20 Feb 2019
Get to know Francesca Thomas

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How long have you been involved in your sport / activity? I always danced as a child. At first I would just dance around the living room, or make up dances with my cousins, friends and siblings. When I was seven, I got ballet lessons for Christmas. In primary school, I would often perform in church, at assemblies, and in shows with the local secondary school. When I was twelve I started learning contemporary dance at a local theatre. I started tap, modern and jazz when I was fourteen. I took an A level in dance at sixth form, and an undergraduate degree in performance and choreography when I was eighteen. I took up African, and house dance when I was twenty four. So I would say I’ve been dancing all my life, in various contexts and styles!

Did you play or represent in your sport/activity? To what level? I performed in shows throughout my youth. When I was fourteen I started taking exams in ballet, modern, jazz and tap dance. I reached intermediate level in ballet and tap, and advanced level in jazz and modern. I have an A-Level and a degree in contemporary dance.

What was your training schedule like? Did you practice every day? I would train all day on Saturdays when I was young. When I was sixteen I trained six times a day as I was doing a full time vocational dance course.

What is your fondest memory of playing / being involved in this activity? I always loved performing! My favourite memory is having one of my undergraduate pieces performed at Arts Depot in London at a professional showcase event. I had to complete a long application process and attend an audition with my dancers. It was a really exciting and proud moment to be chosen.

What unexpected obstacles have you had to overcome this in your sport / activity? I wasn’t as strong as a performer as I would have liked to have been. I had to work really hard, and felt that I never really stood out. I was neither particularly graceful, or particularly strong and had to work really hard on my muscular fitness and flexibility. In my final year of university I discovered that my talents were much stronger as a choreographer and this was a breakthrough moment for me.

Why are you interested in this activity? I am a really creative and expressive person, and my mind is always full of ideas. I love to experiment with ways to communicate ideas through movement. I also get a lot of joy from seeing students improve their skills and grow as performers and choreographers. I also love the theory and history of dance, especially choreography. I find it fascinating to study how dance has changed over time and how different practitioners work.

What is your current title and how long have you held this title? Head of Dance. I have been working in this role at UWC for 2 years. Before that I was Head of Dance at two other schools in Singapore and the UK, after working as a teacher of dance at my first school.

What are your 3 greatest successes to date?

  1. Achieving a 1st degree - Bachelor of Honors in Dance Performance and Choreography.

  2. Completing my Post Graduate Certificate in Education and landing my first teaching job.

  3. Being a part of this year’s Culturama at UWC :) Watching the show was the proudest moment of my career so far. We have such talented and dedicated students at this school, and they amaze me with their creativity and resilience time after time!

What is most satisfying about your work right now? Watching the students develop choreography from an initial idea to the final performance, and seeing them grow in confidence and take pride in the final product.

What is the greatest challenge you have ever had to overcome in your career? Expanding mindsets towards dance as both a vocational and academic subject, and tackling gender stereotypes.

What is the best advice you have ever received? What advice would you give to our students? Never wish you could dance like somebody else, as no two bodies are the same. Everyone has their own unique dance language and physical make-up. This is what makes dance so rich and varied. If we all choreographed exactly the same movement, and performed it in exactly the same way, dance would be extremely boring!

Can you give us three words that best describe how you feel about your profession? Excited, dedicated, (always creating something) new!

Who is the icon that has influenced you the most? Martha Graham! She was told she would never make it as a dancer, she was the ‘wrong’ height and shape, and didn’t move gracefully. Instead of letting her body defeat her, she embraced it. She created some of the strongest, most powerful, most unique choreography the world had ever seen, and has gone down in history as one most influential dance artists in the world. Her story teaches us that we should never let someone else's opinion stand in the way of our dreams.

Interviewed by Jessica Pigram and Jilyn Seah, Activities Department, East Campus