I was awarded a Lisa Ullmann Travel Scholarship in 2009-2010 and the focus of my trip was to travel to New York, to develop my knowledge in House Dance, Waacking and Vogueing to inform my work as a choreographer. Fast forward to 2018 and I am really excited to look back at my journey!
I came to the conference primarily as a dance practitioner who had moved into managing projects and, at that time, was Director of Citymoves in Aberdeen, Scotland. I was invited to contribute to the conference with a presentation on Generations, a project we had produced in 2002 for Aberdeen Art Gallery involving 60 local performers aged from 5 – 70. This was the first international conference that I had attended and it was both terrifying and exhilarating to have this opportunity. The experience of participating in this conference helped me to consider our work from an international perspective, and also opened me up to many different approaches to dance and performance making.
Receiving the scholarship and training in New York was such a life changing experience for me at a time where I was questioning my career path and trying to decide should I stay in project management or take the leap of faith to explore my artistry.
My initial reason was about informing my work as a choreographer but what I received through my trip was so much more. It birthed a person, a woman, an artist who finally understood that the only way to really be happy and succeed in life was through being authentic to who I was, what I liked and what I was wanted to do. Something that should be so simple ‘being yourself’ is actually the most challenging thing to do in this world and I came back from that trip empowered to ‘live my life’ and support those around me to do the same.
In 2013, after working on the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic ceremonies as a Mass Movement Choreographer, I decided to be bold and create my first full length show called Our Mighty Groove (OMG) inspired by a life-changing night at a club in New York where I was literally ‘baptised’ on the dance floor. I came into the club loosing all my self confidence and left re-born feeling like Janet Jackson!
Since this pivotal moment in my career, creating OMG, I have continued to walk in my own path sharing my learning with all who are in need of it. My company Uchenna Dance (set up in January 2009) is going from strength to strength and the mission here is to Empower, Entertain and Educate those we work with which is a direct result of my trip to New York and experiencing the life changing moment I did in that club. It made me realise that when we feel good about ourselves we have the ability to achieve the things we want to. It’s fear and not wanting to fail that stops us from taking action and making things happen.
I now use dance and the experiences from my trip to encourage others to have faith in themselves and in the words of Nike ‘just do it’. This could be in various ways ways that include watching a show of mine, being coached, taking a dance class / workshop or working with me as a performer.
Everything I do is about enabling others to Think Fierce, Be Fabulous and Live Free Spirited. And it is a blessing to do this with dance and movement… I still pinch myself to check I am not dreaming. I have actually built a career with the thing that I love so much, it’s a humbling and rewarding feeling and one I don’t take for granted.
Since 2013 I have made two full length shows OMG and The Head Wrap Diaries (THWD). THWD is just finishing its second season of touring with a cool 32 performances with bookings still coming in for Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019! I have worked as a mass movement choreographer on three other games these are Sochi 2014, Glasgow 2014 and the Islamic Solidarity Games in Baku in 2017. I work as a facilitator, trainer and visiting lecturer for various companies, organisations and educational institutions East London Dance, Artists 4 Artists and the University of East London. I am a Trustee at One Dance UK, the UK body for dance and have recently become an Associate Artist at The Place via their Work Place programme. I am now beginning work on my third full length show Hansel and Gretel (with an Uchenna twist!) a co-commission by The Place and Dance East, a family show that will tour Nationally between Christmas 2018 and Spring 2020.
The support through the LUTSF is part of the foundation to my work and practice today giving me much more than just dance but a way of being that has enabled me to take charge of my life as I support other to do the same on their individual journeys. I encourage anyone who wants to travel to invest in themselves and make it happen. The LUTSF is definitely the best place to start.
Photographer: Foteini Christofilopoulou
Company: Uchenna Dance Show: The Head Wrap Diaries
Performer Sheila Attah