All about Exim Dance Company

 
 
“My love for inclusive work and community work all was found within my involvement and training with Exim Dance Company.” – Laura Francesca Henry

For our blog we have had the honour to interview Laura Francesca Henry, she is the general manager, lead practitioner and one of the dancers of Exim Dance Company.

Exim Dance Company is an inclusive dance company in England, the company works inclusive from the founding with a focus on developing work that is accessible to her audience members. 
Exept for the performances with which Exim tours, she organises community work for ‘At Risk’ children. We are passionate about using dance to help vulnerable young people, breaking down the ideological barriers that surround dance, holding inclusivity at the heart of all of our work.
In our interview Laura tells us “The community work is what drives the company. It feeds into our artistic practice and it also dedicates to the audience development.”

About the professional company of Exim Laura says; “The professional work is just as important as the community aspect of the company. Both for the dancers and the communities we work in. They get to see us, their teachers perform and that’s aspirational for them. We took one of our youth dancers to a tour date with us recently and he got so much out of the experience and it hopefully inspired him to work harder in class!”

Laura Francesca Henry is involved in the company since 2013 and from there on she grew with the company. Background information from someone who has grown with the company so actively is very interesting, therefor we have asked her:
 “When and how did Exim Dance Company start?”

Claire Summers the artistic director, still to date, with two Plymouth University graduates originally formed Exim back in 2011. The first project the team undertook was a dance film project named ‘Bleak’. The company really grew from that. 
[…] The progression of the company has been a very natural development over a long period of time. At Exim we are very careful to take certain projects slow and allow for the evolving to happen through time as we never want people to feel pressured or feel that we are being to forceful.

Exim’s profile has been building up rapidly over the last few years to the position we are now in. With the success of our youth work and a really great first tour ‘Impact’”

“Our inclusive attitude has gone further than that just making the class accessible.”

Currently there are a lot of people connected to Exim Dance Company. They have a general manager, 2 interns and an apprentice. Then they have about 15 associate practitioners/ volunteers/ trainees, 8 professional dancers, 6 associate artists and over 100 young people who they work with on a weekly basis.

Laura tells us attitude and collaboration are very important key words in the company, they are all very close and this makes that they do not need extra guidance or access workers.
Attitude and collaboration is also very important in the development of the company, Laura tells us: “Our inclusive attitude has gone further than that just making the class accessible. We are driven to help with absolutely anything whether its transport issue, behaviour problems, confidence issues and overcoming any other kind of barriers. We very much help with anything that is brought to us.[…]

Within the time I have been a part of the company growing, development and wanting the company to be a success has always been the striving tool that all employees have been working with.”

The dancers

“How do you audition or get your professional dancers? Do they all have a dance academy background? If not, how did they get their skills?”
“This is a tricky one as we just don’t have the resources to train people ‘in house’ so we can’t really work with people who haven’t had some kind of professional training. All of the disabled dancers we have worked with in the company have professional training. We need dancers who can cope with being self-employed and self-managed and who can cope with the often long hours on tour. We are attempting to overcome this by running a Btec in dance which will start in September this year. What is a Btec can you explain? could we use this sentence? We are focussing on having special trainings, in this way we can educate the dancers ourselves. It would be fantastic to be able to train some of the talented young people we already work with to a standard they could either continue on to further training or join the company.”

Their working process

“What is the percentage you spend on research, does it take more time to create ‘new’ professional work? How many days does the professional company works in the studio?”

“Our last R&D period was 3 weeks long and the cost was around £15,000.00 We didn’t make anything in this time it was just research. this was so important to us as some of the new dancers have quite specific needs and that only emerges after working intensively. From this initial research we now have a solid understanding of their needs and can plan for them when we come to make the work. Time is a huge factor in this work. Inclusive work often takes more time and the best thing you can do is to give the choreographers and dancers that time to develop and mature the work.”

Exim Dance Company is an unique company which names community work and professional company in one breath and they have the same approach to making work with the professional dancers as they do making work in a community setting. They keep growing and are very close, this you can feel in all their performances and activities.

“Working inclusively isn’t always easy, it isn’t quick and it often isn’t cheap, but it is worth it. So slow down and take the time to get the best out of people, that’s when you find gold.” Laura Francesca Henry – General Manager/Company Dancer and Lead practitioner

 

Below you find the interview

1. When and how did Exim DC started?

Claire Summers the artistic director, still to date, with two Plymouth University graduates originally formed Exim back in 2011. The first project the team undertook was a dance film project named ‘Bleak’ The company really grew from that. I became involved with the company back in 2013 as an apprentice when I was still studying at Plymouth University. When I graduated I was offered an internship and a company dancer position for the touring professional work. My love for inclusive work and community work all was found within my involvement and training with Exim Dance Company.

2. How many people are involved in the company?

Lots! There are currently 4 full time paid staff (a general manager, 2 interns and an apprentice). Then we have about 15 associate practitioners/ volunteers/ trainees, 8 professional dancers, 6 associate artists and over 100 young people who we work with on a weekly basis.

3. How did the company take shape over time?
How do you get where the company wants to be?

The progression of the company has been a very natural development over a long period of time. At Exim we are very careful to take certain projects slow and allow for the evolving to happen through time as we never want people to feel pressured or that we are being to forceful. Exim’s profile has been building up rapidly over the last few years to the position we are now in. With the success of our youth work and a really great first tour ‘Impact’.

4. What was the most important step during this time?
If we didn’t do or made this dissuasion we would have never had….

Within the time I have been a part of the company growing, development and wanting the company to be a success has always been the striving tool that all employees have been working with. The company is constantly applying for additional funding so we can plan projects for three years at a time. Exim is a business that intends to be around for a very long time.

5. What I saw online is that the company is diverse and integrated was this from the start/ beginning? And is the community work also integrated from the spring/ essence?

From the off go Exim Dance Company have always worked within inclusive practice many of the employees were very fortunate to have worked in this way throughout their 3 year degree in Plymouth and were trained by the likes of Adam Benjamin. So we were extremely blessed. Our inclusive attitude has gone further than that just making the class accessible. We are driven to help with absolutely anything whether its transport issue, behaviour problems, confidence issues and overcoming any other kind of barriers. We very much help with anything that is brought to us.

6. What is the age range the community work is based on..? from 4 until 30? Or older?

Our community work is focused on working with young people so under 25. We do offer classes for adults (any age) and our professional company is any age. We aren’t averse to developing our community work to include more adult sessions but there just hadn’t been the call for this yet.

7. How important is the community work, what does the company gain out of it?

The community work is what drives the company It feeds in to our artistic practice and it’s also about audience development for us. So far we have been able to employ one of our young people as an apprentice on a teaching assistant apprenticeship. The company dream is for one of our young people to be in a position to audition and be one of our professional dancers one day.

8. How important is the professional work, what does the company gain out of it?

The professional work is just as important as the community aspect of the company. Both for the dancers and the communities we work in. They get to see us, their teachers perform and that’s aspirational for them. We took one of our youth dancers to a tour date with us recently and he got so much out of the experience and its hopefully inspired him to work harder in class!

9. How do you audition or get or your professional dancers? Do they all have a dance academy background? if not, how did they got their skills?

This is a tricky one as we just don’t have the resources to train people ‘in house’ so we cant really work with people who haven’t had some kind of professional training. All of the disabled dancers we have worked with in the company have professional training. We need dancers who can cope with being self employed and self managed and who can cope with the often long hours on tour. We are attempting to over come this by running a Btec in dance which will start in September this year. It would be fantastic to be able to train some of the talented young people we already work with to a standard they could either continue on to further training or join the company.

10. What is the percentage you spend on research, does it take more time to create ‘new’ professional work? How many days does the professional company works in the studio?

Our last R&D period was 3 weeks long and the cost was around £15,000.00 We didn’t make anything in this time it was just research. this was so important to us as some of the new dancers have quite specific needs and that only emerges after working intensively. From this initial research we now have a solid understanding of their needs and can plan for them when we come to make the work. Time is a huge factor in this work. Inclusive work often takes more time and the best thing you can do is to give the choreographers and dancers that time to develop and mature the work.

11. Are all the dancers full time?

No they are all on freelance contracts

12. if someone in the professional company needs more guidance, is there an access worker? Or do you work with a one to one buddy system?

No but we are a very close team and have been working together for a long time (some of us over 7 years)

13. something you would like to give the readers; a quote or a note

Working inclusively isn’t always easy, it isn’t quick and it often isn’t cheap, but it is worth it. So slow down and take the time to get the best out of people, that’s when you find gold.

Interview by Joop Oonk
written by  Suzanne Lamers