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The Joon story...

 

Joon Dance is a small non-profit company set up by dance artist and choreographer Zosia Jo, dedicated to bringing professional dance performance and participation closer to communities. We are based in Pembrokeshire but operate across Wales and internationally. Here, artistic director, Zosia Jo, explains the history and the hopes of Joon Dance...

"I grew up partly in London and partly Pembrokeshire, but Pembs was always my home. At age 14 I decided I wanted to be a professional dancer. I was lucky enough to immediately join youth classes at The Place, home to London Contemporary Dance School and had access to incredible teachers, most of whom were performing and choreographing on the London stage at the time. I went on to train at another conservatoire, Northern School of Contemporary Dance, and among my colleagues were young people who'd trained from a much earlier age. I remember thinking how lucky I'd been to have had that access, and that if I'd lived full time in Pembrokeshire, I might not have been able to follow my dream in the same way. It wasn't about technique necessarily, but the creative education I'd received, and the belief in myself. Pembrokeshire is such a creative place in so many ways, but back then dance was not an art form you'd associate with our county. I always felt an urge to change this. (Later, I discovered that there were dancers around- Simon Whitehead and Stirling Steward in Abercych in North Pembs, and Eeva-Maria Mutka over the border in Llandysul, whom I now connect to often. It's also worth saying that while contemporary is still rare, it is growing and teachers offering numerous other styles are more and more available locally.) 

In my third and final year of training (2008), I specialised in Dance in Education, receiving valuable knowledge and practical experience on how to plan and deliver workshops for children and young people. I went into St Pauls Primary School in Leeds and worked with Year 6 pupils to create a performance. The children who the teachers had warned me were 'naughty' turned out to be the keenest performers and the most creative choreographers, when someone gave them the chance to succeed. This course, led by the wonderful Caroline Scott, changed my whole perspective on dance. Although I loved performing and choreographing for the stage, I began to see the value of dance for EVERYONE. I felt strongly that if everyone could connect to their body and feel able to express themselves physically, as well as watch and enjoy physical performances, the world would be a much better place.

I decided I wanted to go home to Pembrokeshire and offer some of the exciting things I'd been learning. I tried to find contemporary dance opportunities locally, but they were few and far between, especially as Dawns Dyfed had recently lost their funding and Arts Care Gofal Celf had yet to launch their community program. So I contacted every theatre and creative organisation I could find. Eventually I walked into the office of Peter Doran, artistic director at the Torch Theatre and asked for his help. Peter's own daughter had auditioned for London Contemporary Dance School two years earlier and been told that although she was talented, she needed a lot more contemporary technique. We had some great local ballet teachers, but no one teaching contemporary work. Peter generously gave me a shot, despite the fact I was 21 and just out of college. He gave me the theatre for a week of workshops and a night of performances. Joon Dance was born. After the first ever show, Daniel Shaw, then the general manager at the Torch, said to me 'I thought you were going to be rubbish but that was great'. Dan and I planned a huge project together, we got funding from Milford Haven Port Authority and Arts and Business Partnerships. Myself and Hugh Stanier, one of the founder dancers, toured Pembrokeshire schools for two solid weeks, at least two workshops a day- sometimes as many as four. Then we ran two weeks of summer school with another three dancers and created a performance of our own. Now we had a great format. The summer school provided all participants with the chance to train, create and perform with professional dance artists, meet new friends, and get on stage at Torch Theatre. We have been running it annually since. We usually have another style as well, often Break Dance, and a focus on the participants creating their own material. It's totally inclusive and accessible, everyone can join and is encouraged to dance in their own way and be themselves in a safe and positive environment. There is strictly no judgement and no competition at Joon Dance. 

I feel passionately that performance creation at professional level should not be a separate practice from community involvement. I have created numerous shows with young audiences in mind and other shows that seek to engage audiences in innovative ways. I am always seeking to challenge myself and grow as an artist, viewing each new project as a mini piece of creative research, whether its a short dance session with a group of children or a longer process leading to a performance- it's all of equal value to my work. The artists who deliver projects for Joon are always professional dancers with degree level training and significant performance experience. They are always practicing artists from the sector and specialists in their field. I work hard to choose the right people to bring into our community. They have to be positive role models and encouraging and inclusive in their attitude as well as creating top quality work.

In 2014 I travelled to Cairo, Egypt where I was commissioned to create a performance. And Joon's development of dance for communities suddenly went international. I made a performance with a mixture of professional and non-professional dancers, and loved working there so much I went back and forth for three years, creating three more performances, teaching loads of technique classes and running a development project offering dance artists the chance to develop skills in admin, fundraising and dance teaching for children. But by far the most successful and exciting project was my Dancing The Self project for women, delivered with Studio Emad Eddin. By offering women's only safe spaces and a variety of creative and playful dance tasks / improvisations, we started a huge project that gave women the opportunity to connect to their bodies and the confidence to dance and perform. It was the most incredible experience. I then created a one year program before leaving by enlisting the help of some local female dancers to deliver classes and workshops for women. I still go back occasionally to deliver workshops. If you'd like to know more about that project I made a documentary film about it in which you can hear from the women about their experiences.

I have since done my MA in Creative Practice at Independent Dance/Trinity Laban during which I further focused on improvisation and somatic dance. This basically means creative dancing based on the belief that the body and mind are one whole, not two separate bits. We work with imagery and ideas to stimulate movement, rather than teaching fixed steps and shapes that students have to copy. Joon will continue to offer a range of contemporary techniques and other dance styles, its just that my personal skill set is being further honed and developed in that area. To a certain extent we have always worked in this way because the brilliant thing about improvisation and creative dance is that EVERY BODY can do it. 

Joon Dance is about getting as many people moving creatively as possible. We offer classes, workshops and projects as well as making performances. From young children / toddlers with our Contakids work, through to older adults both active and in care settings, with all the ages in between. There is something for everyone!" 

If you have any questions or just want to know more about Joon, or how you can get involved, feel free to sign up to our mailing list below or just contact us.