Fiona Fretwell is an adult dance teacher based in Norfolk. Here she talks about the excitement of hosting a mini class for the Royal Academy of Dance and its Silver Swans ballet-at-home initiative – and why she’s incorporating Mamma Mia! into some of her courses
I am always on the move – both through dance and life in general. I was born in Cambridgeshire but, as a family, we moved a number of times. My parents settled in Norfolk as I went back to Cambridge to train in dance and performing arts. From the age of 18 I worked as professional dancer in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. I love travel and when not working as a dancer I had a string of other jobs either in entertainment or travel, including DJ, follow-spot/spotlight operator, voiceover, resort representative and cabin crew! I think I always knew I’d like to teach dance, but it wasn’t until in my 30s that I decided to take my dance teacher and exercise instructor qualifications. I’m now based in Norfolk teaching adult dance classes.
I had become self-employed and started running my own classes in September 2018. Classes grew in 2019 and I had also started teaching on the learning and participation programme at Stage Two, Norwich Theatre Royal. At the start of 2020 I was looking forward to developing my classes further and offering one day dance workshops and mini dance retreats. Sadly, like everyone else, my plans for the year had to be put on hold.
Initially, I thought the first lockdown would be just a few weeks and that things would be back to normal quickly! When the reality set in, I realised I would need to try to move classes online. I felt excited about this, however I don’t have much technical knowledge and I had never been one for putting myself out there on the internet and social media. I didn’t even have photo on my Facebook page so how was I going to find the courage to teach on video let alone figure out how to set up online classes! It was a huge learning curve, testing different systems and set ups and getting used to making videos to show on my social media and send to participants. I had so much to learn for my business it kept me focused and helped keep my mind off the situation we all found ourselves in.
By the second lockdown I had been teaching online for nearly five months, so everything was set up and I just continued to work online. During this time, I also expanded the online classes and had new participants join, not just from Norfolk but from around the UK and beyond. Personally, I had remained quite cautious about any socialising and normal activities like eating out etc, even when restrictions had been eased and, on the whole, I had continued to only go out for essentials, so the second lockdown didn’t change much for me.
With the third lockdown, my business once again has kept me busy and my mind occupied. I’m fortunate that my work is teaching dance, so as well as keeping me busy it’s kept me exercising and doing what I love as well as helping others to continue to be active and dance at home.
It took some time – and there were times when I felt like giving up – but I’m so glad I persevered with learning to use technology to continue teaching. I have also had to adapt how I deliver classes and of course adapt content to be suitable for limited space. I plan to continue offering online class options even when I’m able to return to in-person teaching. Online classes offer flexibility for those who won’t be able to attend my local classes due to the times or because they don’t live in the area. Even before the pandemic I had requests from participants for videos of steps so they could practice, so the recorded classes are great for those who want to practice in their own time.
I would also like to say that it’s not just me who has adapted. All the participants who have joined me online have also had to adapt to dancing at home and learn how to use technology. Their support and enthusiasm has been amazing.
Dancing is not only a great way to exercise and be active, but it also offers wellbeing benefits. I have danced since I was a child and even now, apart from teaching my classes, I love just putting my favourite music on and dancing! Dance is expressive and creative and great for reducing stress and lifting your mood.
Many of my Silver Swans have enjoyed keeping up with ballet practice during the pandemic. It’s much more than exercise – they love to dance! Some participants are trying ballet for the first time as adults, and some did it as children and they are all enjoying the positive impact it has on them. It’s an hour in which they are totally present and focused on the class, switching off from everything else going on at the moment. Participants have said they look forward to class each week and that classes are both uplifting and calming. There is also a huge sense of achievement from progressing with different exercises and learning new dance sequences every few weeks. It’s also a chance to say hello to each other, some of the ‘Swans’ know each other from coming to my classes before the pandemic however we have welcomed many new participants too and they are also very much part of the groups now. We have also had social coffee mornings on Zoom!
It was very exciting to host a mini class for the Royal Academy of Dance as part of their initiative to offer people free Silver Swan ballet classes at home. I admit I was a little nervous but very happy to have been included after submitting my video class to them.
I’m a dancer and dance teacher so I love theatre and any all singing and all dancing films! Mamma Mia is a favourite though. It’s a fun story and we all know the singalong ABBA songs. It’s a film that always puts a smile on my face, I have seen it countless times! The setting of a beautiful sunny Greek island makes it uplifting and close to my heart! I was working as a resort rep on the island of Skiathos when filming took place. The scene where Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth both miss the boat to take them to the fictional island of Kalokairi was filmed at the old port in Skiathos Town. The island was buzzing with the film stars and crew on the island. I later worked for three summers on the beautiful neighbouring island of Skopelos where many other scenes were filmed. One of the most famous scenes where Meryl Streep sings ‘The winner takes it all’ was filmed at the foot of the huge rock which juts out from the island with the tiny church of Agios Ioannis perched on top. I’m a big fan and it was fantastic to visit all the film locations on the island. The film combines my love of dancing and Greece! I have recently introduced Jazz/Theatre dance courses and we are in the middle of learning choreography to the title song Mamma Mia!
My hopes for the rest of the year are of course that restrictions can slowly ease and that we can gradually all get back to seeing family and friends and doing the things we all love. I hope to be able to offer in person classes and workshops later in the year and if things continue to ease and move forward, I would love to start planning my first dance retreat. I am also hoping to be able to travel overseas again later in the year!