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Written by Nicola L Meekin (Participant)

After participating in Tamar & Jo’s community Dance Project ‘Hit Parade’ in 2022, there was no stopping me applying to participate in their latest project, ‘Sync Or Swim’.

Tamar & Jo are no strangers when it comes to community participation and social engagement. Even during the Covid Pandemic, they were putting smiles on faces and cheering up communities, with their brilliant (socially distanced) Doorstep Dances.

The beauty of community participation is that people from all walks of life, feel engaged and come together in order to contribute in some way. Some have a background in dance, others may not have danced a step in their life, and all have varying personal reasons for wanting to take part. This provides the ingredients for a unique, diverse and inclusive community.

The backbone of this particular community - made up of 15 dancers aged between 17-67 - is choreographer and dancer Jo Ashbridge. Her brainchild ‘Sync Or Swim’ is a community performance piece, set to an impressive 90’s soundtrack. Though the piece was inspired by Tamar & Jo’s Doorstep Dances duet of the same name; Sync Or Swim Community Project was a whole new piece, choreographed for the Vista Festival on Princes Avenue, Hull.

The rehearsal schedule was set over a three week period and took place at Tamar & Jo’s Prospect Street studio. There were two rehearsals in each of the first two weeks, and four rehearsals plus a dress rehearsal in the third week. Participants could choose whether to be in two parts of the dance, or just one part, each offering a different level of difficulty. This, as well as the numerous rehearsals over the three-week period, made the project as easy as possible for people to take part in regardless of experience and availability.

Each rehearsal began with a thorough and fun warm up, led by Tamar Draper. I personally found these warm ups so enjoyable. They always made me feel loosened up and raring to go, and if it’s fun, it always feels less like exercise, and very liberating. Tamar’s brilliant warm up’s also served as an icebreaker, without putting anyone on the spot, or making anyone feel uncomfortable.

Next, Jo Ashbridge would get her creative juices flowing, and explain the moves that she wanted us to execute. With a clear demonstration, and a down to earth explanation, we then attempted to put the moves into practice. It was mentioned by one of my fellow participants “I like the way that you explain the moves to us Jo. Other dance teachers just expect you to know a particular move by its official name. But, when you haven’t danced before, it’s great that you explain things like you do.”

Every rehearsal was so much fun, and without realising it, we were slowly morphing into a rebellious, on-land synchronised swimming team. The camaraderie between us all was beginning to show, and like a butterfly emerging from it’s chrysalis, we seemed to be developing our dance/water wings. Though some moves looked quite simple, they were set to quite intricate beats. I personally think that this was a stroke of genius on Jo’s part, as once we were in sync, those moves looked very professional and effective. In order to get community participants performing movements to look that way, in just three weeks, is no mean fete, yet Jo managed to do that.

Our costumes were great. We had discussions regarding them, and were sent Pinterest boards to take inspiration. The theme was fun, playful, colourful summer garments that we would wear to the beach, or on holiday – adding a different take on the watery theme of the piece. We all had a bright yellow swim cap with yellow flowers on it. It was later mentioned by an audience member that the swim caps were great, because if viewing from further back in the crowd, they could still see the formations and movements because of the brightness of the swim caps.

Once we had finished our dress rehearsal, we then felt prepared enough for the performances the next day.

Sync Or Swim is a three section, Twelve minute performance. The first section is a beautifully choreographed Contemporary duet danced by professional dancer Tamar Draper and Hull College dance student Louis Chance, set to REM’s Night Swimming. It is theatrical and artistic, with perfectly timed lifts and gorgeous flowing movements.

The second section, a group enter and join Tamar and Louis, including me. We are all straight faced as though we are competing in the Olympics, yet some of the movement is very tongue-in-cheek. This section is more upbeat and staccato, set to Basement Jaxx’s 90s banger Jump n Shout. Every move is synchronised and sharp, until one of the team (me!) rebels and starts busting out some club moves. The rest of the team follow suit, and the section ends in a party style conga. The crowd seemed to love this bit, and started cheering as soon as the rebellious solo began!

In the final section, the rest of the participants enter and the full cast perform circular, Busby Berkeley style choreography. This, set to uplifting 90s piano house hit ‘Blurred’ by Piannoman, brings to mind Daft Punk’s ‘Around The World’ music video. The section builds into a large, unison dance, followed by more perfectly timed formations and then a crescendo of joyous improvisation. The performance ends with a comedy moment as the voice of an Olympic commentator and cheering crowd are heard - all performers bowing, waving and blowing kisses to the audience like they have just won gold.

The response from the audience members was really good. I personally couldn’t have imagined the brilliant response from the audience of hundreds. There were giggles, cheers and applause in all of the right places. Like a true Hull audience, they were so supportive and encouraging

Our performance was testament to the encouragement and support from Jo Ashbridge and Tamar Draper. They really pushed the boundaries of Community Dance, and instilled so much confidence in all of us. The project really did end on a high, and all I saw were joyous smiles from my fellow participants after each performance.

I know that Jo received some brilliant audience feedback after the show, and I also personally know that it has inspired others to want to participate in the future. I would urge anyone who is able, to consider community participation. You never know, you might even enjoy it.