Dance Blast founders are twin sisters Sally and Emma Carlson. Both were keen dancers from an early age. Born in the Gwent Valleys, at the age of 17 they moved to London to study dance: Sally at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance; Emma at London Contemporary Dance School.
Although their careers were to take different directions for a while, it seems the sisters were destined to pursue their love of dance together. Due serious injury, Sally was unable to continue as a professional dance and so retrained in theatre design at Central St Martin’s School of Art, moving to Berlin to work as a theatre designer/artist. Meanwhile Emma returned to Wales to become a performer, choreographer, teacher, mentor and arts manager. However, in 1992, Sally returned to Wales and the sisters decided to form their own dance company, with – the sisters came together in 1992 to form Carlson Dance Company.
Carlson Dance - the beginning of the story
The company quickly became a force to be reckoned with in contemporary dance, combining wacky, wonderful, beautiful and moving dance with quirky humour and highly polished performances, and achieving rave reviews from amongst others, The Guardian. The company created 14 dance theatre productions, touring to 74 venues nationally and internationally ranging from the Royal Opera House in Kiev Ukraine, to Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff to a residential care home in Caernarfon, North Wales.
One thing that was always close to the sister’s hearts was enabling more people to take part in dance. As Sally explains: “We discovered dance when we were young through local classes – in particular, a workshop run in our community by London Contemporary Dance. We knew first-hand how important outreach work was, and we always wanted to give something like this back.” As a result, community work was an integral part of Carlson Dance: although inevitably it tended to be project-based and focused around tours and performances.
Dance Blast is born
In the Autumn of 1998, the manager of the Borough Theatre Abergavenny, asked Carlson Dance if they’d offer something more extensive. Together they came up with the idea of ‘Dance Blast’, a 12-week programme of workshops for young people with dance as the central focus, but also involving design and music – two areas that are of particular interest for the company to this day.
Young people flocked in from all around Monmouthshire – it was clear that they had a thirst for dance – and so the sisters began to put together plans to form a separate company which would focus more on the outreach aspect of their work. They wanted dance to have a real impact on people and the community. So, with support from the Borough Theatre, the local authority (Monmouthshire County Council) and the Arts Council of Wales, Dance Blast was born.
A thriving community arts organisation
Thirteen years later, Dance Blast continues to thrive. It is Monmouthshire’s only community arts organisation, working with hundreds of children, young people and adults each week, in community workshops as well as through schools, and from time-to-time on projects such as GP referral schemes, and initiatives for older people. It has just leased a building at the Drama Centre, Abergavenny, which will be refurbished to provide a Dance Centre for the area, allowing Dance Blast to offer a wider range of activities and initiatives for the community.
Who knows what the future will bring? It seems that Dance Blast’s story is about to get interesting …