INSiGHTZ: An Insight into YOUR dance journey with Emily Labhart

INSiGHTZ: An Insight into…

An online series and archives with UK dance professionals sharing valuable insights within the dance industry.

Series 1 - ‘An insight into YOUR dance journey’ - Inspiring and motivating youth

Formulated by: Tamar Dixon


Emily Labhart is an experienced Producer and Project Manager, specialising in Dance of the African Diaspora and international collaboration. Emily has worked for some of the UK’s leading dance organisations, including Sadler’s Wells, Phoenix Dance Theatre and Greenwich Dance, working with artists such as Dickson Mbi, Boy Blue Entertainment, Lea Anderson’s The Cholmondeleys and Alleyne Dance. Her independent project Dancehall Origins works with Jamaican artists to share and develop their practice in the UK, and since 2016 has produced five events connecting over 200 British dancers with world-renowned Jamaican practitioners for the first time. As a Freelance Producer, Emily is currently working with independent dance artists Dickson Mbi, Duwane Taylor, Andre Bright, Victor Fung and Holly Noble. She is also the Creative Producer for MOVE IT – the world’s biggest dance event.

1. Tell us about yourself. What do you do and what is your main dance style you work in?

I’m a Producer and Project Manager, specialising in Dance of the African Diaspora and international collaboration.

My days vary a lot! I’m working on a number of different projects at the moment, so I could be doing anything from:

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  • Being in a studio watching company rehearsals giving feedback

  • Communicating with venues to book tours

  • Writing funding applications

  • Programming classes and performances

  • Arranging logistics for international artists/projects

  • Managing project budgets

I’m very lucky to be working with some brilliant artists at the moment, so no two days are ever the same.

2. Why dance? What or who initially inspired you to begin your dance journey?

I’ve been around dance since I was very young - my Nan has had her own dance school in Wolverhampton since she was 14 and she still teaches now (age 89!). She even received a British Empire Medal in 2016 for services to dance and charity. My dance journey started there.

3. Where were you 5 years ago? (e.g. career, dance lifestyle, journey)

Five years ago, I was in my final year at the University of Surrey. I graduated in July 2014 with a First Class Degree in Dance & Culture. While I was studying, I’d been teaching a lot in school and community settings, mainly in Hip Hop and Street Dance. I’d also been to Jamaica for the first time to train with Dancehall pioneers Dance Xpressionz, as well as the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica. As part of the course I completed a placement at Sadler’s Wells working on the new National Youth Dance Company.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to move into at the time, but after graduating I secured a job at Phoenix Dance Theatre in Leeds as Access and Education Coordinator – I started my career there.

4. Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

This is really tricky! I hope I will be working with more brilliant artists, and that I’ll still be producing great events bringing communities of dancers together. I’d love to have my own venue one day and run my own festival, but I’m not sure that’s achievable in five years! That’s definitely more of a long-term goal. To get there, my plan is to keep building my skills, experiences and contacts, and make sure I do the best I can for every project.

5. What challenges have you faced so far along your dance journey/practice?

The most challenging moment of my career to date, would be leaving my full-time job at a dance organisation to become Freelance. At first, I was quite worried about the transition and the prospect of finding clients. Turns out, I need not have worried - I’m fortunate to be working with five independent dance artists plus MOVE IT, so I’ve been very busy since I made the leap!

6. What has been your biggest achievement so far?

I’m still very early on in my career, so I’m hoping there will be big moments to come! However, if I had to choose something up until now, I would say…setting up my first independent project Dancehall Origins.

Dancehall Origins (or DHO for short) invites dancers, performers and teachers from Jamaica to come to the UK to share Dancehall culture. Since its inception in 2016 I’ve hosted five international events connecting 200 British artists with Dancehall pioneers. Of the seven Jamaican artists who have delivered at DHO, six had never taught in the UK before. This is a huge achievement!

I created the project for a number of reasons, but a key incentive is that there are many people who are interested in Dancehall in this country, who can’t necessarily travel to Jamaica to experience the culture in person. I wanted to find a way to bring Jamaica to the UK, exclusively for sharing knowledge and to build a community that is keen to learn from and celebrate Jamaican artists.  I’m really proud to make Dancehall Origins happen and hope it continues to grow!

7. If you could go back in time, what would you tell your young 16yr old self?

That the things I was worrying about age 16 will not matter at all age 17, let alone age 27! I would also tell myself not to try and predict or plan my career. When you’re that age, it’s easy to be pulled in lots of different directions in terms of further study, going in to work, apprenticeships and so on. It feels as though the decisions you make then are final. This is simply not true! Find out what you’re good at, what you enjoy, and choose a path that allows you to pursue those things for as long as you can.

8. What advice would you give to the younger (creative) generation?

My advice would be to take as many opportunities as you can. Whether that’s extra training, shadowing somebody in an organisation, or anything else that comes your way. It’s said a lot, but the dance world is really small and you never know what an opportunity like that could lead to. Another key bit of advice is to always ask for help when you need it, and to make sure that you are kind to yourself (and others) – particularly if things don’t go the way you’d hoped.

9. How do you stay focused, positive and motivated throughout your practice/training?

For me, it’s important to remember that there’s no quick fix - if you want something, you have to put the work in to get it. If you’re not yet where you want to be, that should be your motivation! Setting massive goals can be overwhelming, so breaking these down into small milestones and taking steps every day to reach them means that you can celebrate the small wins, learn from the losses and stay focused.

10. Random… But what do you do in your free time? When you aren’t in dance/work mode.

Outside of work, I try to go to as many dance performances and classes as I can, to keep myself in the loop as to what’s going on in the sector and also because I love it! I find it really hard to switch off from dance, but the best way for me to do that is usually by watching films or reading. I love spending time abroad, I usually go away once a year so planning holidays and exploring new cities is a way for me to decompress and feel more human!

Thank you to Emily for taking part in our INSiGHTZ series.

Learn more about Emily and her work at Dancehall Origins

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