Imagine that you are a bundle of dancing talent and your entry into what is considered a professional platform is barred by the way you look? The lack of entry has absolutely nothing to do with your talent, but with the way you look. This is what happened to Mary Bates and she did not let those false opinions stop her from dancing. She dances and teaches others helping them to develop their own passion for dance. Mary is now with Big Ballet and showing the world her talent, creativity, spirit and determination to do what she is – a professional Dancer!
Mary, you are the founder of EXP Dance. First question, what does EXP stand for?
EXP Dance stands for Expressive Dance.
You’ve been dancing, teaching and performing all of your life and you’ve done work for some fairly prestigious clients. What was it about Big Ballet that you felt suited you?
Dancing has always been a part of my life ever since I was 5, however after many unsuccessful auditions because of the way I looked I turned to teaching. When approached by Rare Day/ Big Ballet they thought that my story suited their casting requirements. Ballet was the first style of dance I studied and I now teach in the same room where I first learnt to Plié. I was told at the age of 11 in a Royal Ballet School audition that I wasn’t right for Ballet and I knew it was down to my physique, so Big Ballet was perfect for me. Ballet is so graceful and feminine and when I perform I feel alive and swept up in a magical story.
Why were you not “allowed” to be part of a professional — actually I don’t want to say “professional” because you ARE a professional – let’s say part of a performing dance company? What was the excuse or the reason that you were given by those kinds of companies?
I was never ever successful in auditions, I was either two short, wrong hair colour, too big – wrong build, I knew that deep down I’d be able to cope with the choreography, I just was never ever lucky enough to be given that opportunity…until Big Ballet! Now I want to continue performing, the spark is there, it never went.
Did you have any doubts that you would pass the audition process?
I initially thought what on earth am I doing back in an audition, I had given this up 6 years ago but then thought no why should I give up that dream I once had of becoming a dancer.
Big Ballet invited people who were not necessary professionals in dance. They were looking for women and men who had skill but were also of a certain size. What did you think about the skill level of the other performers in the program?
On the day it felt like there were hundreds of us there, from all different backgrounds, sizes and ages. AJ (Prince) I knew already as I used to teach him before he went to university, so it felt better knowing someone there, another student who I currently taught was also there which made the process a little more daunting but my mum was there, which made it a lot better…she has always supported me through everything.
And, what did you think about your skill level?
I knew that I could dance and I knew that I could pick up choreography however I hadn’t studied ballet since university so I was nervous as didn’t know what to expect. Then to find out it was was Swan Lake, I couldn’t let this opportunity pass by.
With all of your experience, were there things that you had to work on to be able to participate in the show?
I knew that my technique in ballet had to improve and I needed to become more graceful. When I dance and teach, I focus heavily on Urban and Jazz styles so for me Ballet was like a whole knew discipline again.
Dancing in shows is all about being a team. Were there times that the team aspect or philosophy suffered? Or did everyone really bond and help everyone else?
We all had one thing in common and that was our love for dance. Yes when strangers meet and are put in a situation working closely with one another tensions and cracks appear but we worked together as a company to pull through. There was never anything major that happened throughout filming just the odd bit of banter and disagreement.
I guess we’re asking about egos in the program. Everyone was cool – no issues?
I think that overall it was cool, as mentioned above we worked through our disagreements.
Why did you start a dance school? What was in it for you?
I wanted to open EXP Dance to offer the community of Roundhay, North Leeds a chance to learn Urban and contemporary dance styles. The area is heavily populated by dance schools that offer the traditional Tap, Modern and Ballet and I wanted to do something different. Since opening in 2007/8 I have worked hard to continue developing EXP Dance classes and always try to provide versatility, confidence and growth.
Describe what dance means to you.
Dance is a part of me, it’s what I know, it’s what I love. It allows you transport yourself into another world, one with no worries, arguments or stresses.
Obviously not everyone is going to feel that. How do you, as a teacher try to instill that into your students?
I try to pass on my knowledge and passion of dance to all my students. Allowing them to make mistakes so that they can learn from them. It’s important that your students take note, apply, correct, learn and try again. To learn from not only me but from their peers too. To make them appreciate all forms of dance and not just those they are comfortable with. To respect others and develop confidence whilst in the dance space.
If you were not a dancer, what would you be? Would anything come close?
I have never been a professional dancer, this was a lifelong ambition of mine but sometimes they don’t always work out, that’s why I chose teaching. I still have that opportunity to perform but it’s in a classroom/education setting rather than on stage. I like to pass on my knowledge and love of dance to my students in the hope that one day they will do the same. I will always have something to do with dance or theatre, it’s what I know!
You will continue to be a part of Big Ballet. Tell us what it does for you in your life – inside you.
When you spend all day teaching it’s nice to do something for yourself, to escape and set yourself targets and boundaries. I always like a challenge and for me Dance will always be part of my life. Big Ballet has taught me to go for things you believe in, to not give up, to follow your dreams. I want to keep living that dream.
Eleven dancers from the original production are currently working on a new venture with Daniel Jones, ex principal/solo dancer from the English National Ballet. Together we rehearse and train twice a week and are working together on a production of The Nutcracker Story which we are about to perform in London, so watch the space as we are not going anywhere just yet, we are only just beginning.