ALUMNI PROFILE: STEPH DE’ATH – HEAD OF DANCE SCIENCE
We were thrilled to have the opportunity to do a Q and A with Steph De’Ath. Steph is Head of Dance Science at London Contemporary Dance School where her role involves three main areas of work; healthcare, education and research. Steph offers some fabulous advice for students who are interested in furthering their studies in Dance or Dance Science and considering a career in this field.
When did you first become interested in Dance?
My earliest childhood memories revolve around dancing. Since a very young age, I used to love putting on ‘performances’ for my family (I’d even create pretend tickets for them for the show) and despite being a very shy child, I used to love performing with my dance school or primary school. At 6 years old I have a vivid memory of doing a dance routine to the Spice Girls and realising that music was ‘a thing’ and something you could enjoy moving to.
When I got to secondary school I realised that dance was more than just for performing, I realised that you can dance for yourself, to experience joy, to explore your body’s capabilities, to express emotion or a story. My interest in dance has been ever-changing but it has been a lifelong passion. It’s important to note that whilst I started from a young age, which may be typical for some people, I have many friends and colleagues who started dancing in their mid-to-late teens and have had a hugely enjoyable and successful career. You certainly don’t need to start dance at an early age to be ‘good’ at dance.
As a child, did you do classes at a dance school, if so, what genres?
From 3 years old I partook in ballet, tap and modern. I took a short break age 10-12 and then continued with ballet and modern. Throughout this time, I worked my way through the RAD (Royal Academy of Dance Exams) and enjoyed taking part in our dance school summer shows.
How did your interest in dance develop at Richmond School and Sixth Form College?
My interest in dance developed through two amazing teachers Miss Hargest (now Victoria Sellers) and Mrs Dodds. The passion and dedication they had for dance and for their students was the most infectious energy and something I still try to channel to this day. They made dance so fun that my friends and I never wanted to leave the dance studio! After school or on our lunch break we would be in the studio rehearsing, creating and having fun. At 15, I joined North Yorkshire County Youth Dance Company, which is thanks to Richmond School who brought them in for a workshop. Whilst in the company we travelled to London to take part in a dance festival, which is now called U Dance and run by One Dance UK. Miss Hargest taught us about the many layers of dance, how to create dance and how to care for our dancing bodies. Mrs Dodds taught us how to feel alive whilst performing. My most special memories from Richmond School and Sixth Form College are in the dance studio.
Did you have opportunities to perform at school and how important were these to you?
We had many exciting performance opportunities when at school and sixth form. This included the school shows, local dance and arts festivals, and the annual talent show. These were hugely important for exposing us to how a performance is brought together, including backstage and front of house teams. It also nourished our creative ideas and I’m grateful to have been at a school that valued dance and the arts so passionately.
Did you study Dance to A-level?
I did study Dance at A-level (and at GCSE too). I found it enjoyable to explore dance through a practical and theoretical lens, and it helped me to gain a deeper understanding of dance works and creating dance.
After your A-levels did you further your studies in Dance, if so, where did you go and what course did you take?
When I left Richmond Sixth Form College I went to Middlesex University to study BA(Hons) Dance Performance. This was an exciting time as I was able to move to London and experience the dance culture in London, including the opportunity to go to open classes and to the theatre. The course was situated within the Contemporary dance genre and I felt very well equipped for the course, thanks to my GCSE and A-Level Dance studies at Richmond School.
Please tell us about your career path since you completed your studies
Whilst I was at Middlesex University completing my undergraduate degree, we had a module each year that was called Dance Science. During these modules we would learn about anatomy, nutrition, injury prevention, fitness, and dance psychology. The aim of exploring all these topics was to take care of our dancing bodies by reducing the risk of injury and increase our performance ability. I found these classes fascinating and noticed quite early on that it was one of my favourite classes, which on reflection isn’t much of a surprise as at school I really enjoyed my science lessons too. These modules stimulated a lot of curiosity and subsequently I focussed my dissertation on dance injuries amongst university dance students.
During my third year I became aware of the opportunity to study Dance Science at a Postgraduate level and subsequently went on to Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and dance the next year to complete an MSc in Dance Science. After this, I was fortunate to do two years as a Dance Science graduate intern at Trinity Laban, which afforded me lots of networking and experience opportunities. I spent the next 8 years as a freelancer, completing research studies looking at how dance impacts people’s wellbeing, teaching dance science to dancers in undergraduate training and, after completing a Level 5 diploma with NLSSM, I became a soft tissue therapist work with pre-professional dancers. After this, I was the co-manager of the National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science, which is an organisation supporting UK dancer’s health and well-being. Finally, I was able to combine all this experience into one role as Head of Student Welfare at London Studio Centre for almost 4 years and now, where I currently work, as Head of Dance Science at London Contemporary Dance School.
As you can probably tell, it wasn’t a typical career path and I’ve had what is sometimes called a ‘portfolio career’. Whilst I had a general idea of what I was passionate about and where I would like my career to go, I could never have predicted the path that unfolded. This is because there is not a typical pathway into dance science, which should be seen as an exciting opportunity, rather than something intimidating.
Your current position is Head of Dance Science at London Contemporary Dance School, what does this role involve?
My current role involves three main areas of work; healthcare, education and research. In terms of healthcare, I manage the healthcare team at London Contemporary Dance School, which includes physiotherapists, a soft tissue therapist, a strength and conditioning coach, and a nutritionist. I am responsible for overseeing all our injury cases and supporting students with any physical development goals they may have, to enhance their training and performance experience. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to teach the students, specifically teaching dance science to our first years. And, I’m very excited to be able to undertake research as part of my role. At the moment we are conducting a long-term research project looking at how to structure the students’ training so that they can be at their best, both physically and mentally, whilst trying to reduce the chance of fatigue, burnout or injury. This requires lots of careful planning to ensure that the number of classes they have per day and the intensity of their classes is mapped out over time, to allow the students to peak at the right moment.
What advice would you give to students who are considering a career in dance?
If you are considering a career in dance or dance science, I would encourage you wholeheartedly. My main advice would be to be openminded about what opportunities await you, as there is so much more to dance than performing and there is so much more to performing than just dancing. Like many things, we only grow when we step outside the boundaries of our comfort zone, so take a risk and share something at your annual talent show, audition for the school play, take part in after-school clubs or workshops. By immersing yourself in lots of different experiences you will be able to broaden your knowledge of dance practice and start to form connections and the beginnings of a professional network. Moreover, you may discover an unexpectedly fun experience!
If you are particularly interested in Dance Science, I would recommend looking at the undergraduate courses offered at Trinity Laban and University of Chichester. They both offer a BSc in Dance Science, which allow you to hone your dance craft whilst exploring and analysing dance through a scientific lens. And of course, I would be amiss to not say, if you are interested in studying Contemporary Dance, I would hugely recommend you looking at London Contemporary Dance School and our BA(Hons) in Contemporary Dance. And if you want to do a masters afterwards, LCDS offers a range of courses! Finally, regardless of where your interests lie across dance, I would advise to not be put off exploring this as a career for fear of it being a challenging or undervalued career pathway. The arts are so valued, and we have seen that demonstrated strongly during the pandemic where we all turned to digital art and theatre to stoke our morale during those difficult times. Audiences were eager to return to theatres once they reopened. Dance needs bold, fearless, passionate young artists, and if you think this sounds like you, there is a whole dance community waiting for you with open arms.
(Headshot image credit: JK Photography)