Dance Advice

Training abroad: Hana Kato heads to London Contemporary Dance School

Hana Kato.

London Contemporary Dance School (LCDS) is home to a diverse student community from all over the world, bound together by their common language and love for dance. Hana Kato, a dancer from Australia, shares her experience as an international dance student in London.

“I have always wanted to study overseas and explore dance in different parts of the globe, and my parents supported me in that decision but advised that I pick an English speaking country first. What attracted me to the UK was that while the landmass is relatively small compared to Australia, the dance scene is dense, close-knit and accessible across the country and beyond.

While the structure of the undergraduate degree is probably quite similar to dance training in Australia, with elements of technique training, theory and performance, there are so many companies and independent dance artists based in London that we get the opportunity to work with! Guests artists often come to teach open classes or week-long workshops, and even outside of my LCDS timetable, there are so many open classes and company workshops available to those who are interested.

The school is based at The Place in central London, so lots of other dance facilities are easily accessible, and many of us students use Reading Week (in the UK there is a week break in the middle of term) to travel around the UK and Europe to attend classes and workshops. The Place has produced and supported so many well-known contemporary dance artists and choreographers since its opening — people I really admire such as Rafael Bonachela, Hofesh Shechter and Wayne McGregor — it feels like you can really be part of something here and take your place in a dance community.

I was able to experience so many different contemporary dance practices, such as Cunningham-based technique, release-based classes, flying-low or passing through, as well as improvisation and contact improvisation practices. When we were given the opportunity to select different individual modules for the course, I chose to work with Chisato Ohno, a current LCDS teacher as well as former Batsheva dancer, to recreate a section from Mamootot, a piece from Batsheva’s company repertoire. But there are so many other options to pick from, including repertoire from Richard Alston (until recently The Place’s resident company), Leila McMillan, or other modules such as design, advanced choreology, music and choreography. Every student can shape their own learning path according to what they are most interested in.

Moving to London has been a really interesting new experience for me. The city is so accessible, the tube and the buses get you anywhere you want to go, and with regards to dance, there is a lot happening everywhere all the time. I really enjoyed putting a big coat on and walking around London Town during winter, seeing the markets and the Christmas lights in Piccadilly Circus. (Always a little jealous of the people drinking the pricey mulled wine.) At home in Perth, it never gets properly cold.

I loved meeting new faces all the time, other dancers, artists, designers and Uni students, and I made friends from all kinds of different backgrounds and cultures. As The Place is so central, I could easily get to iconic locations such as Covent Garden and Oxford Circus and see performances in the adjoining theatre at The Place, Sadler’s Wells or the famous Royal Opera House. I also loved exploring all the cafes, restaurants and markets around London, and going to live concerts or simply booking a studio at LCDS to rehearse with friends or to just improvise by myself!

I think experiencing different cultures can greatly influence your development as an artist. Everything from the architecture, the slang, the fashion or the food can give you new perspectives and ideas. Especially at LCDS, there are people from all over the globe, and the diverse group of people you meet greatly influence you as an artist.

The arts scene in the UK is different in comparison to Australia. There is so much happening, always something you can be a part of. For example, during my first year, we were given the opportunity to create and perform for the Leonardo DaVinci 500th Centenary exhibition held at the Queens Gallery at Buckingham Palace. You can always try new things and explore your interests and grow as a dancer, performer and artist.

In my first year, I applied for BBC Young Dancer, which is a televised dance competition, and I was selected as one of the top five dancers in the Contemporary Category. Although I missed classes to travel to Wales to attend a workshop and filming session and to Manchester to compete at the BBC headquarters, LCDS gave me the opportunity to enjoy the whole process and were willing to support me every step of the way.

All the facilities at LCDS are amazing! We are very fortunate to have 10 studios, physiotherapy facilities, a library, a costume department, an AV (camera, lights and technology) room, a cafe and the adjoining theatre. The international coordinator Baptiste and the admin coordinator Cindy have been a massive help throughout my time at LCDS, both in London and online. They’re very organised and quick to respond and will always listen to your needs.

Since last March, just before the UK went into lockdown, I have returned back to Western Australia and finished my second year online. During the summer break, I was in touch with the team at LCDS non-stop to see if I can finish my degree fully online for my third year. Our state boarders in Australia as well as the international borders were closed, and I hesitated to leave as there were thousands of people still trying to return home, and financially, the airfare was simply unaffordable. I’m sad that I can’t make it back to London to continue studying in person and see my friends (only through Zoom at the moment), and it’s disappointing to be missing out on the performance opportunities that were scheduled for us in the latter half of year two and three. Currently with the UK back in lockdown, LCDS is providing students with regular online classes taught by experienced professionals as well as our resident teachers, and as a final year student, we are currently partaking in projects, devised works and repertoire sessions which will be assessed.

COVID was obviously the big disruptor, but apart from that, the things I enjoyed far outweigh the small everyday struggles that come with moving countries or living in a new place. I totally recommend studying abroad. It is a life-changing experience that will significantly impact your perspective on dance as well as making new lifelong friends.”

For more information on London Contemporary Dance School at The Place, click here.

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