Tell us a little bit about yourself :)
Most people call me SJ and I am a primary school teacher currently living in Bath, UK but grew up just outside of London. I love dancing and have done so since I was three. My biggest achievements in dance are; dancing ballet in the London Olympic closing ceremony alongside my childhood hero Darcy Bussell. Coming second in the UDO World Street Dance Championships and most recently being selected as part of team England Pom to go to Florida and represent my country at the Cheerleading Worlds.
When I'm not dancing I am mostly found up a mountain or by the ocean. I went to University in Bangor, North Wales which is an amazing mix of both the mountains and glorious beaches. My hiking is usually coupled with multiple stops for cake and tea and I LOVE chocolate!
How did you get introduced to dancing?
I have always danced but when I went to do my teacher training course I joined the dance society which was linked with cheerleading and they introduced me to 'Pom dance'. It was everything I loved about dancing mixed together in one dance form. Pom is highly energetic and mostly revolves around a series of kicks, jumps, leaps and spins. These are all my favourite things to do in dance and this new style had me gripped from the first tryout session!
When did dancing get “serious”?
Just before I went to University I represented Great Britain at the World Gymnaestrada in Austria and a month later competed and took 2nd at the World Street Dance Championships. It was at that point that I realised I had reached another level with my dancing but I was about to leave London to go to a tiny city in North Wales where dancing opportunities were nil!! However, I joined the dance club and later captained it during my final year before going off travelling.
I'd pretty much stopped dancing and was focusing more on climbing and triathlons at this point when I saw an audition opportunity for the London 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony. I went along and got a call back for a second, ballet specific audition, and then a few weeks later got an email inviting me to dance in the closing ceremony! It was at this point that I dug out my pointe shoes and dance suddenly got serious! I was doing my Masters, working 3 jobs and training harder than I had ever done before so that I could stay on the team and dance at the Olympics! After this I eased off again until I went to study for my PGCE in Bath where I joined the Cheer and Dance society and from that point on dance has been an obsession that drives me to be better every single day!
Can you share your biggest challenges ?
My biggest challenge was a couple of years ago when I tore my hamstring tendon. I managed to compete at Nationals that year but it just wasn't healing no matter how much physio I had on it or time I had off. That summer I didn't dance for 3 months, rigidly stuck to my rehab program but still there was no real improvement. I decided I was done. I wasn't going back to dance, I couldn't imagine dancing when I couldn't even touch my toes let alone do the splits. Luckily for me right at the end of the summer there was an audition posted for Team England's first ever unified Pom Dance Team.
This was my dream and one that hadn't been achievable before as I wasn't living near any of the main Worlds teams. I was absolutely determined to make the squad and by auditions in October I was starting to get some flexibility and strength back. I got on the team, stuck to my rehab and by May the following year wasn't only back in splits but had improved my leg to better than it had ever been before the injury. It took almost 2 and a half years but it was worth every single second!!
How do you handle pressure?
I think most of the pressure I feel is actually put on by myself. I hold myself to very high standards and am never happy with my performances. I will always find something I could have done better. I use this pressure, as well as pressure put on by coaches, to spur me on positively. It is this pressure that helps me never settle and constantly seek for improvements so I deal with pressure by training harder and smarter.
There are times it feels too much and it is frustrating if I just can't get a new trick, or am not seeing improvements after a lot of work. When it feel like that I often just need some reassurance from someone or I'll eat chocolate and watch Bring it On till I snap out of it and get back to work!!
Can you share your thoughts on self consciousness?
I studied Sport Science at University and used to think the Sport Psychology modules were useless! However as I have got older I use methods such as visualization regularly as well as positive self talk. My self belief is probably the biggest difference from how I used to be when I was younger. It's so hard to have self belief when you're young and you take every criticism to heart. I always thought the worst and never thought I was good enough so naturally this was turned into negative nervous energy.
However now I have a little chat with myself before competing and remind myself of all the hours of work I have put in. I go out onto the floor believing I will do well and feeling like I just want to show the world my passion. I still get nervous from time to time especially when I'm doing stunts in cheerleading as so much can go wrong, however it's mostly good nervous energy and I no longer feel sick to the stomach before competing!!
What was your most embarrassing moment (in regards to your dancing of course ;)
I've gone horribly and obviously wrong on stage a few times before which is always embarrassing. I've also gone into a break dance battle and fallen flat on my face trying to do a windmill which was pretty humiliating too! Luckily I haven't had anything too bad during my dance career (yet). I have fallen embarrassingly off my bike in a triathlon though multiple times. The best was on a 100km bike race when it was freezing cold and snowy. I got to a stupidly steep and narrow hill and half way up, in my lowest gear, I had no more power left in my legs.
I was clipped into the bike and as I pushed down on the pedal nothing happened so the bike just tipped over with me still attached to the pedals and I was just lying, in the way, on the floor. The worst part was because my feet were so numb from the cold I couldn't twist them to unclip so I just lay flailing around on the floor while people were riding past and shouting at me to get out the way!! Needless to say I wanted the ground to swallow me up and I eventually continued up the hill walking and pushing my bike!
How did dancing influence your life in other ways?
Dancing has made me a more confident person. I am happy within my own skin which is something I struggled a lot with when I was a teenager. It improves my mood and gives me a positive outlet when I'm stressed or upset.I've made brilliant friendships through it and have got to travel the world and meet some amazing people who share my passion along the way.
The negative side is having to turn down so many parties/weddings/hen do's/ get togethers/weekends away... the list is endless. I don't regret missing these things as I love dance so much but I know some of my friends get frustrated with me when I tell them I can't because I have training! I also don't drink but I don't really mind this to be honest as it makes me feel healthier and I am always up for hitting the dance floor on a night out even when I'm sober! It also takes a lot of my money up so I am always broke!!
What does your daily routine look like ?
I wake up around 6:50, if I have any injuries then I'll get up earlier than this, go and get some ice then snooze for 15 minutes whilst icing the injury! I'm a primary school teacher and have to be at work at 7:45 which is a shame as I used to enjoy training before work when I had a 9-5 job. On Friday mornings I do manage to squeeze in a swim session still though. School finishes at 4:15pm an then I teach dance and cheer clubs until 5:15pm. I then race home, get changed and head off to my own dance classes. I usually have between 1-3 hours of class most nights and then I will stay for another hour to do my own training afterwards. I get in around 9pm most nights and then quickly cook dinner (if my fiance hasn't already got back and done it). Then eat, watch a bit of Netflix and then go to bed!
And what about your flexibility training ? Where does that fit in ?
I work on my flexibility when I'm nice and warm after dance class. I usually stay for an hour afterwards to work flexibility and drill technique. If I'm feeling stiff I'll sometimes carry this on at home using my rollers and lacrosse ball.
I find my back the hardest to train flexibility on and have to remind myself not to push it too hard each time or it ends up tightening up and getting worse. My biggest tip that has helped me is, after warming up do more dynamic stretches such as kicks before sitting an holding positions and pushing yourself further. I find this helps me gain the power along with the flexibility so that it becomes more functional so I am able to achieve my oversplit in the air during a leap as well as when sat on the floor.
I also found bands, walls and doorways help me get that extra little stretch!
What keeps you motivated?
My favourite quote of all time is .... "If you ever feel like giving up just remember there's a little girl watching who wants to be just like you." I think this especially rings true as a school and dance teacher. I want to send the right message to the children and show them that hard work, perseverance and resilience are the way to get where you want. I constantly tell the children I teach how bad I was at ballet when I was younger!! They never believe me when I tell them I didn't get a Distinction in an exam until grade 5 and then not again until grade 8!
Also other dancers on my team motivate me. We are only as strong as our weakest member and I never want to be in a position where I am that member!
What are your future plans/goals/dreams?
My ultimate goal is to open up my own cheer and dance school and start teaching dance full time. I also really want to get to finals at worlds before I stop dancing myself. Failing that a goal of mine would be to take a group of dancers myself and qualify them for worlds.
Any tips for passionate people starting out ?
Main tips would be:
Don't push too hard too fast or you will end up with injuries that will stay with you forever! Never cheat your technique it will only take more time in the long run to un-do and relearn the skill. Listen and apply all the corrections your dance teacher is saying, even if they're not directed at you. Perseverance is the key - don't give up on your dreams.
Anything you’d like to share?