Thursday, 9 December 2010

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Speak Your Mind

Caribbean Dance Artist, Zela Gayle, shares her survival techniques as a teacher, choreographer and performer.

The inconsistency of finding dance work in the UK and working as an independent dance artist in London can be extremely frustrating, especially because I know my skills and knowledge are important to passing down the history of African- Caribbean dance forms in educational settings. I have a lot of passion for dance of the African Diaspora - for adults and children to experience the traditional forms coming from a rich heritage of ‘Black’ dance before experiencing the popular dance forms from these cultures.
Having taught African-Caribbean dance in the UK for six years, I realise that schools and the community at large recognise and appreciate the significance of African-Caribbean dance during the month of October for ‘Black History Month’. The frustrating thing is having too many contracts during this time and nothing offered to you for the rest of the year. I am grateful that the majority of primary schools in London acknowledge dance of the African Diaspora and can take on a specialist teacher to advocate celebrating the history of African dance forms, so that children have a better understanding of how African dance has influenced the development of Street dance, in which children have a great passion. However, why is it so difficult to maintain a relationship with the school throughout the year?
As an independent dance artist I am constantly forced to look at new ways of generating work to sustain myself. I have to think practically about my lifestyle and career. So, if there is no dance work coming in, I will opt for work in retail or an administrative post to make sure I have some cash coming in. Trying to find a balance between being a dancer, choreographer and a teacher is forever challenging because it is not always paid work, and no one wants to end up being a starving artist. So I look for opportunities to broaden my network and collaborate with like-minded artists; regionally and internationally. Alternatively, I create work outside of African dance (primarily in Cuban-Contemporary dance) to attract a different audience. This opens up a new scope to my repertoire of dances from the Inner zeal productions.

I like to travel with my dances - teaching and performing internationally. Dealing with an overseas contract is a challenge because you take the risk of doing something in a new way and this sometimes means not knowing the outcome of the contract until you arrive in the country ready to work. How far are you willing to go for people to take you seriously? I always travel with my own PR pack and draft contract. For people to take you seriously you also need a lawyer in case something happens that is out of your hands. I simply reject overseas contracts if they present certain flaws. Everything should be securely in place before you travel, to safeguard yourself. For example, I was offered a contract with a prominent cultural organisation in Jamaica. It seemed like a chance of a lifetime; to dance my solo act on a stage in Jamaica alongside well-known Jamaican singers, musicians and dance groups. It was a great compliment to receive such an invitation. But when I found out that the organisation would not pay my flight and other necessary expenses, I knew it would not suffice and worst of all, that I was not regarded as a professional artist for the event.

One of the highlights of my career to date has been being an ADAD Trailblazer (2005/06). Receiving the fellowship was an uplifting experience. It gave me the opportunity to push my dance talents further by travelling to Cuba to work with Danza Libre Company based in Guantanamo. The language of traditional Cuban dance was new to me. I participated in Afro-Cuban folklore and Contemporary dance training daily for two months. It was elevating, spiritually enhancing, exhausting and complex at times. The Cuban dance methodology was rigorous, but I enjoyed the intensity with which we trained. There is no equivalent of Danza Libre Company in the UK! I was very fortunate to have access to this training in African-Cuban dances in preparation for weekly performances. The Director, Alfredo Velasquez, made me feel welcome and the dancers of the company treated me with the same respect as long standing members of the company. Being Jamaican born, we had the Caribbean commonality, until I opened my mouth to speak. I learnt the Spanish language very quickly. My dance teachers spoke to me in Spanish and I practised at home with my neighbours to process my learning & understanding. We would also visit performances by other Cuban dance companies, and I was even invited to lead a session in Jamaican reggae dances which they were highly fond of.
I thoroughly fulfilled my time dancing and learning about Cuban culture in Guantanamo and hope to venture out to other regions next time. The trip was so inspiring that I still feel vibrant about it four years later.

Returning to the UK, as an ADAD Trailblazer I was able to build a repertoire of choreography based on my experiences of the traditional techniques. My aim was to take this into Primary schools and build a relationship with schools in order to set up a Youth Dance Company. I now find that children in Primary schools have lost interest in African dance, and so my immediate aim is to focus on young adults. I have created a resource pack for The Inner Zeal Productions to use for courses in dance at diploma level and for University students studying African-Cuban dance.

Another significant development opportunity has been my role as volunteer administrator for Feedback 33, a dancers’ mentoring forum which was set up by Sheron Wray. It has helped me greatly in networking with dance artists globally and opportunities to collaborate with members have arisen. This forum has also provided a chance to raise my profile as an artist through conducting several “my space” sessions A “my space” session is held once a month and allows artists to use the studio space and time (up to two hours) to present some work in whatever medium of artistic dance expression they choose. Feedback 33 also invites teachers from around the globe to lead sessions. Although the forum is based in London, people from other cities in the UK have attended classes to gain insight into the passions, challenges and experiences of various artists. We have a MySpace website for our members to communicate and continue to support each other in a friendly environment. For more information on how to register, email me: or check our site:

Friday, 24 September 2010


Zela Africa Gayle leads a class in Afro-Cuban Modern Dance Technique.

Thursday 30th September 7.30-9pm.


This class explores a technique practised widely in Cuba with a vocabulary reflecting the study of African based dances of Cuba, merged with a fusion of ballet and contemporary dance. In this class Zela focuses on the exploration of how these forms speak to each other as one. Zela will lead a class of movements deriving from Yoruba dance traditions whilst at the same time giving the participant grounding in “La Tecnica Cubana”. La Tecnica Cubana is a form of dance known as a highly evolved hybrid of dance forms put together. Class not suitable for beginners.

Cost £10 annual registration fee and £5 for class thereafter. Non members pay £8.
Students & unemployed pay £3 for class - proof of status required.
To book a place on this workshop please email
Paula Allen: or phone: 07792236583

Venue: The London Studio Centre, 42-50 York Way, London N1 9AB

Zela has currently been teaching Afro-Cuban Modern dance to BA Performing Arts students at The University of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Zela’s work as a choreographer takes the richness of this form which combines West African rhythms with rigorous travelling sequences to energise and strengthen the dancing body.

Zela Gayle began dancing at the age of 5 in Jamaica, learning Afro-Caribbean dance as well as classical ballet. At the age of 7 Zela moved to London and trained as a competitive gymnast. She began her training in Contemporary and Jazz dance at WAC Performing Arts and Media College and gained a BA Honors degree in Dance Studies at Winchester University. In 2004 after working with several youth groups in the UK; Zela joined Danza Libre Company in Cuba to launch her professional dance career focusing on Afro-Cuban dance forms.

Establishing herself as an international artist, her experience includes choreography for Crystal Lights Dance Academy in St. Lucia, Edna Manley School in Jamaica, Cuban-Modern Dance at Addis Ababa University and workshops in choreography at the University of Arts and University of Winchester in the UK.

Zela’s professional development has included working with Bonnie Oddie (UK), Patsy Ricketts (J.A), Sheron Wray (USA), Jackie Guy (UK), Alfredo Velasquez (CU) and Maya Yoshida (JPN).

Zela draws from a wide range of influences such as; traditional Afro-Cuban dance, reggae modern dance and improvisational techniques. Zela teaches dance worldwide, performing and choreographing internationally.

Addis-Arts Meet up Group

There is lots happening in and around the "Hub" of Africa, otherwise known as "Addis Ababa".
Join this group if you would like to experience the arts encompassing new and thriving styles of dance, collaborate with musicians & artists of Ethiopia, those at home and abroad!

Join me here at