How do some people have the confidence do dance in front of crowds? Serge shares his account of getting over his fear of dancing in front of audiences and ultimately gaining the spirit of a child. This details the journey ahead of his first live show with Salford University Dance Society.
Confidence of a Child
Dancing is a strange thing isn’t? Like… you swing an arm that way. Then move your foot this way, shake your head like this and wiggle your body like that.
Yet it’s so freeing, it just feels right. It’s a very personal thing, this strange thing we call dance. Like singing, everybody does it. Everybody has that little person inside them that just wants to break free, run amok, dancing and singing. Unfortunately, the majority of us leave that person caged within the confines of our bedroom, shower, whenever we’re alone and away from the judgement of others. This is the story of how I grew the confidence to break away from my own self-imposed prison; so that I accomplished a dream, an ambition, to perform live in front of an audience.
How it all came down to this one moment.
This was by no means my first performance, and hopefully, it’s not my last. By the time this moment came, I had featured in dance videos, a music video, and a short film; I had performed fully clothed and at times with very little (don’t worry it was all very PG). But all these moments were in front of the camera, posted on YouTube, Vimeo and other video platforms. Was I nervous? Was there pressure? Well, of course, seeing how things go viral, good or bad, I could have faced adulation or outright ridicule from potentially millions.
But that didn’t scare me.
So what did?
Look at these two, dancing like nobody’s watching. Not a care in a world. They danced until they were collapsed sweaty messes falling asleep on a chair, only to wake up 20 minutes later and do it all again.
Why did I lose that?
Do we all lose that at some point? Do we all have that fear? The fear of losing the freedom to be yourself, not being that same person that you are when nobody’s watching, the person you see in the mirror because some other person deems it embarrassing or whatever. I wanted to regain that freedom, that confidence of childhood, that confidence to make mistakes and be myself. Children, for the most part, don’t really care. We don’t tell them to sing like this or dance like that. Even if you tried, how often would they listen? So I had to get that back, too often we grow up and give up things that we love because society or culture pressures us into following certain avenues, giving you no time to work on your passions, in favour of mundane stuff like jobs and careers.
I’m by no means telling you to quit your job to pursue your passions, truth is that we can’t all be professional ballerinas and Grammy-nominated rappers, Ballon D’Or footballers and celebrity gamers. You can, however, be a ballerina, be a rapper, be a footballer, and be gamer. I’m just trying to say that wherever your life takes you, don’t stop working on your passions. These are what makes us unique.
But anyway, I digress. Back to why I started moving my feet and shaking my tush.
So, why did I start dancing?
Well, truth be told, I was always surrounded by dance, it was part of the culture I was brought up in. Weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, bereavements; there was always a display of the traditional Rwandan dance, with the flowing moves and ankle tambourines (not sure what they are called but they’re pretty cool, here’s a link to give you a taste). Even growing up in France, friends and in-laws brought in a variety of different styles, from the Coupé Décalé of the Ivory Coast to the Polynesian versions of the Haka. This by no way meant that I was any good at dancing, but I was fortunate that I grew up around a close-knit community that allowed the diffusion of different styles and perspectives.
Despite being exposed to so much dance, I never dared to strut my stuff in front of people. I was embarrassed. Embarrassed that I would dance, be rubbish at it, make a fool of myself, and have others make fun of the way that I move. I was always jealous, even today, of those that can dance in confidence and not give a damn about those watching. The spirit of a child, I wanted that.
Things began to change when a close friend, Passilio, who had moved from to France from Wallis & Futuna, started taking hip-hop dance classes. Before you knew it, he started his dance crew and was improving at an incredible rate, posting videos up fairly regularly showing of the latest moves that he’d learned. I was jealous. Here I was watching his videos in my pyjamas at an ungodly hour at night, absolutely mesmerised by the way he could move his body. At times, he seemed as if he had no bones, flowing like water. Other times, he almost seemed robotic, moving to clockwork precision. It was too cool. Before you knew it, I would be searching the depths of YouTube and various other video platforms for tutorials, practising different moves within the confines of my room.
Minutes turned to hours, hours began days. My dance started leaving my room, escaping slowly onto the streets. So my walks to school started to gain an extra bounce. I’d picture myself moving to the music in ears. Shopping was a little more bearable as I’d help my mum pick items but do it with an extra little bit of MJ in step (just for the record, theses were only slight movements that would go unnoticed by passersby, I wasn’t dancing full out, that would be weird wouldn’t it now?).
That looks pretty cool, right?
First public dance routine
Several years later, though on and off due to other commitments, I progressed to the point where I could confidently tell others that I was learning to dance. Progressed enough to the point I could show off a move here and a step there really. I was now training with Passilio and other talented dancers whenever I was back in France. Although “training” is probably not the word, it wasn’t serious at all.
But I finally got to the point where I had finally taken my newly found passion out of my bedroom.
So I was eager to see how far I could take it.
The release of my first ever music video was one of the most nerve-wracking moments of life. I had never featured in a video, much less one where I would be required to dance on my own. Yet it was something that I always had to throw myself into it. I was finally going public. The excitement on the leadup to the video shoot had suddenly turned into nerves with a pinch of dread. Part of me felt like backing out and calling the whole thing off, but I knew that this was something that I had to do. Part of me felt like returning to that kid confined to dancing in this bedroom….
Breath in Sergey. You can do this. What’s the worst that could happen?
Well, the worst thing that could happen would be that I dance horribly and every person with access to YouTube laughs and points, causing me to sit in the corner of a dark room until the trolling and abuse subsides. Fortunately, the exact opposite happened. At that moment, it was by far the proudest moment of life, the outpouring of support was utterly surreal. Even people I expected to troll me seemed to enjoy my work and lent their support to the project.
At this moment, I decided to go into production and create bigger and better dance videos. So throughout my undergraduate life, I continued to look to make dance videos, develop and improve. We created fun little projects over the years, some made it to fruition, and unfortunately, others never made it to screen. But they were all a pleasure to work on nonetheless (the list of names is too long, so I’ll thank you all at the end, please bear with me).
All of a sudden, it was all gone. The passion for dancing. The love for it. All of it.
So the drive had left me. That love had gone. I had lost the motivation to dance, or maybe it’s more accurate to say that life had kicked it out of me. Graduation confirmed that reality. As momentous a moment a graduation ceremony was, it was clear to me that the real world was waiting for me and ready to beat me into shape. It’s not to say that the adult world beat my passion out of me, as I had a new love in filmmaking and media production, and had some fantastic opportunities to work with some great companies and people. However, none of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for that teenage kid that one day decided to learn to dance in the confines of his room.
Then I guess it’s a beautiful accident how my newfound love for media & film production brought me back to my old passion for dance. One year into the professional world, I decided to return to university to further my opportunities and understanding of the media world. Initially, I had no interest in returning to dance at that point. In fact, when looking through Salford Universities societies to join in passing the time, rugby was my first choice.
So what changed that? The weather. Honestly, the weather is fucking dreadful. (Sorry for the language but describes it perfectly). As well as the weather, which was a reason that I was willing to overlook, the training facilities were nowhere nearby campus which in turn was nowhere near my flat. A logistical nightmare. I wasn’t motivated enough to commit that kind of effort. Time to look at other options.
So, Salford University Dance Society happened. SUDS for short.
I still wasn’t entirely convinced that I should join. After all, I hadn’t danced in over 18 months or so, and I was pretty much a one-trick pony having only practised hip-hop style of dance. I was cognizant of other genres, but there was no way that I could do ballet, contemporary, jazz or any of these different styles. Well, that’s what I thought anyway, and that was going to be the line I’d use if the rehearsals proved a disaster. I had other excuses lined up of course if my go-to wasn’t going to cut it, but thankfully, I didn’t have to use any of them.
That’s because I never got a reply…
Kickstarting my dance journey
I sent the society an email, a pretty hefty one in retrospect, introducing myself and why I wanted to join along with videos of my previous work. No reply. Ah well, that sucks but life goes on right? Under most circumstances, I would have probably left it there, but I thought I’d have another go. Fortunately, they did reply, and I was now going to attend my first ever rehearsal at the age of 22.
To say that I was nervous would have been a gross understatement. What would they think of me? What would I think of them? Had I painted myself to be some kind of hip-hop expert? Serge… What have you got yourself into? However it was too late, I was already lacing up my trainers. Then next thing you know, I’m in a pool of my own sweat after warming up for an hour. An hour?! Yes, an hour!
Warm-ups are done, now to pirouette. Eh? That was my reaction. That ballet move where they spin on the move. We had to pirouette across the dance studio in groups of three. Then chassé. Eh? Then jeté, then a combination of all three. I was sweating buckets again, not because I was tired, more because of the fear of what I would look like doing this. So I took the leap, a ballet leap. I knew I butchered every move, but something strange was happening. After every attempt, I pretty much resigned myself to a chorus of people giggling and laughing amongst themselves. That didn’t happen, quite the opposite occurred even. People were encouraging me, the only guy at the time, giving me tips and helping me out the best they could.
Honestly, I didn’t expect that. Walking into the middle of a group of women dancing, I thought I was going to be eaten alive.
That didn’t happen, thank goodness, and I left that first session wanting more. It became clear this wasn’t your typical group, but more on that later. Straight from the off, I put myself forward to choreograph a routine. Why did I do that? Should have kept your mouth shut Serge! I had minimal experiences choreographing for myself, nevermind a classroom of dancers, some of whom were dancing before I could even speak English. What was I going to do? Show them YouTube videos and ask them to learn the same way I did? Not if I wanted to be taken seriously. I’d never choreographed to an 8-count, heck I barely knew what an 8-count was…
You can do this, right?
And yes I could, with it going a lot better than I expected. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of the year which taught me a great deal about myself. It highlighted my weaknesses and strengths, along with giving me the tools to work on both. So I’ll forever be grateful to choreographer extraordinaire Ali Wilson and charismatic chairperson Bryony for allowing me to do this. I would do it again without a shadow of a doubt. It would probably be a lot better this time too now that I’ve got those cobwebs out. I’ve got my dance engine running again. I by no means did this on my own, I had a great supporting cast that put up with my flaws as a teacher and stuck by me.
They helped make a dream come true. After all, it wouldn’t be a team had I been left on my own, would it?
It was a lot of pressure. To be honest, I never had that many people dependent on me. Not only would I have to deliver on my promise that I would have my choreography ready in time for the January show, but it was also a worry if it was any good at all. Pressure mounted as the weeks went and with other commitments piling up, I could have easily capitulated. But my crew didn’t let me, the pressure never showed on their faces. They were definitely putting work in.
Dan, already busy with a million other things in his dance degree, kept me laughing to relieve the tension. Zane would always ask for tips and advice on how to perform certain moves. Hip hop wasn’t her style, but you wouldn’t have known that if you’d seen the final show. Steph, absent for a few rehearsals prior, showed her dedication by rearranging home furniture to create practice space, and spent her spare time in rehearsals practising. She also had this kind of chilled vibe about her. Her presence chilled you out. And let’s not forget Bryoncé (Bryony’s nickname here), I have no idea why she stuck it out with my choreography.
Before you start, it’s not because I thought it was rubbish, or that she couldn’t do it. It was quite the opposite (for the latter anyway, my dance could still have been rubbish)!. As chairperson, a fantastic one at that, she was already a busy person (kind of a big deal). In addition to choreographing her own routine, she was also involved in like 10 out of 12 dances. However, fatigue never showed on her face, and she always seemed enthusiastic and full of energy. They all looked that way actually. These guys inspired me to keep going when I was finding it hard, and were patient with me throughout. I couldn’t ask for more really.
They weren’t the only ones who helped.
As times passed, everybody began to bond, and a family atmosphere began to develop. The last time I had felt such camaraderie, was five years prior when competing in my College rugby team. We had known each other throughout school, some since I had moved to the UK, and I still consider them to be like family. I could see a similar thing manifesting here, but in a fraction of the time. Everybody felt the pressure, but it didn’t get the best of us. Other choreographers felt the pinch too, but it never showed on their faces. They got on with business with smiles on their faces and sass in their moves.
Oh, we did have some fantastic choreographers, and I was lucky to be among them.
Danielle had moved liked wind and had a touch of silk, her dance flowing with emotion. Graceful, almost angelic some may say. Eloise brought the commanding presence of a pop superstar, delivering with such attitude. Thunderous tapper Rebecca, moved at the same speed and precision of a court stenographer.
Kai brought a child’s joy to all her performances, making tapping look like child’s play. Dan, the only other guy in the society (at the time), like who creates a street routine to beloved 90’s group Steps, right? He did, and it worked, bringing comedic elements to his lyrical flow. Louisa, SUDS’ Assistant Choreographer, moved with such elegance but brought earth-shattering moves with authority. Whitney, the lovable Geordie brought the rhythms and heat of Central African motherland to the dancefloor.
Bryony (or Bryoncé), Newcastle’s answer to Beyoncé. If you want sass, she has it. If you wanted some cheekiness, she has that too. And obviously, she has the moves to back it up. Grace, elegance, finesse, strength; all words to describe Anthea’s solo ballet performance. She executed her movements with the power of an Olympian coupled with the elegance of the Queen’s swan.
Ali, What can I say about Ali. Simply born to perform. The stage, the lights, the audience, none of it fazes her. I’m sure it didn’t start that way, but my word, it all looks second nature to her, and it’s an honour to have lead the troops as a choreographer. Commander-in-chief, the orchestrator, maverick and maestro. Ali is quite simply one of a kind.
Suddenly it was all back. The passion for it. The love. All of it. It had finally come back.
Courage to dance freely
The confidence of a child, the courage to be free. Freedom to dance without giving a damn about what others think. From Bridget to Nikki, Heather to Katy, Helen to Somier, every member played a crucial role (even you Gab, though you had to go back to Chi-town too soon). There have been good times. There have been bad. Not forgetting the terribly awkward times. Yet we stick together through our imperfections and faults, and come out the other side smiling and laughing. They gave me the confidence to perform in front of a theatre full of people.
Most importantly, these experiences have taught me something significant. Something that you can take away to your office desk in London or that construction site in Ohio, whatever you do and wherever you are. Don’t forget the things that made you happy when you were younger, those passions, those quirks, those interests that made you are. These make us unique and add to the diversity that I love in this world we live in. Don’t let others, or life, take that away because they deem it “embarrassing”.
Keep dancing. Keep singing. Live your life with the confidence of a child. This is the story of what dance did for me, how it changed my perspectives, improved my confidence.