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bbodance Patron Series: Joseph Powell-Main

Please provide a short introduction about yourself and your journey with dance.

Image: Sian Trenberth

I am a professional, disabled dancer. I originally trained with The Royal Ballet School for over three years but when I acquired my disability, I took a break from dance. After finding out dance could be accessed in a different way to how I trained, I found my way back to it. I am now a freelance dancer specialising in classical ballet, but I also take part in other styles.

I am passionate about advocating for further access and inclusion in classical ballet; I have performed with the Royal Ballet as a guest artist and will be doing so again at Greenwich and Docklands International Festival (2023). Alongside performances I also advocate for inclusive dance opportunities and help facilitate them. I have a keen interest in choreography too.

Please tell us about the highlights of your dance journey.

When I was younger, I enjoyed all performance experiences. I am based in mid-Wales so experiences like this were few and far between! When I began training as a Royal Ballet School Junior Associate, I had the opportunity to dance in The Nutcracker with Birmingham Royal Ballet. This cemented my passion to become a performer.

Out of my performances with The Royal Ballet as a student, The Nutcracker and Peter and the Wolf must be my most memorable. In Peter and the Wolf, one of my fellow dancers went down ill thirty minutes before the show, so I had to step in! The role involved a prop rope which I had never rehearsed with; I will always remember the last-minute, but fun, rush of trying to work out how to perform this scene.

Another highlight would be performing for Princess Alexandra, this was a special moment for me. I would love to perform for the Royal Family in the future. Highlights of my current professional career must be collaborations with The Royal Ballet, including working on Sleepwalker, and performing at the Paralympic Homecoming Ceremony. Everything has come in a full circle for me.

When returning to dance after acquiring my injury I did not think there would be any opportunity to perform with The Royal Ballet, but they have been incredibly open and one of the best collaborators I have worked with so far. Becoming a Patron of bbodance is also a huge highlight. I am very excited to be working with the organisation to develop inclusive practice within the ballet syllabus and more. I have also recently become the first ever Ambassador for National Youth Ballet (NYB). I will be working with them on inclusive projects. I cannot wait for the future as I begin this new role!

What has been the most memorable moment of your journey with dance?

It is so hard to choose a single moment! I would say being able to return to the classical ballet world after acquiring my disability. I was not sure if it would be possible – would I be accepted as a classical dancer? However, after each positive experience I had, I became surer of my place and now know how inclusive dance can be. There is a lot more work to be done but I am excited to be a part of the development!

A huge memorable moment was performing at the Paralympic Homecoming Ceremony with The Royal Ballet. Kristen McNally and I worked together to develop the piece which I found hugely exciting. When we came together to share ideas, I was able to have a strong creative input which was very enjoyable. Kristen had not worked with a wheelchair dancer before, but working with her was amazing! We had a few discussions prior to rehearsals, I think from these we knew how the piece would come together and developed a great working relationship. We only had two days in person to put the piece together; what was amazing for me was seeing Kristen jumping straight into trying out new ideas for partner work and really incorporating my chair into the movement as well! She did it without any hesitation which was just amazing and something that I hadn’t always experienced.

Since then, the opportunity to perform Sleepwalker with The Royal Ballet developed. It was great to be able to work with some of the same people, such as Kristen and Isabel Lubach. I felt that there were more opportunities, so to be able to have the chance to explore this with these brilliant collaborators is something I am so grateful and thankful for. It was also another full circle moment for me working with Alexander Campbell, the director of Sleepwalker, as our paths had crossed over thirteen years ago, when I had performed with Birmingham Royal Ballet in Sylvia and Alexander had been in the company. Kristen McNally and Alexander Campbell are very exciting people to work with. They both are really invested in developing this piece and are open to me having a creative input as well. Sleepwalker was created and devised by Kristen and Alex for me and Isabel Lubach, and it is a wonderful and special experience to have a piece that is made for you, it is something I have always hoped would be in my future and again something that I am hugely grateful for. I have loved being able to develop a partnership with Isabel who is a fantastic dancer and achieves some amazing shapes within the choreography for this piece. It has been a fabulous experience working with her and it has inspired me to hopefully find more ways in which we can collaborate. I also had the chance to perform an early incarnation of Sleepwalker with Kristen, she was also a wonderful partner, and I could feel her passion for this piece and dance shine through when I performed alongside her.

Meeting Brandon Lawrence (fellow Patron of bbodance) was also a highlight for me, he came to see a performance of Snow Queen in 2023. It was lovely to have the opportunity to meet afterwards where Brandon not only offered kind words and advice but support as well.

Image: Ryan Browne

Why is dance important to you?

Dance can help you express what you are feeling without having to use words. I am quite good at pretending to be confident with public speaking when really, I am not confident at all. When I dance, I find the confidence to move and express what I want to say without having to say anything with my words. I believe that dance has given me the confidence to do things I would have otherwise shied away from.

I truly believe dance gives you life skills which you may not have the opportunity to learn if you did not dance. For example: discipline; memory; posture; teamwork; and how to look after your health. All these skills can be taken into any job, regardless of someone’s desire to continue dancing. Even non-professional dancers can learn valuable skills from dance, just engaging with it is so beneficial.

Where do you find inspiration, both in dance and in life?

I am always inspired by my family. When I was going through challenges of leaving The Royal Ballet School and acquiring my disability, I had days where I could not face even getting out of bed. For a while I was lost; I had trained from a young age and put everything into dance so when that was gone, I did not know what to do with myself. The support from my family pushed me to keep going and do something; they helped me realise that even though I acquired a disability my dreams and passions did not need to stop.

My sister is a ballet teacher, and my mum went to see her at Move It. Whilst she was there, she saw a stand for wheelchair ballroom and Latin classes, she told me all about it and I was interested to see how I could get involved. From there, my journey back to dance began…

It is amazing to look back and see how far I have come since restarting my dance journey.

When looking for inspiration in the dance world, I always look to professional dancers in different companies. I love seeing a dancer who shows their personality on stage. Dance is all about telling a story; having great technique is important but the performance quality and showing your individuality is equally important.

There are many inspirations, so it is hard for me to pick just a few! Brandon Lawrence is an inspiration to me; I can remember my first few years at White Lodge whilst he was in his last year at RBS. I loved seeing him perform, he was in his element, I picked him out as one to watch. William Bracewell is another inspiration of mine. I had followed him as young student at RBS. I can remember going to watch him perform in The Dream at Sadlers Wells with BRB whilst I was still at White Lodge. As a fellow Welsh dancer, seeing him become the first Welsh Principal for The Royal Ballet was a special moment. Edward Watson is also a huge inspiration for me as I feel like he has redefined the role of a male ballet dancer and had a fantastic and unique performing career!

I am also incredibly inspired by people I have already worked with as well, such as Kristen, Alexander, and Isabel. It would be great to explore whether there could be more opportunities of working with them and other dancers at The Royal Ballet. I have big ambitions and dreams that I would love to make a reality, so keeping my fingers crossed!

Image: Point of View Photography

If you could share some advice with young dancers, what would it be?

I would say that it is okay to be different and stand out from the crowd. When I returned to dance, I was worried about being different. At The Royal Ballet School I never felt like I fitted the mould of a typical male classical dancer. I was very flexible and tended to dance differently to everyone else.

These feelings of not fitting continued after I returned to dance as a disabled dancer. However, I now believe that being different makes you stand out. Dancers who have unique qualities are often very appealing to employers and choreographers. Do not be afraid to be yourself, embrace who you are! Do not be who someone wants you to be, show who you really are. If you experience rejection in the industry, this must not put you off in dance or in life. It is not a case of you not being good enough, sometimes you just are not the right fit for a role. This does not take away from your talent, you can still have a very successful career.

The more inclusivity we see on stage, the more power we have when pushing for inclusivity in all areas of the industry. We must take on challenges as they come and always strive towards our dreams. Many dancers with incredible careers share the challenges they faced when training, you are not alone when facing difficult times.

Finally, I would say remember why you dance. It is fine to do things differently than others as it doesn’t stop you from achieving your dreams. Believe you can and you will!

Please share your thoughts about being a Patron for bbodance.

I was asked to be a speaker at the Beyond Syllabus Dance Conference, bbodance’s annual online conference. This was a good opportunity for me to reflect on my journey, meet some of the bbodance members and be challenged with interesting questions. It made me step back and think about my dance journey in greater detail.

When asked to be a Patron, I was very excited about the chance to share more of what I do. We started conversations about developing inclusive practice and I thought this was amazing. It has been a dream of mine to work on inclusivity within a classical ballet syllabus and now I had been presented with the opportunity to do so. I am all about providing experiences for younger dancers from different backgrounds and with different needs. No one should be left behind.

To take dance to the next level, we must be forward thinking. Often when people come across disabilities, they are worried about doing something wrong or using the wrong language. To learn and grow, we must make mistakes and not get everything 100% right all the time. I believe how we react to challenges along the way is how the greatest change is made.

I am privileged to be working with bbodance. The journey ahead is going to be a long one, but that is what makes it exciting and hopefully ground-breaking. I am looking forward to really getting stuck into the syllabus and developing thoughts and ideas through research and development.

Can you describe bbodance in a few words?

Passion. Understanding the need for change. Forward thinking.

What are your hopes for the future of dance?

I am always hopeful about the future of dance and continue to do everything I can to push for further opportunities for dancers like me. I hope by seeing me or a dancer like me new conversations will be generated. If I can inspire one person to believe dance is for them, I will be happy.

I hope to see more dancers with different accessible needs represented more widely. Now there is a massive shift happening within large organisations and communities. There is so much potential for inclusion and accessibility in classical ballet and more. For me that is incredibly exciting.

Do you have any advice for dance teachers?

There are many amazing teachers out there. I say keep doing what you are doing. Keep inspiring young dancers to believe anything is possible. Without a dance teacher there supporting, pushing, and believing in their potential, young dancers cannot access the next stage of their journey. I have heard many professional dancers say their inspiration has come from their teachers.

From an inclusion and accessibility angle, do not be afraid to have conversations with students who have different accessible needs. People often worry they will approach this wrong but if the line of communication is kept open you will make discoveries together. It can become a collaboration between the dancer and the teacher which is a unique journey and can create very special working relationships. Challenges may come and you may go wrong but it is all about facing the challenges together as a team.

Why is it important for dance teachers to train and gain a qualification in dance teaching?

I believe it is important, especially when working with a large organisation who uses a syllabus. You can gain the innate knowledge of the organisation or syllabus and can pass this on in exciting ways to the next generation of dancers.

Aside from this, when people look for dance teachers, they often look for the experience and training of the teacher. I think this inspires them, as they may want to follow a similar path to their teachers or even learn about new paths that they didn’t know about before. I think learning about their teacher’s training or qualifications inspire them as to what could be possible for their own future.

Gaining an understanding of a syllabus or training, I believe will be extremely helpful when applied in an inclusive setting. As knowing the function and form of a performing an exercise or piece of repertoire in the conventional way, will help inform how this movement can be translated to different bodies and differing abilities.


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