dance, Things To Do

Dance Days with NDCWales

Wowzers. We started our Easter holidays as we meant to go on: having an awesome time. More specifically, dancing. My kids and their mate had a whale of a time with National Dance Company Wales at Dance Days.

I drove us over to Cardiff Bay, parked in the Red Dragon Centre (because I’d rather buy a coffee and ice creams in Cadwalader’s to validate my parking than just throw pound coins away in a car park machine) and trotted over to the Dance House, the home of NDCWales in Wales Millennium Centre.

Guy, the organiser of Dance Days, greeted us with a smile at the door. Guy is calm, warm and helpful so put the three boys at ease and made them feel really welcome. Going along to courses and workshops like this in the holidays isn’t only about the facilitator, it’s also about all the other people you meet and talk to along the way.

Dance Days are our national dance company’s way of introducing contemporary dance to children and young people, using the choreographic ideas that their professional touring company perform around the world. For context, my boys don’t go to regular dance classes but their friend goes to street dance on the weekly and all three of them were buzzing when they came out. Experience level didn’t matter. There’s no specialist kit to wear, they take part in bare feet and comfy clothes so no one feels like the odd one out or a newbie in the wrong gear.

The outside of the Dance House with large printed words saying Ty Dawns and a massive Discover Dance poster showing a male dancer and a boy in school uniform copying his one legged, arms out pose.

The children don’t stay for the whole day. It’s split into two sessions of 3 hours for 7-11 year olds in the morning and 12-16 year olds in the afternoon. My dancing trio were 7, 7 and 10 and it was perfectly pitched at them and the other children in the group.

The date and timing worked out well for me (selfish!) as I had a work meeting in the Bay that morning but from all the little scooters that accompanied younger siblings at pick up time I think most families made the most of the location and school holiday by zooming across the Barrage during Dance Days. We also had a crack at the free crafting in the Wales Millennium Centre foyer on our walk back to the car.

You could opt to do one day at £15 or two days at £25 per child. I worked through the holidays and couldn’t get the logistics to work out for two days. It would have been more convenient for me to have them both in one place for a full day but I appreciate for the younger dancers that it might be a bit much and it’s not designed for babysitting or childcare (but that is a Brucey Bonus of taking kids to this sort of thing). If money’s a barrier, NDCWales also offer some Dance Days tickets at £5.

At the end of the hour session, the grown-ups and siblings were invited to watch a “quick sharing of what they’ve been up to”. The amount of work that they showed back to us was bonkers.

a group of 9 children in leggings, joggers and t shirts balance and freeze as a group with arms, legs and feet stretching out. They're in a dance studio.

I particularly loved the general positive vibe in the room. There were no show offs, they were all happy and silly but behaving respectfully, working together and listening to the dance ambassador who led the session. A diverse bunch of children of difference abilities and ages all worked together and shared something really special.

They didn’t just spend the three hours learning routines. They had creative tasks using Caroline Finn’s choreographic ideas that the company use in Revellers’ Mass, one of their 2019 touring productions. In this case, they were greeting partners as they met from opposite sides of the stage; what might start with a handshake or a high five becomes a back roll, jump or cartwheel. They also learnt a to dance part of the show, quite a gestural section that the children performed with real earnestness.

I’ve gone into so much detail about the “quick sharing” because I also ended up taking my sons to see National Dance Company Wales perform Awakening, their spring tour at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff. I’d been regretful about my possibly optimistic plan to take them to a night of three contemporary dance works. On the train. For the evening show. They were being boisterous but I’d paid my money so we’d give it a go. I’m so glad we did.

The piece that informed the Dance Days session was the longest of the night, it didn’t have the same visual trickery of the first two (which they loved but I’ll have to write that up separately so this doesn’t become a novella), it was later in the evening, past bedtime and I only had the dregs of the sweeties left. I needn’t have fretted. They were gripped. They gasped a little in delighted surprise and whispered “it’s the same music, we know this!” and subtly echoed the moves on stage that they’d remembered from Dance Days. That connection between physically putting their own bodies into learning moves, exploring the choreographer’s ideas, creatively problem solving then seeing actual real life dancers perform to the same music sparked something in them. Respect for the craft? A connection with the performance? Feeling involved in something exquisite and different? Maybe all of that, maybe none of it but it’s an experience that’s stayed with them.

a blackboard pillar has been written on with chalk with dates and times for Dance Days. A Dance Days flyer is stuck to the pillar with a magnet.
New dates are on the NDCWales website

Dance Days aren’t just for keeno dancing kids. The sessions for ages 7-11 are especially great for kids who are just happy to give something a bit different a go. Head over to the NDCWales website for details of future Dance Days: ndcwales.co.uk (CLUE: there are some coming up at the end of July)

*We were very kindly invited to take part in this event in return for a review. I bought our own tickets for the show at the Sherman. Dance Days are well worth the price and they do offer some bursaries if money is a barrier for you.

Places To Go, Things To Do

The Big Pit

Boom! It’s National Museum Week 2019 so I’ve been thinking about the last museum I went to, Big Pit National Coal Museum, Y Pwll Mawr. I bloody loves museums I does. The best of them stir a little something in your soul, leave some new knowledge nestled in your brain and get my kids buzzing with the experience. The Big Pit delivers on all three.

The first time I visited, I was excited to get free entry with my Blue Peter badge (which I’ve sadly lost, do they do replacements?) in about 1990. Another time, aged about 18 with my 9 year old brother the day after watching How Green Was My Valley, he produced a white cotton handkerchief to mop his brow because that’s what they’d done in the film. A few weeks ago we took our own similarly aged children and it’s still a thrill to travel in that dark lift 300 feet underground, to stoop through the tunnels, to momentarily stand in darkness, feel the terror and thankfulness that life has changed.

One of the themes of Museum Week 2019 is #WomenInCulture and the vital role of women in the mining industry and mining communities is explored in the Pithead Baths exhibition. Women were only banned from working underground because the inspector was shocked at their state of undress. The work they did was so physically demanding that they were replaced with ponies. Ponies.

As a museum, the displays and experiences above ground have had a hell of a lot of work since becoming part of National Museums Wales, which gives so much more to explore than the 50 minutes down the pit, the shower block was especially effective with interactive bits. Plus, it’s been free to visit since 2001. FREE. (Think it’s £3 for parking though). It’s set in a unique industrial landscape, designated a World Heritage Site.The guys, real life miners, who lead the tours of the mine are essential, their wit, knowledge and warmth give visitors a flavour of the camaraderie and banter of the place.

That said, I’m not writing this wearing rose tinted glasses about the job of mining. My grandad, great grandad, great uncle, my dad’s cousins all worked in the mines of the South Wales valleys. My grandad hated it. “No son of mine is ever going to work down a mine.” The day he started working at the pits as a teenager, a body was brought up from underground (the deceased man is mentioned in part of the museum), so I can’t say I blame him and he worked his arse off to have a career in another sector.

I am, however, writing this sat in the second largest town in Wales that only sprung into existence on this scale because of the coal industry but I’m also writing this in a time when we’re looking for cleaner energy sources than fossil fuels. Museums are powerful when you can make those connections.

The Big Pit

For more info, opening hours, directions and all that, head here: museum.wales/bigpit/

Tim Peake's spacesuit and helmet on display at National Museum Cardiff. the light bounces off the top of the glass helmet and the dark background make it look like it's in space.
Places To Go, Things To Do

Tim Peake’s Spacecraft lands in Cardiff

I don’t think I’ve ever felt such a buzz in National Museum Cardiff as we experienced at  Tim Peake’s Spacecraft Family Day last weekend and we go there pretty frequently. It was alive with people of all ages getting excited about space.

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama held a lunchtime concert featuring the Star Wars theme. Live music accompanied visitors journeying through the Evolution of Wales. Dizzy Pineapple glittered the faces of children at their stall. Cardiff Astronomic Society helped children and grown-ups to use their telescopes and share their passion. Did you know their observatory is in the Vale of Glamorgan’s very own National Trust site Dyffryn Gardens?

The most thrilling part of our whistle stop tour was seeing Tim Peake’s actual real life capsule that he hurtled back to Earth in FROM ACTUAL SPACE complete with genuine scorch marks. Looking like the result of a giant conker, a submarine and a bell merging in a mad science experiment,  the Soyuz capsule is accompanied by its colossal draped parachute.  Tim Peake’s spacesuit is on display too and the whole thing totally grabbed our imaginations. It’s free! You can see this for no pennies. There are space themed activities you can have a go at and you can step into a spacesuit for those essential selfies and boomerangs.

The Soyuz space capsule in whichTim Peake hurtled back to Earth from the ISS. Looking like a cubmarine crossed with a conker, this bell shaped capsule has a small circular window and scorch marks.
Tim Peake’s Soyuz Capsule

We zoomed through on the opening weekend partly because we were going to the Wales v Tonga match that day at the Principality Stadium but also because we have every intention of heading back another time or two to delve deeper into the exhibition and mooch more slowly on a quieter day.

There’s a Virtual Reality experience for teens and up as part of the exhibition which costs £6 per person and is narrated by the main man himself, Tim Peake. This VR adventure takes you on a 250 mile journey from the International Space Station back to Earth in a Soyuz capsule just like the one on display.

The exhibition is in Cardiff until 10th February 2019. It’s part of a national tour presented by Samsung and the Science Museum Group so make space in your diary to see it before it launches elsewhere.

For full details, head to the museum’s website: https://museum.wales/cardiff/whatson/10260/Tim-Peakes-Spacecraft/

theatre, Things To Do

Review: Discover Dance

Last night (Friday 9th February 5pm) we had an after school theatrical treat, discovering dance with National Dance Company Wales at Sherman Theatre. I was accompanied (as ever) by my 11 year old stepdaughter and 9 and 5 year old sons. None of them go to dance classes but they all enjoyed the event. Even surly Nine who didn’t want to join in the first half “no way”.

NDCWales’s Discover Dance production is a game of two halves. We kick off with an introduction from the effervescent Lee Johnston, the company’s Rehearsal Director which she explains is like being the coach. We’re taken through the dancers’ warm up routines with a chance for everyone who’s up for it  to join the dancers on stage.

It’s a credit to the team and the welcoming, open tone they set that so many of the children in the audience were keen to have a go. Eleven and Five threw themselves into the opportunity. As Five said:

“It was really fun to go on stage. I’ve never been on a big stage like that. Sometimes I get nervous but the dancer made me feel happy because they showed me the moves. I think all the other children enjoyed it too.”

We swiftly move on to some exercises and sections of Folk, the production we’re treated to in the second half. Again, we’ve got the chance to join in and one of the exercises in particular fired up my boys:

Nine: “It was really satisfying when they did the crackling out of the ice. That’s the kind of movement game I’d like to play at home or school.”

Five: “Also Mum I liked the bit when they were doing hurricane bits. I liked the bits where he finished one of them, he keeped quiet for a little bit then he said loudly “Crazy crazy! There’s a tornado! Then you can just feel the snow melting and the ice in the water.””

We get to wave at the techies at the back of the seats as Lee tells us about the lights and sound that play their parts in a show. It’s a great way to highlight the whole range of skills and roles that are needed to pull a production together.

Nine: Charlie was the boss of the music and Adam was in charge of the lights.

Five: They did a really good job.

Half time comes and we break for an ice cream from the mid-refurb Sherman foyer, wees and a chance for the dancers to get changed and ready for their performance.

The second half is a half hour dance piece called Folk which absolutely flew by. Choreographed by Caroline Finn, it’s a perfect choice for a family audience with characters that feel both otherworldly and recognisable and a beautifully striking set designed by Joe Fletcher.

Nine: “Folk was quite cool because the tree was hung from the roof. This woman was randomly speaking Italian and it was quite funny. It was quite witch-like when they were doing the witch circle.”

Five: “It was spectacular! I liked the show when it was nearly at the end because I like imagination. And I liked the other bit when there was a teensy bit left to the end because it was just like a made up language and it was really funny.

It was great because I like puppet shows, they were making them look like puppets because they were copying. (*Nine demonstrates the moves we learnt in our seats during the first part of the show*).

The whole thing used up lots of funny imaginations. Whoever’s imaginations they were, I like their imaginations.

The music, it was good because I liked the one where it was sort of harmony like sort of calm. The beginning sounded like they were definitely in France and then there was some music that made me feel in the jungle and then Tokyo, is that the capital of Japan?”

Eleven: “It was really fun. I thought the show was really good and I loved the music.”

After Folk, the dancers return to the stage to answer questions from a buzzing audience. “Where are you from?” “When did you start dancing?” “What’s your favourite type of dance?”

Nine: “It was great because you could ask questions at the end so we could find out where they came from and how they started dancing. They were from lots of different countries, even America.”

Watching dance is a fabulous way to inspire keen dancers but it’s also brilliant for kids in general. There’s room for imagination, the chance to weave your own story, to laugh at something because it tickles your funny bone without words or slapstick.

Wales should be very proud of their dance company. They’re presenting beautiful work and stirring a love of dance. Discover Dance is an ideally relaxed way to introduced new audiences to contemporary dance and gives young people a chance to interact with the professionals.

Five: “I’d like to watch more dance because it’s funny sometimes and you get to do lots of different moves and when you dance it’s kind of like doing exercise and it’s good for you because it helps you stay healthy.”

Nine: “I’d like to watch more dance because it can be strange in certain ways and funny. It was very weird because usually you’d have a tree on the ground and you wouldn’t use a brush to sweep leaves, you’d use a rake.”

We were also intrigued to get a sneaky peak at the developments in Sherman Theatre’s foyer, which got a thumbs up from hard to please Eleven: “I LOVED the redecorating, it feels cosy but big too.” We’re big fans of the venue, their range of family friendly productions and the utterly awesome Sherman 5 scheme that has genuinely opened up the doors to so many people.

Discover Dance is touring the UK this spring, heading to Huddersfield, Brecon, Shrewsbury, Aberystwyth, Newtown, Mold, Newport, Swansea and Derby. Full tour dates on www.ndcwales.co.uk.