24 March 2015

For some years now, the YMCA Youth Dance Company has slowly but steadily built up a reputation in South West London as one of the most interesting and creative dance companies for young people aged 11-18. 

The company has performed at the Ignition Dance festival and at Richmond College, as well as at the International Youth Arts festival in Kingston.

A new start for the company

In 2014, Hayley Ovens took over the role as Rehearsal Director of the company.

My time with youth dance companies was so influential to my own career, so I was extremely excited at the prospect of help to provide that experience for other young dancers,” Hayley says about being asked to take on the artistic and creative management of the company.

When I took over, there were just four original company members that had stayed on from the first year. This gave us an opportunity to start fresh and build on the identity of the company. At the auditions in October last year, we took just three new members. I began to work with them on a piece about finding individual and group identities.

The group really developed their group and individual styles throughout this time and all greatly improved their performance skills, resulting in an amazing performance at Richmond College in January. It was brilliant to see the company come together and work really well as a team. They produced a polished performance that showed their improved creative and performance skills.

After this performance we decided to give more young local dancers the opportunity to join. We held a second audition in time for our next commission, which was with local choreographer Shaun Dillon (who has recently worked with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures. In February, we took on another six brilliant dancers, bringing the total company to a fabulous 13!”

Working with professional choreographers

This year, the company is set to perform at several cultural festivals across the boroughs of Richmond, Kingston and Wandsworth.

“We have two great choreographic commissions this year, so going forward we hope to provide the group with as many performance opportunities as possible to share their hard work. I intend to work closely with the group to improve their technical skills, and broaden their dance horizons by sharing the work of professional choreographers and taking part in theatre field trips.

Although we have a lovely group dynamic with our all-female company, we would like to expand next year to include some male members. All young dancers hoping to audition next year are very welcome!”

For young dancers in the Borough of Kingston who would be interesting in joining the company in the future, Hayley offers the following advice:

Our main criteria when taking on new members are that they have enthusiasm for and enjoyment of dance, plus a positive attitude! Due to the nature of the company, it is also very important to be committed and reliable, and have a dedication to wanting to improve their technique and performance skills as part of a group”.

It started with a youth dance group

Hayley knows how important youth dance companies can be to shaping one’s own dance career later in life.

I was into dancing and gymnastics from a young age, but began to think about dance as a career when I joined Hampshire Youth Dance Company, based at The Point in Eastleigh. With their company work ethic and intensive commissions with professional choreographers, it gave me an insight into working as a professional dancer within a company and sparked my passion for performance,” she says.

Hayley studied GCSE and A Level Dance. She then went on to complete a BTEC in Performing Arts: Dance, followed by a BA (Hons) degree in Dance Studies at the University of Roehampton.

I further pursued my interest in performance by completing a Master’s degree in Dance Performance at the University of Chichester,” Hayley explains.

Here, I studied intensively in contemporary techniques and ballet, and worked with several professional choreographers to create a touring show as a dancer with ‘Mapdancein 2012”.

Turkish folk dance and community projects

In April 2012, Hayley became a founding member of Ceyda Tanc Dance, a contemporary company that draws on influences from traditional Turkish folk dance and culture. With the company, Hayley has toured Turkey and trained with Turkish folk dance experts at Ege University’s Conservatoire for Folk Dance and Music in Izmir.

Since graduating, I have also completed a UK tour with CoDa Dance of their work ’12 Month’s On’ and worked with them on their project for people with MS and other neurological diseases,” Hayley explains.

Over the past three years, I have been lucky enough to work as a community dance artist on a variety of projects and with people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. I have worked in mainstream and special needs schools, day centres, youth clubs and pupil referral units to bring the benefits of dance to all,” Hayley says.

YMCA Youth Dance Company will perform at the Footprint Dance festival In Roehampton in mid May and at the Ignition Dance Festival in June.

For news and updates about the company, follow @ymcalsw on Twitter and see YMCA LSW’s website: ymcastpaulsgroup.org