healthy.
How does social media influence dancers?
There is constant comparison taking place. Whether you are in a dance class or looking on social media sites like Instagram.
For me it doesn’t have an impact appearance wise, but it can make me feel like I’m not doing enough. You see other people constantly at it – promoting themselves and posting images and things they’ve done. That can be pressurising and sometimes you lose sight of what is real.
But equally, it can be motivating depending on what I connect with and what I can utilise in my own work. It reassures me to see other people that have found their way.
I’d rather like my own work, than hate it, but everyone else loves it. That’s not the point of why I am doing this.
Still from Showreel – link to Showreel below
Have you always wanted to go into dance?
Dance has always been in my life. I was born in China and came to England when I was seven. My parents adopted me, and my mum wanted to integrate me straight way so started taking me to classes. Back then it was just a hobby and I did the typical tap and ballet classes at my local church. I wanted to pursue Art at University, but my college dance teacher encouraged me to continue with my dancing and apply to study it. She pushed me to apply to LCDS (London Contemporary Dance School), which was the only place I looked to applied to! The audition was horrific, and I was so intimidated, but I got in. This was when I finally accepted that I can dance, and I am good at it!
How was it at LCDS?
It was everything and more. Everything was new to me, and I realised what a big world contemporary dance is. It made me love it even more. We learnt improvisation, choreography, and also did some written work. We covered everything from history, to psychology and art. It made me the person and dancer I am today.
What happened for you after you graduated?
I got an apprenticeship at Motion House. They are a physical theatre company with hints of circus and acrobatics. It’s like Cirque du Soleil toned down with a bit more dancing! I learnt a lot about what a contemporary company is like and gained great skills.
Still from ‘Captive’ Motion House as shown on Showreel – link to Showreel below
Tell us about your feature on GiF (Girls in Film)
I wanted to create a film, so I collaborated with a girl who studied film and videography at Central Saint Martins. We then collaborated with a musician from Antwerp who creates Techno music. The concept was about feeling free and being constantly in flow whilst also feeling stuck at the same time. There were no cuts in the footage and we headed out of London to Southend-on-Sea.
It felt natural and organic: I improvised from the music, and the videographer filmed off of the movements of my body. We all combined our skills to make it work.
Would you say you gravitate to more female-led projects like GiF (Girls in Film)?
I will always say yes to projects that push female power because I am female myself. It’s always an interesting challenge for me because I find that contemporary dance can be very conceptual, so it adds another layer in getting across such a strong message.
Still from GiF (Girls in Film) – link to full film below
Do you have any tips for people looking to get into dance?
Honestly, be as open minded as you can be and try not to have any expectations of what dance is. Do your research, speak to people and gain some experience. Do lots of classes and don’t restrict yourself by thinking you know what the next step it.
In London, there are lots of youth funded projects and classes happening, like CATs scheme for young dancers. Try it out, see if you like it, and go from there.
What should we look out for?
I am planning to make another film, maybe without me in it and with other bodies. It will have elements of movement and dance, but I’d also like to use every day scenes, environments and objects.
I might also be performing at the Barbican (stay tuned). With freelancing, you never know what’s going to happen and what opportunities may arise!
Still from GiF (Girls in Film) – link to full film below
Where can we find you?
Show real here
GiF (Girls in Film) here
Other collaborative work:
‘At the End’ here
‘Analog series (DAZED)’ – submitted to the D&AD AWARDS 2016 for the Dazed Brief here
Fun and random question time …
Your next holiday…
I want to go travelling soon – Asia or Sri Lanka. Somewhere with a landscape that’s completely different to what I’m used to.
Your go to snack?
It’s not really a snack … but I can always eat some spicy noodles!
Best date spot …
I don’t think it’s about the spot. It’s if you can hear what they’re saying! Anywhere chilled; like a walk down the river or in a park – where you can actually have a conversation.
A motivational quote for us?
Life is not a practise run.