'Being a great dancer is FAR, FAR from enough' Velody gets us into the swing of things

Velody is a swing dancing guru and best-selling author – here she tells Mandy News all about jazz, blues and doing whatever it takes to get the right take.

3rd November 2017
/ By Andrew Wooding

Swing dancing interview VELODY

Velody, tell us where you’re from, what kind of dancing you do and when you first decided you wanted to dance professionally.
I am a proud Mancunian! I perform, choreograph and coach people on dances from The Jazz Age. I took Ballet and Tap at aged 5 and always kept moving to any great music I could find. After discovering Lindy Hop via Burlesque in 2008 I immediately immersed myself in the wonderful world of Swing Dancing.

To this day I love seeing the delight on people’s faces when they discover Lindy in one of my classes, events or performances too!

How did you go about learning your craft?
From about 6 weeks in I would drive or get on a plane to learn from the best in the business, around every 3rd weekend on average, so that I could practice what I had just learnt before moving on. I fused my new skills, my showmanship and my knowledge of jazz and blues music (the soundtrack to a lot of my youth) worked my butt off for years and the rest was easy!

What was your first job? How was it?
I was part of a troupe of maybe a dozen dancers who performed alongside Kevin Whatley, Derek Jacobi and Robson Green on Joe Maddison’s War. We had to dance Waltz, Foxtrot and a bit of Lindy hop in the crowd scenes. The moment I walked on set I thought “So this is what it’s like to come home”.

How did you then go on to get further work?
I kept my eyes and ears open in our vintage community & was part of the SA’s who did a lot of work on ‘Eric & Ernie’ (co-produced by the late great Victoria Wood). After two gigs as an SA (an ‘extra’), I decided to move on to being a specialist provider of vintage performers. I soon placed 16 dancers in an episode of ‘The Village’ on BBC and I sang with my 1940s band for ‘HomeFires’ on ITV. Crafting a 3-gal troupe performance for the upcoming film release

“To Trend on Twitter” was when I knew I had ‘arrived’, IMDB credit to boot!

You’ve done work on stage and TV. Tell us how the processes differ for you as a dancer. Whether rehearsal time, time of production or anything else you’ve noticed.
The key thing is to be able to know your style(s) inside and out so you can modify your dancing to what’s required on any given day. You may need to reproduce a routine multiple times, night after night, so timing and rapport with the rest of the company are key. For TV everything usually needs to be an EXACT REPLICA, time after time - this isn’t for everybody, it can be draining - but the end results are awesome if you can stick with it!

I tend to over-prepare and then I can just roll with it on the day itself.

Always be prepared for a lot of waiting around followed by flurries of activity!

What have been your most interesting and challenging productions? Any interesting stories? Travelled much for work?
Choreographing a routine down to the second in advance then finding out I needed to begin the shot crouched down and take 30 seconds to straighten up. I went through half a dozen ideas (on set with everyone watching) til I got the right one! On Joe Madison's War It was a great challenge when the principals were recording dialogue as we were filling a dance floor around them - but our shoes were making too much noise. 

We ended up dancing barefoot, to a very light brush on the snare drum to keep in time! We also had to keep running silently behind the camera, over the track and back-around to keep the continuity of the shot going!

One aspect that hasn’t quite worn off yet is the getting up at 4/5am and getting a flight to a festival in the USA or travelling to a set.

I’m sure it will get old one day, but for now I still love it!

Are there any dancing myths that people believe starting out that you can reveal aren’t true?
It isn’t who you know, it’s who knows you!

How much practice is too much and how much is not enough – for physical endurance?
You know you’re rusty when calves, Achilles or hips feel tight the day after a performance! When you’re aching, bored or the adrenaline rush just isn’t there anymore you may have done just enough!

Some people pick up some terrible injuries. How do you take care of yourself and avoid this?
After I smashed my 5th left metatarsal and spent 6 weeks on crutches when a move went wrong I took a fresh look at how I was using my body. I walk my dog, Bou Bou, every day, take great care of my feet and book immediate physio appointments if anything comes up. 

Doing the warm-ups is pretty easy, it’s the cool downs where most people fall short. Do something daily that supports your overall strength and agility but isn’t tied to your career - e.g. yoga, martial arts, climbing. Take the time to find your own body’s needs regarding self-care.

What advice can you give to somebody wanting to be a professional dancer?
If producers are needing a particular style that you specialise in, are you on their radar? If not, why not?! Being a great dancer is FAR, FAR from enough - you need to think about what you can give to people via your performance. Can you inspire? Can you delight? Are you memorable? Is your look unique?

Do you have a brand? Are your promo materials top notch? In short, why you?
Tell us what you’ve got coming up and what you’re up to at the moment. And about your workshops!

Unusually, I’m just back from performing up in Scotland two weeks in a row! However, these days I concentrate on bringing out the best in other dancers - whether it be via choreography, first dance wedding tuition or coaching. Coaching is an elite form of teaching and if you’re feeling in a rut, struggling with confidence or wanting to level up your career a coach is what you need! Get in touch with me via my Facebook page ‘Velody’ - and click ‘sign up’ to join my mailing list. 

If you don’t do Facebook OR you’ve been wondering what ‘Swing Dancing’ is this entire time, check out my best-selling ebook on Amazon ‘A Brief History of Swing Dance’ to read all about it!