and taking people to Morocco to dance in the medina of Taroudant whilst discovering the local way of life.
It was during a conversation at the coffee machine during a break from my desk that I got talking to someone who told me about a documentary Granada had done about a dancer who had started doing workshops in Manchester. Because of my known love of travel in the East and my then passion for salsa dancing at the weekend, my colleague thought I might be interested.
I went. I was hooked from the start. And in 2002 when I was offered redundancy, I thought it was a now or never moment.
My original vision of teaching and creating a community performance group in Manchester quickly expanded and I now teach across the north of England, London, in Ireland and Scotland and, of course, in Egypt. My role as a performer has grown and I have worked with other dancers and musicians, not just in the UK, but in other parts of Europe too. I am currently developing online classes for both dancing and Arabic drumming, as well as expanding my portfolio of residential trips to include Morocco and Turkey.
It is literally a dream come true. It started as a tiny thought in my mind as I sat in my office overlooking Quay St and I do think many people thought I was crazy, including my family. But that’s the thing isn’t it? If you have an idea that seems unusual, it’s bound to seem crazy to many. So if you do have that little thought in your head that others might not have had, the chance is you might be the one to make it work.
And how do you make it work? Of course I studied dance - a lot. But I’m under no illusion at all that it’s not just my abiity as a dancer and a teacher that has kept me going since 2002 and grown my profile in an increasingly difficult world for anyone working in the arts, or any business for that matter.
My experience as a PA has been absolutely essential. Being confident and able to rattle off your own admin, to do spreadsheets and accounts, to plan and organise and to deal with all kinds of people on the phone or by email, is something as a PA we just do automatically but it seems like a big ask to some people. We get used to turning our hand to anything. I just developed a system and kept to it which meant that I had the energy and time then to devote to the creative side. And creativity isn’t just the technical side of an art form, it’s the ability to use imaginative thinking. This was something I learnt problem-solving as a PA.
But here’s the problem. So many PAs do their job happily because they don’t mind not being the one in the limelight. They probably care about what they do but they are happy to support the work of someone else. I did it for years, in television and radio, and as PA to a well-known comedian whose tours I used to organise. To actually put yourself in the driving seat can feel exposing. And it has taken me a long time to come to terms with the need to promote myself. I do it of course. I’ve taught myself how to do all the social media marketing and can knock up a pretty good flyer if I need to. But I’ve also learned that I must not try to do it all myself just because I can. I am now a dancer not a PA. I have made mistakes, such as the first trip I did to Egypt where I co-ordinated 40 airline tickets as well as liaising with the hotel and planning the workshops with live musicians. I can do that I thought, why ask somebody else to do it? Never again!
So much of what I learnt as a PA I’m now using in my own work. The experience I gained organising tours for my ex-boss meant that I had the confidence and know-how to book theatres for my own productions. And when I did a radio production course before taking up my role as a PA in Radio 3, I didn’t imagine I would years later be presenting on a world music show.
And what of the future? Well I’m now very excited about some of my filming projects. What I picked up during my time in television in terms of scripting, editing and copyright is now proving useful as I create my own dance films. I would love to do some more radio presenting. And my big dream is to tour a show profiling the dance that I love. I have started slowly to train other dancers and work on choreographies and costumes.
So from PA to Arabic dancer. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but it’s certainly been a fulfilling one. I know some dancers who haven’t been able to succeed because they relied on funding which was cut or because they didn’t think the business side of things was as important as the creative side. My decision to make my plans work as a financial business, as well as my PA skills, have kept me going for this long and I’m hopeful I’ll be celebrating my 20th anniversary with a big show featuring my dancers and myself, and I have plans to bring my flamenco experience into my work too.
So I think I have enough to keep me busy for now. But you never know when that next little thought is going to pop into your head….