Deborah Bull danced with The Royal Ballet between 1981-2001, becoming Principal Dancer in 1992. Now Creative Director of the Royal Opera House, she shared her thoughts on the dance sector.
"For me, the important thing about dance is that it’s a form of communication that cuts across cultures, across linguistic and social barriers. It allows us to put ourselves physically into other people’s shoes, and into their viewpoints.
"It encourages an understanding of other people’s motivations and feelings. It encourages tolerance, and I think there’s nothing more important right now."
"We have a very dynamic independent dance sector within the UK, and an extraordinary ballet sector. At the beginning of the 20th Century, there was no ballet at all in this country to speak of. Yet within 30 years of Dame Ninette de Valois deciding that we needed a National Ballet, we had one."
Dance and education
"It’s a healthy way to spend your time, in terms of overall cardiovascular fitness, bone density, obesity control, not to mention questions of goal-setting, discipline, a sense of communal achievement, team-building.
"Dance sits within PE, and is there as a compulsory subject up to Key Stage 3, after which it becomes optional.If you look at the description of the curriculum, the compulsory element is entirely about physicality. So it’s about teaching the child how to bend and stretch, bounce around, and so on.
"Dance is a form of communication that cuts across cultures, across linguistic and social barriers."
"When it becomes non-compulsory, it becomes more about the creative possibilities, interpretation, and self-discovery. So what you’re missing out on is the opportunity to address the art as something more than a physical exercise.
"Teaching dance is an obvious recourse for ex-dancers. Where I think there is a gap in the market is for people who can use classical ballet as a teaching tool in non-specialist or non-vocational environments. The use of dance as a creative approach, as a stimulus to the imagination."
Starting out in dance
"If you want to succeed in an elite skill (and I use that word unashamedly), whether it’s ballet or kathak, you really need a ten-year training period. That’s how long it takes to build the expert brain you need to control the very fast, very precise movements of dance.
"That training really has to take place before puberty sets in. So ideally, you need to be starting at least weekly ballet training by the age of six. Seven, you’re on the outside edge of it. And by the time you’re 11, you need to be in professional training."
"If you had a God-given gift, and the right proportions, the right muscle type, and had been doing other physical activities, maybe football, gymnastics, swimming, you might still be all right at age 12. At 15, forget it."
"If you look around the world, you’ll see certain countries, particularly in east Asia – China, Korea, Japan – starting their dance training as early as four. That means that by the time they hit the global job market, they will have an advantage over those who have started later.
"In Russia and Ukraine, they are in full professional training by about the age of 10, which is not too young, but it is a very harsh training that’s still influenced the old Soviet system. It’s a hothouse environment, with general education integrated into it."
How dance is seen in the Arts
"Dance has traditionally been the poor relation of the Arts. Historically, it was the interlude in the opera. People either went out and got their drinks while it was happening, or else they stayed to ogle the pretty girls.
"A newspaper that gives only a couple of column inches to dance as a whole can’t begin to cover the entire range."
"It’s only quite recently that we have been comfortable talking about body language, in the sense of the unspoken, innate language of physicality.
"Even during my own career, it was quite normal to open a paper and find half a page about a new art exhibition, and somewhere beneath would be a couple of inches saying, ‘Lindsey danced the Black Swan, and she was suffering from a bad cold’.
"One of the problems is getting it written about. There is no tradition of academic writing about dance, in the way there is in writing about music, and I think that applies worldwide.
"There are encouraging new developments in the work of people like Stephanie Jordan, but there isn’t a tradition of it. In that regard dance has perhaps suffered.
"What we’re seeing now in the diversity and plurality of types of dance is that there isn’t enough coverage. A newspaper that gives only a couple of column inches to dance as a whole can’t begin to cover the entire range, so that if you want to find intelligent writing about the whole field, you probably need to look online."