Magpie started this page to celebrate ‘extras’ surrounding the 30th year. Featuring exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes videos and pictures from performances, rehearsals and classes, the blog provided a platform for us to reminisce while anticipating the future of Magpie Dance –
In a recent conversation with Artistic Director and Founder, Avril Hitman, we had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about the foundation and progress of Magpie’s influential history. Please read below to find out how Avril’s initial inspiration to create a dance charity for people with learning disabilities in 1985 has grown to carve out a national reputation while capturing the hearts of thousands over the past 30 years.
Q: How did Magpie start?
Avril: It was the most bizarre experience; something just spoke to me and said – that’s what I’m going to do. And that was it. I never looked back. It was one of those out-of-body experiences where I had something saying to me – this is it. This is what you’re going to do now. That was it.
The thing that struck me right from the start was that people, if given the right opportunities and environment, can flourish and really develop their skills and potential and communication and all those things that we take for granted.
I suppose what’s driven me is because I really believe in it and I’ve got a passion that people need to have opportunities. Just because you have a learning disability, you shouldn’t exclude someone from being a dancer or being an artist or being a choreographer or coming along to class and taking part.
Q: What is something you really love about Magpie?
Avril: Gosh, it’s hard to pick out one thing…I think possibly the way that whatever someone’s ability when they come to Magpie, someone can realize their potential and develop their skills and develop their opportunities and develop their self-confidence. So there are development opportunities the whole way across Magpie whether you’re a participant, a freelancer, a volunteer, a trustee – whatever your capacity – in Magpie there’s always an opportunity for someone to develop their skills and progress.
Also, I really like the way that Magpie shares its methods and its ethos so that people can come and see and learn from that as well. Over the years, thousands and thousands of people have had some contact – some interaction with Magpie. Whether that be students who are coming to work placements or trainees…that will maybe influence what they do in other parts of their lives. That’s the case with participants as well – to influence people and give people confidence to be more independent.
I love the fact that Magpie works with live music, too. That’s a really important part because it’s a pretty unusual part of what we do.
Q: What is one way Magpie has influenced your life?
Avril: Well, for a start I never set out thinking – Oh, I’m going to develop a dance company. No way. If someone had said to me, thirty years ago, this is what it’s going to be like – I would have looked at them aghast and said – what? Absolutely not.
The biggest thing I’ve learned, and how it’s influenced me, is not to limit people with my expectations. I need to have an open mind about everything. There’s no limit to what someone can do or achieve, because if you start putting limits on people, then you start closing people down before they’ve even had a chance to do or say – no, I actually could do that.
The other thing it’s taught me is that if you have belief in yourself, as a person, then anything is possible. If you believe – I can do that, I really can do that – then anything’s possible. I think it’s also helped me appreciate that we all have different ways of learning and to acknowledge that, and look at someone as an individual, not as a one size fits all – that’s really the key. We’re ALL individuals. That’s it. Full stop. Work with people as individuals, not as a homogenous mass.
Q: Do you have a particular memory that stands out from the 30 years?
Avril: I suppose that’s been my mantra, in a way, throughout the thirty years is: Think big.
When you get to thinking about thirty years, I want there to be a legacy for Magpie to continue. It’s more than all the people that are there now, there’ll be a legacy for it to continue and grow and flourish.
On the 24th of March, Magpie travelled to The Gulbenkian theatre to perform our acclaimed triple bill, Flying High (our second performance of the production since January). In addition, an extensive photo exhibition in the Keynes Gallery at the University of Kent commemorated our 30th anniversary and featured pictures starting from Magpie’s humble beginnings in 1985 and throughout the following 3 decades. Including programs and bulletins from Magpie’s earliest productions, the 30th anniversary photo exhibition will remain displayed in the Keynes Gallery until the 10th of April for those interested in seeing Magpie’s exciting growth over the years.
After a long day of travelling to Canterbury, rehearsing and performing, the dancers arrived in Bromley that evening exhausted, but accomplished. The show was an incredible success! We received astounding feedback, and the post-show discussion quickly became one of the evening’s highlights as the dancers shared insightful comments regarding the show’s choreography, inspiration and weeks of rehearsal in preparation. To read the audience’s comments on the performance, please visit our latest news announcement.
We captured a few pictures of the dancers during breaks and rehearsals throughout the day – please enjoy this behind-the-scenes sneak peek of the dancers, facilitators and volunteers that made Flying High a memorable evening!
An enormous thank you to everyone who came to help, support and congratulate our Magpie dancers on a brilliant show. Here’s to 30 more years of carving out a national reputation for inclusive dance – Go team Magpie!