50 over 50 interviewees – Fenella Juanita Barker – Flamenco and Spanish Dancer, teacher and choreographer

 

  1. Tell us more about yourself. What do you do and how long you’ve been working in this industry?

I’m a dancer, teacher and choreographer; now mainly working in Flamenco and Spanish dance. I first performed professionally when I was 11, dancing in Billy Smart’s Children’s Circus on BBC1, and I began teaching as a qualified dance teacher when I was 19. I’ve been dancing since I was 4 – I’m now over 50! My passion for dance has never changed or diminished – there was never anything else I really wanted to do.

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I was initially trained in ballet, contemporary, jazz, tap and Spanish dance (Flamenco, Regional and Classical). When I was much older I added character dance to the mix (Russian, Ukrainian, Cossack, Gypsy, Uzbek, Moldavian, Georgian, Armenian, English folk and clogging).

When I was younger my aim was to perform until I was 30 because that was the typical expected upper age limit for a professional dancer, but I just didn’t seem to stop and just changed the dance styles!

I spent my 20s and early 30s touring in contemporary and jazz dance companies (including 6 years with Springs Dance Company).I then began to focus more on Flamenco and Spanish dance. While doing this, I met my husband who was a ballet and Cossack dancer. Through him, I got introduced to the world of Character Dance and spent 8 years performing with the National Character Dance Company (formerly Romanska Folk Ballet).

After this I began to focus much more on my ‘lifelong dance loves’ – Flamenco and Spanish dance. Over the years I worked in a number of Flamenco and Spanish dance companies (in the UK and Europe). Now I regularly perform with my current company, Flamenco y Danza, which I have been a part of for the last 5 years.

I have also been fortunate enough to work for educational establishments that really support me in developing my Flamenco and Spanish dance teaching and choreography: Morley College London, where I am the Flamenco and Spanish dance tutor and where I run a student performance company, Morley Flamenco Dance Ensemble; and Landon Jennings Dance Studios, where I teach Spanish Dance Association syllabus work to children and adults. I’m also a qualified Spanish Dance Association (formerly Spanish Dance Society) teacher, elected member of their UK, Europe, Russia & Mexico Executive Committee and Advisor to their Artistic Committee.

  1. Who did you want to be when you were a kid?

A dancer, choreographer and dance teacher – all in that order! As I got older, I was also interested in dance and fashion journalism.

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  1. What was your ‘punch in the stomach’ or when did you first realise that this is going to become your career?

I think there were two of these:

First, seeing the London Contemporary Dance Theatre perform at my brother’s school. This was when I realised it’s what I was meant to do.

The second one happened when I was about the same age and saw a demonstration of Escuela Bolera (Classical Spanish Dance) at an IDTA conference. I knew that was something I desperately wanted to do. I was brought up with Spanish music but had never seen Escuela Bolera before. This led to a deep love of all forms of Spanish Dance, including Flamenco, Danza Estilizada, Escuela Bolera and Regional.

  1. What were the 3 biggest obstacles in pursuit of your career
  •   As a child, I never felt good enough – never small enough, dainty enough or pretty enough to succeed in dance.
  •   My parents tried to persuade me to secure a steady ‘normal’ job. Now they are very proud of all I’ve achieved in the dance world and they’ve been an enormous support to me along the way.
  •   When I was a kid my parents couldn’t afford to send me to a full-time vocational dance school.

But despite these (or maybe because of them), all I wanted to do was dance, so I found my own way to do it. Encountering and overcoming these obstacles has made me the dancer I am today and, I hope, that it also made me an encouraging and compassionate teacher.

  1. Where do you find inspiration?
  • Watching dance, not just Flamenco and Spanish dance but any dance that comes   from the soul.
  • Listening to music.
  • Reading books.
  • Looking at paintings and drawings (dance and non-dance subjects too).
  • Talking to dancers, musicians, actors, artists, other inspirational people.
  • Thinking.
  • Just life.
  1. What challenges do you face in this industry as a ‘50+ artist’?

I think the dance world has changed so much and older dancers are so much more respected and accepted than they used to be.

Also, I now work in Flamenco and Spanish dance, where age and experience have always been revered. Having said that, there’s still a lot of pressure to look young. It comes from society and spills over into dance. It’s hard not to look at younger, thinner dancers and not to feel a bit old and jaded. But then I remind myself that I was once that young, thin and vibrant dancer too. Now I feel lucky to be an older, wiser and more mature dancer.

  1. What advice would you give someone who is about to start their career but is being told that it’s ‘too late’?

Always follow your dreams because you only get one life. But, remember, a life in dance is not for the faint-hearted. If you want to dance more than anything else in the world, then go for it, keep going for it and do ignore whatever anyone else says. Only then you will succeed and you will have no regrets.

  1. Do you have any idols and if so, who and why?

In the dance world: L’Argentina (Antonia Merce – legendary Spanish Dancer in 1920s, Maestra of castanets), La Meri (wrote an amazing book on Spanish Dance), Antonio Gades (for creating La Boda de Sangre, Carmen & El Amor Brujo), Alvin Ailey (for creating Revelations), Martha Graham (do I need to say more).

  1. What’s your life motto?

Keep believing. Keep hoping. Treat others as you would like to be treated.

  1. You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What colour would you be and why?

RED for passion and fire.

Want to know more about Fenella? Connect with her on Facebook, catch her at Morley College and Landon Jennings Dance studios, or watch her dance with Flamenco y Danza.

 

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