Elevate Arts work with Berrymede Junior school in South Acton. Each September we hold an open audition for their pupils to join the school street dance crew, Eximius. Those who show potential at the audition are then invited to join the crew. We work with Eximius one lunchtime a week, teaching them street dance foundations, how to freestyle and we put together a choreographed dance piece which we then go and perform at various shows and competitions around the UK.

Eximius have won a couple of competitions including the UDO National Schools (street dance category) and shake it out (where the prize was to headline at the London Youth Games finals opening ceremony) but; in 4 years of competing at The Great Big Dance Off, have never been successful in placing. This year our piece combined technique with creativity and fun, a mixture of old skool and new skool. We didn’t focus on the competition criteria as this never seemed to get us anywhere. Instead, we just “done us” and looked at it as an opportunity to showcase what we can do rather than go there trying to win.

Leading up to the competition, with only a couple of weeks left, we had only got about a third of our piece complete. With the school’s support, Elevate Arts were able to have a few hours extra rehearsal with Eximius over this crucial time. In these rehearsals, the dancers worked hard and were given a lot of choreography, positions, transitions and counts to remember. They handled it well! We finished the piece in the penultimate rehearsal, it looked ok, however, the ending wasn’t perfect and we wondered if the dancers would remember it after the weekend for the competition on the Monday!

Monday morning came around. The ending did look a bit of a mess so we changed it. Once again, the dancers worked hard to absorb and remember the last-minute changes, as well as drilling the piece multiple times for 2 hours straight! Not sure if they were happy to be at dance or happy to be missing their usual lesson, either way, the hard work paid off, it looked great. Now the question was “Will they all remember these changes once they hit that stage, after hours of hanging around?”

We headed off on our coach to New Wimbledon Theatre and were called on for our technical run almost straight away. Backstage was mayhem! Dancers didn’t know which side of the stage they started on because they were thrown off with their orientation and one dancer was having a panic attack with stage fright. The music started and their spacing was out of place, we had dancers forgetting their parts, forgetting their cues to come on, the ending was messy, it wasn’t a great tech to say the least. But you know what they say about a bad tech and all that!

The doors opened, we went backstage and the show began. We had a little practice in the corridor by our dressing room just to iron out the little bit at the end, to ensure that no matter what we finished strong. We done our team chant to get our adrenaline flowing ready to pump us up and headed towards the wings. The 2 sides of the stage had already been separated into groups in the dressing room so everybody was ready on the right side of the stage.

The music started, it seemed to go well, the dancers enjoyed themselves, the audience laughed and cheered and we went back up to the theatre to wait for the results. We came and performed, that was our only mission. Each year we sit waiting, hoping to place top 5 and make it to the finals, but we never do. This year we think all the children knew what to expect and were hungry and tired and just wanted to get on the coach back home. The compare called out the winners of 5th place. 4th place. With each place, we knew our chances were even lower. Then she called out 3rd place. Before she could even finish our school name, the children suddenly woke up cheering in amazement, you would think we had a school of 100!

After 4 long years of competing at The Great Big Dance Off, we are so happy for Eximius. It shows hard work pays off, hours of repetitive drilling pays off and all you really need to do on that stage is perform to your heart’s content and have fun! We feel we have achieved something special by placing 3rd, now we need to really start working so we are ready for the finals on the 25th June in Oxford!