Maggie Paterson

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The principal of London's Pineapple Performing Arts School reveals the many styles and opportunities that dance can bring.

Raise Your Game: You teach two very different dance disciplines, ballet and jazz, how do you approach this?

Maggie Paterson: Ballet is the basis of all dance, and most jazz dancers and dancers in the West End have a background in ballet training. You learn muscle control, correct posture, stance, placement, co-ordination and how to build up your body gradually to a certain level.

Profile

Name:
Maggie Paterson

Born:
12 August 1960

From:
Wolverhampton

Education:
Cardigan School of Dancing, West Wales, Fully qualified dance teacher at the age of 19 in BBO (British Ballet Organization).

Job:
Teacher at Pineapple Dance Studios since 1982 and Principal of Pineapple Performing Arts School, Covent Garden, London.

Achievements:

  • Choreographer for Edinburgh festival 2009, Crabbit - The Musical.
  • Produced and directed over 30 stage productions in London theatres with the Performing Arts School.
  • Personal trainer to celebrities including Eddie Izzard.
  • Choreographer for TV commercials Lyons Maid ice lollies, cabarets at many West End venues and night clubs, pop videos including Jimmy Somerville.
  • Dancer on Top of the Pops and in many pop videos including Freddie Mercury the 1980's and with the Muppet Show European tour.

Once you master these classical techniques, you'll find that you jump higher, turn better and you will understand how your body works, which helps in all forms of dance. Some street dancers don't necessarily have ballet training, but the ones that do are usually leaps and bounds ahead of the others.

RYG: What skills can you learn from dance?

MP: The good thing about dance is that there are so many styles to choose from. You've got the dance etiquette of ballet which teaches you discipline, you've got the self-expression of street dance which has developed through people's interpretations, and then there's the technical jazz of the West End and commercial dance that you see in pop videos.

RYG: What about the wider skills that dance can offer?

MP: Dance teaches you discipline and it helps you to realise what you can achieve with hard work. You learn to work as part of a team, especially when you perform with a group of dancers as a chorus. You get fit, you have fun and you learn something new, which you can develop. Dance is a very social activity and many students have made friends for life.

Dance is always about presenting yourself really well with a big smile. A lot of dancers might not have the confidence inside, but the most important thing is that they know how to portray it and as you develop as a dancer and performer you gain more confidence.

You can tell a dancer when they walk into a room because of the way they hold themselves, their deportment and posture is uplifted. They might be petrified inside but they don't show it and that's when the training really helps.

RYG: Has street dance become more popular over the years?

MP: Yes it has. I think this is because it is more accessible to everybody. You don't have to have a background in ballet. Young people love the music, they love the style and love looking and dancing like the people you see in pop videos. A dance that originally came from the streets now actually has five elements to it, and you need to learn all the moves such as popping, locking and breaking.

RYG: What would be your tips for learning a new routine?

MP: It's all about repetition and muscle memory. Once you learn the basic steps, you will then be able to link them to other steps and progress and improve.

RYG: What are the opportunities that dance can bring?

MP: You need to be aware that dance is a very competitive world. There are many dancers, but so few jobs. You have the West End shows for which you ideally need to be based in London. There's the pop videos, television commercials, television shows, and there are also opportunities to work abroad with musicals and cabaret acts on cruise ships. You've got to have the right attitude and be open to whatever comes your way.

RYG: Once you're in the West End, how many nights do you perform and train?

MP: You dance for six nights and for eight shows a week. It takes a lot of dedication and you've got to be able to sacrifice your social life because that's what you want. You might also be in a show one day and then the show closes and you're out there auditioning again. It's a hard world.

RYG: Is diet and nutrition important?

MP: Dance is very demanding and can be strenuous. You need to have a balanced diet so that you maintain your stamina and energy levels. Unfortunately there are the pressures of body image, especially with girls, but it's important to remember that with the variety of dance styles, dancers can be all different shapes and sizes.

RYG: What styles of clothes can a young person wear to look cool for dancing?

MP: When you're first starting out in dance there's no kind of set rules. Wear clothing that you are comfortable in such as baggy T-shirts, baggy bottoms, leggings, sweatshirts, hoods, anything that you can move in. Then if you are self-conscious about your body, you won't feel that you're on display, especially when there are mirrors in front of you.

RYG: What would your advice be to young people looking to take up dance?

MP: Professional dancers tend to start at a very young age, however, if you are over 16-years-old, and you want to take up dance professionally, it's going to be much harder, but it still can be done.

With dance, there's something for everyone. An open dance studio like Pineapple is brilliant because they cater for every level, every age and every style so you can try anything you like.

I would recommend ballet training and just to get involved with as many classes as you can. Just get out there and give it a go.


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