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Dance at St Edward's School: a sport for all

‘I don’t really know why, but we’ve never had that attitude here. I think we’ve just got great pupils that encourage each other.’ So says Lisa Elkins, head of dance at St Edward’s, when asked if there’s any smirking about boys in the 1st rowing VIII doing ballet. In fact, Lisa goes on to say that ballet and rowing, or rugby, or netball – where footwork and elevation are key – or any other sport for that matter, work beautifully together. ‘I’ve done some workouts with the 1st XV rugby team,’ she says ‘you develop great core strength and flexibility through dancing, and this helps enormously on the pitch. Rugby players may be very fit and able to sustain a 80-minute game, and they can probably get their dance partner up in the air for a lift, but can they sustain it? That requires core strength, and that is impressive, and the pupils know that.’

Lisa, who also coaches netball, believes that dance and sport absolutely complement each other and make for a more rounded athlete. Guy Wheeler, a lower-sixth pupil who favours the contemporary duet class agrees: ‘This year I have made it into the 1st VIII rowing squad after three years of training. This is also the year I have picked up dance, and the athleticism gained from sport paired with the coordination and manoeuvrability from dance has combined to make me be much better at both.’

 Sixth-former Ruby Faulkner takes three classes a week in funk fusion, freestyle and jazz and also plays in the hockey and netball first teams. She sees the benefits of this combined athletic approach too: ‘Freestyle has pushed me most out of my comfort zone and been the most demanding in terms of developing my flexibility and strength, which I have found incredibly rewarding.’

St Edward’s is a co-educational secondary school with around 700 pupils set in north Oxford. Most children board, and even those that don’t, stay at school long after lessons to take up the myriad of co-curricular activities on offer. The school has always had a strong reputation in the traditional options, and now sports such as sailing, girls’ cricket, and football are gaining ground with girls’ rugby starting this year. There is something for everyone.

Dance is a widely practised and highly respected activity in all years, and for both boys and girls, underlining the truly co-educational ethos of the school, which includes a male matron and several co-ed boarding houses, and a notably reducing emphasis on ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ sports. Lisa, who has been at the school for 20 years, identifies the reasons for the growing popularity among pupils for dance. All children are actively encouraged to give it a go from the very start of their school career – and more and more students do. Being an all-rounder is considered important here.

Of course, some pupils excel in different areas, but even the very best dancers will still have to turn up to games to be with their peers and improve their fitness, and during exams, students will still be expected to attend their dance lessons. ‘Even if they are stressed, they come into the studio – a different space – leave their revision for 45 minutes, enjoy themselves, get the blood flowing, then go back to their work. It’s good for their wellbeing and concentration’, says Lisa.

 In recent years there have also been several excellent dancers at the school – both boys and girls – who have really inspired younger pupils and made dance inspirational and ‘hip’. Being a top dancer is akin to being a top sportsman, just as being a brilliant debater, musician or academic is applauded in this supportive school community. As pupil Ruby Faulkner puts it: ‘There is a continuing increase in the number of boys signing up and I know that the boys that dance are really admired by younger pupils.’ There are still nerves, of course, but the supportive nature of other students means that dancers of all levels feel that they can perform in front of the school. As Guy Wheeler says: ‘I don't find dance here to be gendered at all. I was initially worried about performing as I’d never considered myself graceful or coordinated, but I ended up really enjoying the dance shows at Teddies, and I look forward to dancing in them – even if the notion does still scare me.’

Pupils are now attracted to St Edward’s specifically for the strong dance programme. The nine full-time dance teachers take 90 classes across the week that include ballet, contemporary, tap, modern, jazz, freestyle, hip-hop, street, funk fusion, cheerleading, Latin American and acro. That said, St Edward’s is not a dance school, and you can wear what you feel comfortable in – dance attire, ballet wear or sports kit is acceptable – another reason Lisa thinks it is more accessible to all.

In terms of facilities, The North Wall Arts Centre, which is owned by the school and is located within the grounds, acts as a vibrant purpose-built home for dance with studios and an intimate stage, where the students can both perform and get involved with the production aspect of the school’s many shows. The public programme also inspires. As a result of this pioneering facility, the pupils at Teddies have a superb track record on stage and screen and in the wider creative industries, and dance is absolutely thriving at St Edward’s.

Watch the video below for a sneak peek of dance at Teddies:

St Edward's Dance Showcase 2021 from Teddies TV on Vimeo.