15 minutes with teacher Denzil Bailey

Denzil Bailey leads a ballet class. Photo by Julia Forsyth.
Denzil Bailey leads a ballet class. Photo by Julia Forsyth.

London’s Denzil Bailey was out journeying to New Zealand this past January to teach at the Dance Masters International seminars, held in Auckland and Christchurch. Bailey, a former dancer with English National Ballet and co-founder of the renowned Ballet Black, now teaches internationally for several companies, including Rambert Dance Company, Random Dance and Skanes Dansteater. His classes are fun and energetic, thanks to Bailey’s warm and outgoing personality!

Here, get to know a little more about this ballet teacher in demand.

Had you ever been to New Zealand before?

Lindsey Lodenquai and Denzil Bailey. Photo courtesy of Bailey.

Lindsey Lodenquai and Denzil Bailey. Photo courtesy of Bailey.

“I’ve never been to NZ before, and I was so looking forward to it! I’ve been to Sydney and Melbourne, but I couldn’t wait to see the sheer beauty of NZ! Every time I ask people about NZ, they all say one thing: ‘It’s the most beautiful country in the world!’ There’s so much to see, and you must explore both islands. Every Kiwi I’ve met seems really nice and laid-back, similar to your Ozzie cousins.”

What were you most looking forward to about your trip?

“I [was] totally looking forward to teaching all those fab and enthusiastic young dancers, and then exploring the whole of NZ, as time/money would allow. Could be the trip of my life!”

What is your opinion of New Zealand/Australian dancers as compared to those from Europe?

“For me, dancers are dancers, regardless of where they come from. Some countries/schools may have a slightly more distinctive style (you can sometimes tell if someone is very Russian-trained, or American/Balanchine-trained). I can’t really tell if someone has come from the Royal Ballet School, or Paris Opera School, or Stuttgart School! They either have a good technique or they don’t.

As for the NZ/Australian dancers, you tend to see a lot more dancers from Oz! I only know a couple of NZ dancers. I used to dance with the fabulous Martin James at London Festival Ballet, now English National Ballet, and he was fantastic and great fun! The NZ dancers whom I know in London are very nice indeed. I actually went to see the Royal NZ Ballet performing a few months back in London, and they were superb!”

In what capacity are you still involved with Ballet Black?

“I’m unfortunately not so much involved with Ballet Black as I used to be, but I’m there to teach when they need me, and I try to watch a ‘run-through’ rehearsal, but because of my busy work schedule, it’s not so often anymore. But I keep in touch with the Director, Ms. Cassa Pancho every few weeks to get the latest news and tour updates. They are doing incredibly well! I’m so proud of Cassa for creating the company all the way back in 2000/2001, to the award-winning company it is today!”

Denzil Bailey teaching at Pineapple Studios. Photo courtesy of Bailey.

Denzil Bailey teaching at Pineapple Studios. Photo courtesy of Bailey.

Not all dancers make good teachers. What do you think you need to be able to teach ballet?

“In reality, most of the top teachers in the world today (and throughout history) were in fact top dancers! Yes, many, many dancers end their careers and fall into teaching. Like me, I had absolutely no intention of becoming a teacher. Cassa wanted me to help her create Ballet Black, and I started teaching from there. So, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to be great. But, like any profession, it can take a good few years to find your stride and your style.

I use a lot of humour and fun in class, and I try to have a more personal connection with the dancers/students, by learning names, asking about their work/holidays, and that way, I can gauge their character and set the class on the vibe I pick up from the dancers. It works very well in an open class situation, but in a company class, I try to be a little more… dare I say… ‘serious’? But I always try to keep that element of fun in class. That’s what works for me, anyway. So far (touch wood!), so good!”

Where are some of your favourite places to teach?

“I absolutely love Barcelona! It’s the city that has everything! Amazing architecture, the most stylish shops, beautiful restaurants and cafes, lovely people and the beaches, of course. Perfect! I’m assuming that there are quite a few places like this in NZ.

I used to really enjoy teaching in Zurich, Switzerland, in the summer. Another beautiful looking city. Really hot, and everyone used to go swimming in the big river in the middle of town. It was amazing. Lately, I’ve been going to Castelfranco, just outside Venice. A quiet little town, very sweet, but the dancers are fantastic! The training by Susanna Plaino is wonderful. The dancers range between 12 and 17 years old, but the quality of their work and technique is frighteningly good!

Also loved teaching Skanes Dans Company in Malmo, Sweden. Fab dancers, fab company! A few years ago, I got the invitation of a lifetime: to come and teach in my motherland, Jamaica! It was the most fantastic two weeks in Kingston. The young dancers of Tony Wilson’s The Company Dance Theatre worked so hard and consistently improved throughout the whole company. They were based in Horton contemporary technique, but they all really wanted to make their ballet a lot stronger. I even gave them one of my small ballet pieces that I had choreographed, which they performed in their next season. Very proud of them. I was supposed to go there again this summer, but it fell through. Hopefully, it’ll happen again next year!”

Ballet technique has improved dramatically in recent years. Besides great technique, how can dancers set themselves apart?

Denzil Bailey (left) during his dancing days at English National Ballet. Photo courtesy of Bailey.

Denzil Bailey (left) during his dancing days at English National Ballet. Photo courtesy of Bailey.

“This is a question I often put to my female students, as obviously it affects them far more than it does the men. I always say to them, ‘When you are in an audition with 60 other similar-looking girls, what’s going to make you stand out?’ Which is usually met with blank stares and shrugging of shoulders! I always say to the girls dancing in class, ‘Can you please smile?!’ I’ve even been taking an audition when the director has stopped the class to ask the girls to ‘please smile, because you all look so miserable, and we wouldn’t dream of hiring anyone with that look on their face!’

So, I’m always encouraging the girls to make smiling and keeping your facial expression light and joyful second nature while dancing. Directors and choreographers are always looking for not just a good and solid technique, but just as importantly personality, character. Most of the stars of dance, theatre, movies – we like and enjoy their performances because of their characters and what they bring to the role.”

What is the best advice you have been given?

“Wow, I honestly couldn’t think of an answer! I guess the only advice (in dance) that i’ve been given, and have always lived by, is: Always enjoy your work, and don’t take it too seriously. After all, as an Italian friend of mine used to say, ‘Hey, we’re not saving lives; we’re just dancers.’ I think that hits the nail on the head!”

For more information on Dance Masters International, head to: https://www.facebook.com/DanceMastersInternational.

By Rain Francis of Dance Informa.

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