• Jan 22,2018
  • In Interview
  • By Protima Chatterjee

Nafisah Baba, winner of BBC Young Dancer 2017-exclusive interview with Abundant Art in the run up to Sadler’s Wells Sampled-2 & 3 February 2018

Nafisah Baba winner of the contemporary category and overall winner of BBC Young Dancer 2017 competition presents Inescapable at Sadler’s Wells Sampled, a work created by her for last year’s competition.

1.Winning BBC Young Dancer 2017 is a milestone in your career. Congratulations Nafisah! How did it feel when your name was announced?

Thank you! To be honest, I don’t even remember how I felt – it was all such a blur but I do know I was just completely shocked!! I think it only properly sunk in when I was holding the trophy after walking on stage and just taking in the audience in front of me. I’ll never forget that moment.

2. What are your key learnings from your successful participation?

There are a few key things I learnt from participating in Young Dancer. 1. Always be true to yourself. 2. Don’t be so hard on yourself and always stay humble. 3. It’s amazing what you can do when you believe in yourself. 4. Supporting and giving others confidence does amazing things, don’t forget to do it! I learnt a great deal in and out of the studio alone, in rehearsals with my mentor and choreographer and each round of the competition. Reflecting to that whole period in 2017, it was 6 months of continual growth and learning, even if I was unaware of it at some points.

3. How do you think you grew as a performer from Chrysalis London to BBC Young Dancer and after?

I had many performance experiences with Chrysalis London, each one being so different, and as the shows went by, I began to feel more at ease with being on stage. Each performance gave me a little more confidence and experience. As an artist, people will be watching you and you must find a way to be comfortable with that, even if deep down you are incredibly nervous at the thought of performing to an audience or being on stage. The years I spent with Chrysalis London not only helped me achieve this but helped me enjoy the process as well despite the nerves.

If I’m honest, I am usually a complete nervous wreck before I go on stage! But once I start dancing, I get so lost in the movement and with what I’m doing that sometimes I forget people are watching me. There are times where I feel at ease and safe on stage, and BBC Young Dancer helped me find this. Everything that has helped me develop from Chrysalis and BBC Young Dancer will always stay with me, and I hope to continue this growth with Phoenix Dance Theatre and beyond.

4. What has been your biggest challenge in your dance journey?

There have been many challenges in my dance journey, but the biggest challenge would have to be realising and believing in myself and my true potential, something I would have never been able to truly do had it not been for Jodie Blemings, Chrysalis, and the support in that environment, as well as from my friends and family outside.

5. How do you prep yourself before a performance? Any rituals before you go on stage?

I do a few things to prep myself before a performance. I make sure I’ve eaten properly and while doing this I’ll chill out and listen to some music to keep me feeling calm. On the day or the evening of the performance, I don’t like to think about the performance in too much detail too early otherwise I tend to start panicking and building up unnecessary nerves. After a while I’ll start warming up, either in the studio or the dressing room and do a ballet barre and core exercises. I’m completely in my zone at this point! Once I’m warm, I’ll play the music I’ll be dancing to and go over my solo several times while visualising what I’ll be doing on stage. I find this really helps me with nerves and gets me focused.

6. What might you be doing if you were not in this career?

I do sometimes wonder, in a parallel universe what I would be doing if I wasn’t dancing. There are many things I can think of that I’d love to do, but I can’t say I know what I’d definitely do. Dance has been part of my life for the most of it and to dance professionally has always been an ambition of mine. I think I’d probably still be doing something physical, I’ve always loved sports (sometimes more than dance!), and I considered taking netball seriously during my high school years. On the other hand, I love writing, so maybe I would have studied and gone to university!

7. How do you define contemporary dance and its use in the current artistic environment?

How would I define Contemporary dance? That’s a hard question, there are so many definitions, but I would say it’s an incredibly expressive style of dance that connects the body with the mind with movement. It’s a style that combines elements and includes and values collaborations of other different dance styles too. Contemporary dance has no boundaries to movement, ideas, and you don’t have to ‘fit a certain mould’ to do or succeed in it.

8. What is it that inspires you as an artist?

There are many things that inspire me as an artist. 1. The people I surround myself with. 2. The companies and dancers that I aspire to be like and have inspired me to dance for years. 3. Hearing and seeing people’s reactions, (dancers and non-dancers especially), to seeing dance that moves them. 4. My own reactions and feelings to seeing something that moves me. 4. The feeling and the freedom dancing gives me. 5. The opportunities it can give and the places it can take people.

9. Is collaborative work across multiple art forms exciting for you?

 It really does excite me when new art forms can be created through collaborations! It keeps dance fresh and current and also presents and gives more credit and exposure to art forms and techniques that people may not be as familiar with. You can learn so much simply just from watching other art forms and their disciplines. I found this happened when I first joined Chrysalis. We were a hub of different styles and the things we learnt from each other were so valuable. Sharing and valuing each other’s styles changed my movement positively and made me realise the possibilities of movement and where it can take you. I believe you are a product of your environment and each environment contributes to you as an individual.  Admiring styles I had never worked with or even seen before allowed me to explore my body and make shapes I didn’t realise were possible, and when these things maybe didn’t work out, new pathways and movement was discovered for the first time. I think this can be such a beautiful moment.

10. Apart from dance any other activities you are interested in?

I love to draw, write and if I had the time I would pick up a few sports again!

11. What’s your next big aspiration?

I’m still trying to figure out my next aspiration. My aspiration two years ago was to join a professional touring company and I’ve just recently joined Phoenix Dance Theatre. I have many plans for my dance career and fresh ideas, but I want to wait and experience a little bit more before I figure out what my next aspiration will be. I would love to travel to different countries and experience dance and the culture there later on in life, and I dream about having my own mentoring scheme in the future (after my career)!

12. A message from you for all the aspiring young dancers who aim to walk in your footsteps with BBC Young Dancer and beyond?

To the next BBC Young Dancers, remember it’s not always about the winning and being the best. What you learn throughout is what is most valuable and how it can positively change you as an artist and an individual. I always say, winning was just the cherry on top of the cake for me. Also, don’t let the pressure of anything take away the joy, opportunity and experience you are being offered. Live in every moment and have no regrets!

Sadler’s Wells Sampled, features world-class dance and a series of workshops and foyer activities, on Friday 2 & Saturday 3 February 2018. The festival gives audiences a chance to experience the broad range of dance presented at Sadler’s Wells  Following its London run, Sampled will then tour to The Lowry, Salford Quays as part of The Movement, a producing partnership for dance between Sadler’s Wells, The Lowry and Birmingham Hippodrome. Sampled features a wide variety of dance, from classical ballet to hip hop, contemporary and flamenco.
For full line up and ticket information https://www.sadlerswells.com/whats-on/2018/sadlers-wells-sampled/