This transcript is from an interview that was first published on 23rd of February 2018. This transcript has been edited slightly to help with clarity, the audio of this episode and more information can be found here.
Bec Reid is passionate about making dance available to everyone. Her list of achievements, collaborations, projects and commissions is immense. Even those who know Bec best, struggle to keep up with her number of projects and touring schedules. Despite this, “busy” is not a word you will ever hear her utter. This is a generous and wide ranging interview.
Transcripts are a new initiative of Delving into Dance to make the rich archive avalaible to deaf audiances. These transcripts are paid for through the support of audiences and supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria. It would be wonderful to have your contribute to this initative, You can contribure here.
We started by asking by when did she discover dance?
Bec Reid: A 16-year-old in a regional town not knowing anything about the arts or having a professional life as an artist. And I saw a contemporary dance work by a huge dance company and it totally changed my life.
Andrew: What about it?
Bec Reid: It was my lightning bolt moment of realising this is exactly what I wanted to commit my life to and witnessing this dance performance and realising how kinaesthetic the whole thing was and it wasn't relying on words. There were 3000 people there had come along from the community and I kept looking around going this is how you really communicate with people. It was extraordinary. So I went up to the director of the show straight afterwards like how that bossiness, you know, as a teenager and just sort of fell at her feet, and said, ‘Please can I do what you're doing?’ And she said, ‘Come to rehearsal tomorrow,’ sight unseen, boom, done. [2:18]
Bec Reid: That was it.
Andrew: For 16, for a female to start dance is quite late.
Bec Reid: It’s really late. So I had been admiring all the people who've been dancing since they were three doing ballet and beautifully trained and had a very clear focus. And I was like the kid that put my face up to the window and would like fall down the window pane at the dance studio, watching them all be so beautiful inside.
But it was also really clear to me that I'd never be a ballerina. I didn't I don't have that body type. And that wasn't a negative experience. But coming into being a teenage girl and going, Okay, this is the body I've got. I'm not going to be a nymph, but boy, do I want to move that was actually empowering. [3:00]
Andrew: Did you want to be a Nymph?
Bec Reid: No, no, I wanted to experience it and understand it. But it wasn't mine. I just knew I really wanted to move and have a real physical life.
Andrew: So then from 16...
Bec Reid: So! I danced with that company for a year. And then the director, that company guided me to being able to study the option of being able to study tertiary level. So I auditioned to go to the Western Australian Academy of performing over in Perth.
Andrew: You made that sound so elitist.
Bec Reid: Which is great, because it was the opposite. And that's why I chose that school actually, because I knew I was so raw and rough, there's no way I was going to be accepted into other actually very prestigious dance school, you know, but this unique was, is I still believe, well known for its depth and breadth. So my first ballet class was the audition to go to that university. And the ballet master came in, and he said, first position, I went over my shoulder to the girl behind me and went ‘What’s that?’
Andrew: Wow, yeah, but you got in.
Bec Reid: I got in. Yeah, cuz then fortuitously after ballet class, you had to do a contemporary solo. And I was like, I got this because I've been dancing with that company for the last year. And we had a lot of material and stuff does that right? I'll show you what I’ve got. [4:20]
Andrew: Because you hear a common experience that men can start later. Yeah, and can get into a school with, I mean, it's shifting now. But could get into a school without necessarily the skills and techniques, whereas, there were so many young girls in the wings, ready for that opportunity.
Bec Reid: You know, and I was raw and rough and muscular, and kind of uncouth, and I turned up to uni on the first day. And I, you know, there's 20 of us in that intake. And they had all started since they were three. But I knew straight away that I had had some special performative experience that they hadn't had, because I come from dancing in a company that did site specific work, that thousands of people turned up to that was the given. So I just thought, that's what happened, right? That's what you do. So, all of my experience was performative, I had no technique. But boy could I perform.
That was great to go to Uni and realised what I’d come with no technique, but a lot of chutzpah. [5:24]
Andrew: Well, that's the thing too, with dance, when there are people who have started from 3 going all the way through one, it's a particular the very initial field, but ask them to change and that's incredibly difficult. But two that's a huge financial investment that their parents have put in for them to do in class once a week, or twice a week, maybe up to five times a week.
Bec Reid: So true. Of which I'd had none. And that's sort of dreamed about but wasn't a possibility for me.
Andrew: But also excludes a lot of people who otherwise would be amazing dancers
Bec Reid: Yes, yeah,
Andrew: But can’t financially commit necessarily, their parents can't financially commit to putting in that training.
Bec Reid: Absolutely. And I think maybe you've shine a light on maybe why I have committed the rest of my dancing career to making dance as inclusive as possible.
Because my experience was it was very welcoming and I didn't need money to do it. And I didn't need a certain history to do it. You know, so that's how I understand it can be. [6:33]
Andrew: So when you came out of Uni.
Bec Reid: God. Well, I was so lucky, really lucky because I went straight into a job which is almost unheard of. Unheard of in contemporary dance land in ballet land that's a different trajectory the director of the company that I danced with before Uni, we had stayed in touch to this day she still my mentor the company was doing being show in a festival I graduated and she said ‘You better come back and choreograph on the company.’
Which is such a gift.
Wow, okay did that choreographed in it performed in it and then in at the end of that project she said to myself and another dear colleague and friend right in the companies yours now, away you go. Oh My Lord.
Andrew: Was that Luke George?
Bec Reid: Yeah, Luke George. So she handed Luke and I this extraordinary company and we were babies. And I remember opening up my first Excel document and going what's Excel because I had to write a budget we had to trial a new application due to the Australia Council in four weeks and all of a sudden we were Artistic Directors of this company and writing our triennial grant which we got and then we're away which was extraordinary to be an AD of a triennial grant funded organisation at 22.
Andrew: So amazing I was talking when I was talking to David McAllister because he took over the AD Yeah, kind of coming out as a dancer quite young and again.
Bec Reid: Having to learn that leadership. But the great thing of knowing it literally from the inside out. [8:12]
Andrew: Yeah. Gideon Obarzanek was the same, very young.
Bec Reid: Yeah. And it’s an extraordinary gift that goes by the waist.
Andrew: Do you reckon a company in this current climate would take a risk on people who are so young?
Bec Reid: Good, Lord, I hope so. Because, yeah, they really ballsy move to make, but where else do young leaders get that experience, They’ve got to be given a crack to get going. Otherwise, it's just musical chairs and sort of at that top echelon.
Andrew: Yeah. But boards, you know are, by there nature are quite conservative and risk adverse.
Bec Reid: Yes, that's true. That's true. And I had the great experience that the Board of this company had well understood the succession plan that was putting in place they knew years before Luke and I did that this is what what's going to happen, you know, so we were surrounded.
Andrew: Lucky you said yes!
Bec Reid: I know. I didn’t know what to say really. [9:10]
Andrew: But also by taking by taking a punt on somebody who is so fresh. That's how you reinvent an art form, audience, or.
Bec Reid: That's why I hope that continues to happen. That's how the art forms stays relevant it stays connected to contemporary culture, and new leaders get made, right?
Andrew: What was the biggest, toughest lesson that you learnt?
Bec Reid: Oh, wow. Well, still to this day, I'm learning it. How to stay really at the coalface of the practice when you're also producing and leading you know, like how to stay on the floor whilst still writing that triennial budget.
And companies with a lot of big, you know, tradition, traditional hierarchical structures can do that. But for independent makers, and small to medium that’s not often the case. So staying close to the art is the big challenge.
Andrew: And as an industry, how can It be better as an independent artist? How could that be reimagined so that you could be more cautious or is that not possible?
Bec Reid: Well, the other side of that is being a control freak that I am that I don't want to, you know. I I'm happened to be the kind of artist that wants to be on the floor, as well as managing the budget. Not all artists want to do that. And it's totally fine.
But in terms of putting in infrastructures, where, you know, both of those things can coexist or, or artists and leaders can really refine their craft, you know, once again, it's the small to medium that are trying to hold that space support emerging and up and coming then other independence and it is an ongoing discussion of the role that larger companies need to be playing because they have infrastructure. And it's interesting because my experience of being brought into dance, you know, went through being a young person being welcomed into a creative life, I do feel a profound responsibility to that myself. If someone did that for me. So the least I can do is think about and try and do that for somebody else. Or if not others, right? [11:40]
Andrew: Yeah, and I think you're that person for a lot of people.
Bec Reid: I don't quite know that yet. Somebody the other day said ‘this is my mentor’ and my jaw hit the ground I didn't know that isn't that funny its quite a beautiful thing like internally I just made a little woof whistle of joy. I just think that's a huge responsibility. Yeah, to stay a part of that cycle. And also I want to keep working with those people that are up and coming as well because that's how it stays really interesting and alive and fresh. Right? Yeah, as well as going I'd also like to work with very experienced leaders in the community, like what a great gift. [12:23]
Andrew: That idea that you can be a mentor without even knowing it.
Bec Reid: That gave me giggle.
Andrew: By just doing what you do people can see it and notice that and following it.
Bec Reid: It's a great privilege I do I really take it seriously, a great privilege I think. Yeah, yeah. And yeah, because somebody did it for me. And that person is still my mentor.
Andrew: If you were 16 again, what would you of said to yourself? To start dance at 16.
Bec Reid: It was it was bolshie but I didn't know anything else, I just knew I couldn't not do it right I was either going to save the whales or become a journalist.
But soon as dance came into my life it's like there is no other way in the world, I want to be this is absolutely how I want to be on the planet I really didn't think about what if I don't get work? What if opportunities, oh gosh, it in retrospect it was I was so blind and fearless things well, I didn't think well I just probably didn't think about it What would my creative life look like I just knew that I needed and wanted one. [13:37]
Andrew: And communities remain such a feature in your work?
Bec Reid: Yeah, I think because where I started was about contemporary dance being in a site specific regional town and having relevance to that whole town and that's how I understood dance the role that dance would play in a society so that was my understanding of it. You put on a show literally really the whole town turns up and there's people from the community in that show who come from all walks of life like that's what you do. So that because that was has been such a formative part of my understanding of dance that's what I'm most interested in and not all dance artists are and that's totally great, fine. [14:21]
Andrew: Dance as a practice can be quite elite or exclusive and inaccessible.
Bec Reid: Yeah I think I can appeal and I feel and I know because technically I'm not so great I know I'm never going to be a technically astounding seal the deal, right. But if I can work with somebody or give them an experience of contemporary dance that means next time Sylvie Guillem comes to town they'll buy a ticket to see her show I've done something really great. So in terms of staying at the coalface that’s where I want to be for that reason, you know.
Andrew: And what can dance give somebody?
Bec Reid: Everything can give you everything because it's the truest form, I believe, of artistic expression, No, of human expression.
You don't need to have words, spoken words, you can be in any kind of body and be dancing at any age so it gives you everything.
Andrew: So many people, myself included, there's a caveat there, myself included within certain context would say I can't dance or I'm not a dancer. And that so common.
Bec Reid: It's really common. And I love it. When people say that to me.
Andrew: How do you shift that?
Bec Reid: Well, I just say, let's tell me about that. And would you like to dance with me?
Andrew: Why as a society, are we so removed from our bodies, or from that capacity to move and communicate with our bodies? [16:01]
Bec Reid: Well only in Western society. So many other beautiful cultures around the world, there is no separation between where the role of dance and song and music lives in society as, as a critical part of the health of that society that the, my feeling is only really in Western society, that separation happens. And there's all this perception around the ideal body type and what success looks like as a dancer, which is just dumb.
I’m about to turn 40 and I honestly in my dancing body feeling just like I did it, maybe 26, you know, so that whole thing around your dancing career finishes at a certain time? We've got a lot to do around that.
I forgot the question.
Andrew: No, I guess it’s about that barrier and those barriers to the practice.
Bec Reid: I don’t know what we're afraid of, I really don't know what we're afraid.
Andrew: And it's amazing when somebody shifts that and I've had, that experience. I was MC-ing a friend's wedding and their instruction was that we just want everyone to dance. And so I managed to get the cricket Boys town everyone dancing. And there was this one guy, and he said it's an older man, I don't dance, I don't.
And I just kept working on him. Yeah, by taking the piss out of my own movement, because I dance in that traditional sense, hey, you know, like, I can find my body and I can let my body go. And you know, whatever.
And eventually he started moving. And at the end of the night, he came up and he thanked me and he said, I have not danced for 30 to 40 years and I had so much fun. And it was something about that permission. Just to be silly and not take yourself seriously and let it go. And if you do that and everyone else does that it doesn't actually it doesn't matter if you don't know. I mean at least at least that's my perspective because I don't do the steps.
Bec Reid: Totally my tactic.
Andrew: It was phenomenal for him to come up and say thank you.
Bec Reid: That ‘you totally reconnected me to myself’. Yeah, great thing to share with someone.
Andrew: So what’s your style?
Bec Reid: Same! Same. Like how any way that I can disarm that space so that somebody feels safe? I'll do it. That they might feel like I've got the courage an agency to hold my hand and join in whatever that might be. We might be sitting down and cheer together, you know, if they can't stand up or whatever, it is totally fine. Yeah, it's, I guess it's a. It's a joyful tenacity. Yeah, right. And just exactly as you do the wedding. Just remind people that they can be safe, and they're perfect just the way they are.
Andrew: And doesn't have to be serious. Like It's okay to get it wrong.
Bec Reid: Don't worry about the steps. I say that so often, when we do public dance experiences and workshops and things so often say to folks, don't worry about the steps just keep moving. And if you're smiling, you're doing it you're actually doing it it's really lovely to disarm all that for folks. But I do feel it's very important within that to still understand and love and respect you know, techniques of dance that people dedicate their life to. And actually how wondrous that is. Yeah, so I'm just saying that because I don't want to sound like I'm making fun of it. You know, because I think it's the most precious thing in the world to me certainly.
And that just ties back into what I was saying earlier. That's the reason I want to be at the coalface to encourage people to think about where dance lives in society and how important and wonderful it is to our health as humans. [20:09]
Andrew: And for some people that, you know, that's a space that they can access quite easily. Yeah, yeah.
Bec Reid: But certainly, for most people I work with, that's not the case. And that's what I love. Yeah,
Andrew: I didn't beginners Ballet and that was a disaster.
Bec Reid: Good on you for having a crack! Do you know what first position is? I'm still working it out?
Andrew: I would know what first position is I think.
Bec Reid: See you did better than me!
Andrew: There is that like, you know, but in another setting I can dance.
Bec Reid: Oh yeah! I believe we spent time in those settings.
Andrew: Yes, potentially. What is it? The dance can say that other art forms can’t?
Bec Reid: I love it. Because I read a room or I read people by watching how they move.
So for me, dance literally says everything. And I will watch someone dancing long before I'll say hello to them and start talking. Because I feel like I've learned so much by just watching them. So yeah, it's to me dance is this is my identity. undeniable, right? I love that. That's why I love how honest it is and also because if you're pretending people see straight through it, and you don't feel so great in your body and you know, you just you can't predict you cannot fake it.
Andrew: Maybe that's what the barrier is.
Bec Reid: Yea maybe that people feel they have to be something that they might not be able to be. Yeah.
Andrew: Yeah, or just not feeling authentic.
Bec Reid: Yeah that’s right. That lovely man at the wedding going, Oh, well. I don't feel confident. Because if I stood up, I feel like I should be you know, but he didn't have to at all right. Yeah, yeah. So to me dance literally says this is who I am in the world.
Andrew: And you never have enough projects on. So what are some of the things you are working on?
Bec Reid: Do you know this is true. And still to this day. I can't really say the word but my Mum would really scold us if we we were not allowed to say the word bored, even hard to say now we are not that we would get a slap over the head.
We also want to say the C word. Can you guess what that is?
Andrew: Countries? [laughs]
Bec Reid: We weren't allowed to say can’t.
We were not allowed to say now I can't do it. And we were never allowed to say I’m bored.
Andrew: And you never stay busy
Bec Reid: I do. I do have a real struggle with being bored so what's on the radar? Well, I I want to dance for as long as I can to be honest and you know it's funny more and more I'm sharing space with young dancers, younger dancers and every now and then I look around I go oh my lord I feel like my own stuff a bit of a fraud because I'm literally twice their age.
But jumping around in gold lycra hot pants with them. You know, like I have that moment of going yeah, I literally could be your mother and we're doing this dance together. Isn't that great? You know, so I want to keep dancing as long as I can.
I don't I absolutely don't see an expiry date on it. In relation to age. That's a big one for me. And within that lots of social dance projects. Somehow that's become a big part of my life.
I’m not sure how that happened? No truly. People go oh great well, can you come and take that public dance workshop? Like how did that happen?
I don't think I actively sought it really don’t. Yeah. So yeah, social dance projects with all people from all different walks of life in the community. That's what I love. Yeah, as much as I can. I'd like to also keep performing professionally in parallel to hosting social dance stuff. I love to keep my keep my own contemporary dance performance career going. [23:45]
Andrew: And what's lined up this year?
Bec Reid: This year so well, with all the Queens man we've got our LGBTI elders dance club, which is a total joy. I mean, that is the ultimate social dance space. Because a lot of those people are coming without dance being the first thing on their mind. So that's a really great example of what dance can do in a social space.
Andrew: As we're hiding in the wings, waiting for it to start.
Bec Reid: Correct, correct. It’s very exciting.
Andrew: Talk a little bit more about that project and what that space is.
Bec Reid: Dance club. So it's about agency LGBTI elders. Dance Club is about providing an opportunity for a rainbow elders from all walks of life.
To come and spend a couple of hours with us with great music and food and welcome to have a dance with us and to socialize. And just the importance of a safe cultural space where dance happens to be the catalyst. It's not about the dancing, isn’t it great! That's what I love.
Andrew: It’s about the catering!
Bec Reid: Correct. So it's always about the iced vovo! But dance plays such a vital role in it. And that's a place where a lot of people say, I can't dance. I've got two left feet. So that's a really lovely important I believe, example of dance playing a vital role in the health of the community.
Andrew: Was phenomenal in the sense that for same sex attracted people, I think everyone can remember the first time they went into a nightclub or a bar or something. Yeah, and you look around it's that oh my gosh, that all and just feeling the weight off your shoulders and feeling completely safe and acceptable Yeah, and for the older LGBTI elders, that lived in positive spaces, or incredibly homophobic spaces were living in aged care of facilities where they are not always completely accepted.
Bec Reid: But interestingly, just because of history, in a moment in time, a lot of our LGBTI elders are of the generation where they all did socially dance. Yeah, because that's where Mum, Dad and kids went every Saturday night. That's where community business got done at the social dance, regardless of your sexuality, or gender. So a lot of our elders have an experience of social dancing just historically. And yet, then they've lived through everything else that came with the next wave of change, I suppose.
And now, as you're saying in that, in that experience, of coming back into themselves, can have all that dance DNA memory coming back out, but now they're negotiating this whole different kind of intimacy with themselves and someone else. Yeah, I love that about actually, this negotiated intimacy, which social dance does beautifully because as soon as you hold someone's hand, you instantly have to negotiate intimacy within about five seconds. Three seconds. Isn’t that great! And you just kind of work it out regardless of your gender. Yeah. I love that!
Andrew: And that's the thing in society more broadly touches. Not something that happens.
Bec Reid: Yeah, we do enough with agency. Yeah, you know, this is an important interesting time to be talking about this with the hashtag MeToo. And all this great change coming.
But my instinct is, if we, if we remembered those beautiful what's the word the matrix around that social intimacy the way social dance does is much healthier? Yeah,
Andrew: Even the sense of sitting on the tram. Yeah, people, not even being able to sit touching.
Bec Reid: Yeah totally. It’s strange isn’t it. These lovely things happened in the other social dance project. I've done where a lot of because we always we always, and we do it here at Dance Club will do what we call a progressive when you have to dance with partners, and then you progress. So you dance with all the different people in the room. Wonderful. And over doing that those dances, young men, largely heterosexual men, I would say 18 to 35, that classic demographic come up to me and say, the first dance I did where I had to be intimate. Like this was my wedding dance.
I wish I wish someone had told me these life skills. I've had found that really fascinating that these young heterosexual men have said Bec I wish someone had taught me how to waltz. I really have missed that life skill, because the generation before them your granddad taught you had to waltz. Like my mama taught what you know, my granddad told me to waltz, you know, so that's been quite fascinating. I just think to see young heterosexual men going, I'm realizing to be able to dance with someone is a great life skill. Yeah, because you communicate with a woman or another man. Isn’t that great!
Andrew: And there is that sense of hope, wanting to dance with someone and having the parameters around.
Bec Reid: And we are cool and there’s nothing untoward about it. I know how to hold this space. That's a life skill. [29:57]
Andrew: So what are some other projects coming up?
Bec Reid: We also got with the collective I work with ‘Everybody Now.’ We've got a bunch of our social dance projects, ‘You Should Be Dancing, which is one that we roll out in festivals, where we just get people dancing and show off who's dancing in the local community. And another project we have called The Inaugural Annual Dance Affair, which is actually a beautiful theatre show that set in a social dance and the community are the stars of the show. So we've got about four of those this year in, you know, for the local council in a shed somewhere or in the Civic Centre. The great thing is, they can happen in lots of different spaces. That's what I love. [30:45]
Andrew: Like regional, urban.
Bec Reid: I love that. We just did a show in outback Queensland to get people dancing. It was tough. But boy, it was satisfying. Do you know why it was tough? We, when it came to the show, and we've done all these workshops and people loving it. The whole premise was to be Dancing in the Street, right? literally take over the one straight down the Main Street, the one street town, and interesting when, when it came to show time. Unwittingly, the festival organisers put on the rugby game on a massive screen behind the stage.
And then it's like, ‘please welcome to the stage it's Bec’! And I come out and happen to do the number and get everybody dancing. And they're all watching the rugby Oh, this is very interesting and how to negotiate that. And, you know, because to that community. That was that was a very important ritual that was going on. But we'd also done all this work to get the community dancing. And this was the moment so there was this great crossover of people who were there to dance and people who are just glued to the rugby score.
And me kind of jumping around. And just like ‘people, over here! Here. This way!’ It was a very humbling experience.
Andrew: You often have to work quite hard against audiences that are not necessarily…
Bec Reid: Well, this was the great thing that town loved it. Yeah, that town is full of decent, decent country folk who are scratching up a living on the dirt as cattle farmers, you know, and their experience of dancing might be someone plays a country in western some at the pub every now and then. You know, so I was so excited about opening up connection to body with them. And they were totally and had a great time. But you know, while the rugby is going on. [32:36]
Andrew: What would be your one piece of advice for somebody that doesn't think they can dance.
Bec Reid: Back yourself. Back yourself. You’ll be alright.
Like when and I know this because certainly in a nightclub, I will hide in the corner, I will hide until the floor is totally jammed back shoulder to shoulder and then I'll get up and maybe have a boogie and then I’m away for life. So I understand that.
Andrew: Dancers are the worst in a night club.
Bec Reid: We are great once we get going. Once we get going. It's like move over world. We got this.
Andrew: That's my space.
Bec Reid: But yeah. So I would say to the reluctant shy whatever. Dancer sitting in the chair wall flowering, whatever, just back yourself, you’ll be alright, have a go.
Because most likely there's a lot of other people in the space feeling the same way.
That's what I say. Because I I feel that way too. But then like you say it like at the wedding once you get going it’s lie the world is everything!
Andrew: Well thank you!
Bec Reid: Pleasure. Pleasure. Treasure, I see you in the night club dance floor or maybe or the country at the bush dance. Or where else we have Yeah, we have danced in a lot of places.
Andrew: In Brussels.
Bec Reid: Oh in Brussels, I’ll meet you in Brussels. You know a mecca of contemporary dance. Yeah, quite seriously. I mean that quite seriously in terms of. I think I mean of doing the work I do, which I take very seriously, but still in absolute reverence and love for contemporary dance as an exquisite technique.