Dance Proms – a collaboration between the Royal Academy of Dance, Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing and the International Dance Teachers’ Association – is a celebration of both young dancers and dance teaching. The event, now in its sixth year, gives teachers and students around the UK and Europe a chance to respectively choreograph for and perform at the Royal Albert Hall. This year’s show featured 22 acts and nearly 400 performers, all under the age of 21, with representatives from dance schools across England and Scotland as well as Malta, Italy, Portugal and Gibraltar.
The evening was a glittering affair, from the champagne-laden VIP gala to the flashy parade of patrons and guests, among them Darcey Bussell and Dame Beryl Grey. West End performer and So You Think You Can Dance champ Matt Flint gamely acted as compère, delivering a steady stream of introductions and informative tidbits over the course of the programme. And yet, for all the glitz a down-to-earth vibe prevailed during the performances themselves, aided by the casual lingering of the dancers in the hallways beforehand and the heartening whoops from family and friends throughout – a reminder that the event is less about showing off the talents of dancers and their teachers than celebrating their hard work and dedication.
The 22 acts comprised an array of styles – from jazz to contemporary to Latin formation – though there were some notable omissions given the geography covered. No hip-hop, breaking or Indian classical work featured, for example, and only one tap and one ballet piece were shown. On the other hand, a few unexpected genres cropped up, like an upbeat cheerleading routine from Rushby Dance & Fitness and a folksy character offering from Mayhew School of Dance & Performing Arts. On the whole the programme was fast-moving and stimulating, and while the quality of choreography on show varied, it was an overall professionally executed event.
An all-male teen troupe called Khronos, from Croydon’s BRIT School, delivered one of the sharpest performances of the evening, mixing powerful tumbles and tight unison work in a demanding contemporary piece with nearly 30 dancers. Advanced choreography was also on display in Dupont Dance Stage School’s Blue Suede Shoes, a punchy jazz number with high kicks and frisky shoulder rolls, as well as Jayne A Coleman Academy’s Mercy, a ghostly lyrical work with flowing skirts and complicated formations. Danscentre’s You and Me, a sweet coming-of-age gambol featuring three couples ranging in age from around six to 16, was among the most accomplished small-group works, while Diamond Dancentre’s Latin Fusion, with its precise lines and exacting footwork, made a strong showing on the large-group front.
Some pieces let the music work harder than the dance, particularly the lyrical ones, but there was no shortage of personality across the programme. The young dancers from Dance Unity and Centre Stage Academy brought oodles of sass and oomph, while the tappers of Studio One were charmingly energetic and jazzy. Expressions Theatre Arts’ impassioned tribute to Alvin Ailey’s Revelations – set to “Wade in the Water” – was especially rousing, the dancers whirling their big white skirts in a nod to the work’s famous twirling umbrella, as was the finale, which saw all 400 dancers unite on stage for a peppy clapping number.
Two guest acts complemented the young dancers: the Royal Ballet’s Meaghan Grace Hinkis and Luca Acri, performing the pas de deux from Flames of Paris, and ballroom professionals Warren and Kristi Boyce in a two-couple waltz with their young son and his dance partner. Hinkis and Acri comfortably filled the cavernous stage with giant leaps and dozens of fouettes, the former proving especially deft at handling the variation’s fussy petit allegro. The Boyces, meanwhile, delivered a sturdy, if slightly syrupy, ballroom routine, all gliding steps and tricksy footwork.
Before the performance, I passed a few groups of dancers in the foyer, their nervous giggles a far cry from the confidence displayed on stage. Hats off to them – performing at such a large venue is no easy undertaking, and they pulled it off with poise, professionalism and plenty of pizazz.