“The room gets really really tense. Sometimes just being surrounded by white walls isn’t really that nice.” ~ Wesley Branch
The studio is working towards developing a strong dialogue with London’s creative community; asking how we can maintain, develop and understand the city’s studios. The multi-disciplinary community requires different spaces for different practices, from painting to performance.
Wesley Branch is a London based pre-professional dancer, set to tour the UK at the end of this month with My First Ballet: Swan Lake dancing with the English National Ballet School. We speak to Wesley about how the studio can hold the intensity of dance, the small world of London’s dance community and how the future could materialise.
What is your definition of a studio?
Usually somewhere, a big space and well lit so it’s quite bright. Typically it will have to have mirrors, and depending on what type of dance it is, it will have to have sprung floor or wooden floor. If it’s something like tap, it will need wooden floor because the tap shoes won’t sound right with sprung flooring. But if its ballet or contemporary, because they both have a lot of jumping and there’s a lot of impact, you need to have sprung flooring. All the dance schools have a board and need to be inspected and I think legally, you can’t have a full-time dance school without having sprung floors— because everyone would just get injured. But there’s not a strong guideline for a studio really. It’s basically just a space for movement. An open space where you can do a lot.
How do you believe the formula of collaborative spaces could work for dance studios?
I think dance is very much a community. It’s quite a small community. So we like to compact ourselves to the same places. Like the commercial, jazz and street dancers generally prefer Pineapple Studios, and ballet dancers usually prefer Danceworks. If I speak past terms and I need to do a class before I go back to school, I would want to go to Danceworks because to be honest, I’d probably see someone I know, or a professional or just someone within the dance world. If there are too many studios for the professional dance industry, I don’t think it would really work that well because we like to be around each other. I think even if there were five new studios in London and they all had the most amazing teachers. Even if they had the most amazing facilities, it still might not work, people still might prefer to go to the rundown Danceworks simply just because that’s where everyone goes. Obviously, people might move around, but if there are about five different studios… there can only really be one or two because its such a small world and its so compact; you want to dance with other people of your level because if you’re dancing with people at your level or above it inspires you to be better. But if I was to go to a studio where there were people who weren’t professional or full-time dancers I probably wouldn’t work as hard, I wouldn’t want to push myself as much
Is hiring a studio a viable option for dancers?
I’ve never heard of people hiring studios for practice, I know you can hire them. I know that what people do quite often, nowadays when you’re auditioning you have to send photos and a video. That can be quite time-consuming and you have to be by yourself, a lot of people hire studios. But I’ve never really heard of people rehearsing in a tier studio. When you’re rehearsing for something it’s usually a show, and if there’s a show, there’s already that designated time for rehearsing it.
Typically, I hate rehearsing, because you learn something and you just rehearse it over and over and over again. They work everything out for you until you don’t want to rehearse it anymore. The only thing I can think of is if someone was starting up a new company, they’d obviously need rehearsal space. A lot of people need studios for casting or for modeling.
What would your perfect studio look like?
Good mirrors are so important. Mirrors say so much about a studio because like even at school I had my certain point at the bar.. because a mirror can make you look taller, make you look slimmer, make you look bigger depending on how you’re feeling. I think mirrors are the most important. When I was in Chicago, my room didn’t even have a window and I didn’t notice until the last day. Some people need light though. The facilities at ENB are quite bad, there’s no natural light but at my last school they had all new studios and there amazing. The only thing about natural light is… as a dancer you might be working from 8.30 till 6.30 and when it comes to winter if you have a cast at 8.30 in the morning, its dark. You go through the whole day, and you might still have the afternoon worth of classes, and it gets to 4.30/ 5 and it gets dark. I hate dancing in the dark so that’s just my opinion.
If you were to think a studio of the future, how would this materialise?
I think the studios at Tring were really nice, they were out of timber I think. The whole building was made out of wood. That was really really nice, it just had a warm feeling to it. Instead of the hard white walls, because if you’re doing a dance class, a ballet class can get really really intense. They’ve added a 3-hour ballet class about 3 or 4 times a week now, and the room gets really really tense. And sometimes just being surrounded by white walls isn’t really that nice. And also if you’re like doing turns, when you’re pirouetting you have to spot something. And spotting at a white wall is very very hard because there’s literally nothing to spot at. On With wooden walls, there’s always something you can look at, even if its a tiny little detail that you can look at and consistently go back and spot on it as you’re turning. I always preferred looking at the wooden wall. But for a studio for the future, I can’t really think because studios are so set up. It’s always been the same; the bar on the wall with mirrors, and recently the sprung floor- which isn’t recent at all- but in dance terms sprung floor is new.
What is important in terms of location and facilities?
Most studios are in central London. My school is right by central, and it’s really important for it to be close to food places. But my school’s in Chelsea, and obviously, I’m there six days a week. And there are food places everywhere, but everything is so expensive. And dancers, you could be a professional dancer in an amazing company and you still won’t have enough money to go and have your lunch at a really expensive cafe every single day. So I think if there’s affordable food, like a canteen or something. I know that Royal Ballet Company has a canteen, and I can just imagine how convenient that is. The only thing, they’d probably really control our food…
This is so important, so for open classes, they are usually back to back, in order to use the space as much as possible. So a lot of the time you can’t actually warm up before your class, but if there was a space to warm up with a bar, like a small studio. That warm-up space could also be a social space, that would be perfect.
Understanding the typical formula for studios isn’t always consistent; the nature of the studio is just as dynamic as the creative community.