Adult contemporary dance classes in Berkshire

PUBLISHED: 10:26 18 April 2017 | UPDATED: 10:26 18 April 2017

Artistic director John Darvell moved from a civil service career to the world of dance (Savannah Photographic)

Artistic director John Darvell moved from a civil service career to the world of dance (Savannah Photographic)

Savannah Photographic

It’s never too late to learn, as Nicola Swanborough discovered when she joined one of NOCTURN’s adult contemporary dance classes for beginners

I can’t really explain my need to dance. It’s definitely not born out of any innate talent that has lain dormant and unfulfilled since childhood. I think dance entered my DNA on the disco floors of the Seventies and Eighties when as long as the music was loud and the lights were low, I could dance into and through the night.

As it turns out NOCTURN’s adult classes delivered by Artistic Director John Darvell are as far from disco dancing as you are likely to get. “We pride ourselves in providing just the right mix of fun, high quality dance teaching and hard work,” says John.

OK, so occasionally we dance with the lights on dim and sometimes we even dance with our eyes shut, but there’s no rhythmic hips or pulsating torsos. Nor is there a bass-driven beat. The cocktail here is one of direction and space, micro moves and lunges. The music is a backdrop and incidental. It’s about creativity and discovery and exploring an inner dance I certainly never realised existed.

Contemporary dance is a response to many other dance forms, from the highly technical turned out performance of ballet to the fall and recovery of modern dance. But while rhythm and speed can appear unpredictable and chaotic, it has an underlying technique seated deep within the core.

But that wasn’t why I decided to try it. My inspiration was much simpler. I just liked the demonstration video on and the fact that people were running backwards, sliding across the floor and having a good time. It was dance… but not as I knew it.

I had tried several different dancercise classes, such as Zumba, where you go at the music and measure success in sweat patches and calories. But I was looking for something different – something where it wouldn’t matter if you weren’t still 20, but equally so would be just as good if you were.

As a non-dancer, it takes courage to walk into a mirrored dance studio with a sprung floor. It’s akin to a vicar walking into a betting shop for the first time. And to be honest much of the class is scary stuff first time around. There isn’t a move we’ve learnt that hasn’t elicited the immediate response in me of “I can’t do that.”

From diving across the floor and hand-standing out of the plank, to turning around backwards and balancing on one leg, particularly the left, every move has been a re-connection with the me I left behind in the junior school playground.

But as with so many of the things that we could do so easily then, we can still do them now, we just have to overcome the mental barrier. Ditto sliding at full speed through your partner’s legs. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

It helps that, from the start, the group is fun, friendly and supportive. John came to dance as an adult so understands the inhibitions and apprehensions of anyone returning to or discovering dance for the first time. He has had his own journey. He was a civil servant when, at the age of 30, he asked himself what would be the one thing he would regret not doing if he looked back at his life in another 30 years time.

The answer was dance and he’s been doing it ever since, working with professionals, youth and community dancers, enabling accomplished dancers who do other things for a living, to continue to dance, and novices like myself to take to the floor and have a go.

Class member Kathryn Asker dances because: “It is something I have longed to do for 20 years and it makes me feel like a child again, playing without inhibitions”; Gail Borrows because “It enables me to be creative and explore challenging choreographies with the most amazing bunch of people’; and Grace Swanborough because ‘I wanted to try something entirely out of my comfort zone – it takes hard work and thought, but without fail I look forward to every class.”

I dance because it makes me feel good – even when I can’t do it. And because it surprises me. As well as teaching you to dance, John encourages you to try your hand, elbow or any other part of your body at choreography, a far scarier experience than following someone else’s moves.

The magic of the class is the realisation that the smallest roll of the shoulder or circling of the foot can be as expressive as the deepest lunge or longest stretch. I know that on a Thursday night John will remind us to walk, run and dance like it’s a Friday rather than a Monday. And that is a great message to carry with you through the week.

Most of us in the beginners’ class have been dancing for a year now. We may be still very much beginners, but we have begun. 


John Darvell’s Berkshire-based company Nocturn creates and delivers experimental contemporary narrative performances based on topical social issues. Using a mixture of dance and accessible technology, they engage audiences in interactive artistic events that they may experience accidentally, either in an installation setting, or online.

Nichola joined the Contemporary Dance for Beginners course from January to end of March at South Hill Park, Bracknell, See also, @nocturndance and for other courses.

Latest from the Berkshire Life