In this episode I meet Amanda Britton, the inspirational Chief Executive, Principal and Artistic Director of the world-renowned Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance. Her powerful story, from leaving home at the age of 12 to pursue her passion for dance, through being one of the youngest new hires at Ballet Rambert and eventually taking on leadership of the iconic Rambert School, reflects her deep personal connection with dance and the legacy of Marie Rambert, but also her incredible vision for the future of a School that just celebrated its centenary. She talks in depth about how the team pivoted an elite dance training institution to fully online learning within 3 weeks of the start of the COVID pandemic and discusses what managing the School and its family of students through the crisis taught her about leadership, culture and values. Essential listening for senior executives, especially those leading brands with a significant legacy to protect. Enjoy this episode – Amanda demonstrates how the best leadership comes straight from the heart.
Instagram: Rambert School
“Away As One” – a film by Rambert School student Blair Moore. The incredible story of how Rambert School managed to shift world-class dance training on to Zoom
Gary Crotaz 0:02
My name’s Dr. Gary Crotaz. And I’m a coach and author of The IDEA Mindset, a book about how to figure out what you want, and how to get it. The Unlock Moment is that flash of remarkable clarity, when you suddenly know the right path ahead. When I’m in conversation with my coaching clients, these are the breakthroughs that are so profound that they remember vividly where they were, who they were with, what they were thinking when their Unlock Moment happened. In this podcast, I’ll be meeting and learning about people who have accomplished great things, or brought about significant change in their life, and you’ll be meeting them with me. We’ll be finding out what inspired them, how they got through the hard times, and what they learned along the way that they can share with you. Thank you for joining me on this podcast to hear all about another Unlock Moment. Hello dear listener, and welcome to another episode of The Unlock Moment podcast. Now, most people know that I used to be a professional competitive ballroom dancer, but it’s not so well known that I’m a Trustee of the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, where I’ll celebrate my three-year anniversary this summer. When I first went to see the School, I met its inspirational Principal, Amanda Britton, and the great strides the School has made in recent years are testament to her vision, energy, leadership, and incredible perseverance with her team through tough pandemic times. One of the world’s foremost specialist providers of professional ballet and contemporary dance training, the history of the Rambert School in London can be traced back as far as 1920 when Polish émigré and former Ballets Russes dancer Marie Rambert established the School. Over the years the School, now based at the iconic Clifton Lodge in Richmond, has produced some of the leading dancers and choreographers of our time, including Frederick Ashton, Anthony Tudor, Christopher Bruce and this year’s winner of the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance, Arielle Smith. An incredible four of the ten finalists in the BBC’s Young Dancer 2022 are current students of Rambert School. Amanda Britton, Rambert School’s Chief Executive, Principal and Artistic Director is herself an alumna of the school and joined the closely-related dance company, then called Ballet Rambert, back in 1984. She was appointed to lead the Rambert School in July 2015 and has overseen a huge amount of change, development and growth since then. And of course, keeping the school delivering world-class dance training using online learning through the pandemic. I can’t wait to hear her take on the secrets of successful leadership through these unprecedented times. Let’s get into the conversation. Amanda, it is my great pleasure to welcome you to The Unlock Moment.
Amanda Britton 2:50
Thank you, Gary, it’s wonderful to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
Gary Crotaz 2:54
Thank you for joining. So we know each other quite well. But there’s an awful lot I don’t know about you. So tell me something about how you first got into dance and what your inspiration was as a young dancer.
Amanda Britton 3:04
Well, my sister, elder sister, was going to ballet classes, she’s five years older than me. So at the tender age of three, I started pestering my mother to join my sister at ballet. And finally my mother gave in so after about six months, I was probably, as I say, about three and a half – off I went to my first ballet class, and I remember distinctly being taught to skip around the studio. And just feeling like it was easy. There were other… it was clear, there were other people who couldn’t skip, the step hop thing was, you know, too much coordination. But for me, it was easy, and it felt good, you know, sort of feeling the space and skipping around. And yeah, that’s where it started.
Gary Crotaz 3:53
I started dancing when I was four years old. And I got in trouble because I put my hand on the back of the knee of the, of the lady dance teacher and her husband came to my parents and said, your little boy is touching the back of mine, my wife’s knee. And it was because that’s how tall I was. That was where I could, where I could reach, being being four years old, so… it’s funny, you know, looking back all that way to, to, as a child. And you were very, you took dancing very seriously as you were growing up?
Amanda Britton 4:19
From about seven. In fact I think I’ve always known, you know, it was, it was so deep inside me and I have no idea where it came from. My mother had done some dancing, there’s no other dance in my family. I just was totally passionate about it. And so by seven, eight years old, I was dancing four nights a week. At 12 I announced to my parents that that teacher in my local dance school had taught me everything that, you know, she could and it was time that I moved on somewhere else. And so I left home at 12 and I didn’t go to a boarding school because there wasn’t really one that was suitable. So I moved into a sort of boarding house in Bournemouth, I grew up in Worcestershire, so it was a long way. And I transferred to the local grammar school. I was, I’d been through my 11 plus. And I lived basically independently from the age of 12. And danced every day. And the woman who was my teacher, my lead teacher at that time, had been a dancer with Ballet Rambert, in the late 40s. And that was where my association with Rambert began.
Gary Crotaz 5:26
Amazing. And what did your parents think about you leaving home at the age of 12 to go dance?
Amanda Britton 5:33
When my children were 12 years old, I looked at them and thought, How did my parents do that? There’s no way I would let one of my sons leave home at this age, but they just, I don’t know, they just let me I think I was just so determined that they couldn’t sort of stop me. And so they found the best situation they could and they trusted the woman who was taking care of me. I mean, these days with safeguarding you could never do that! But yeah, they, they let me go!
Gary Crotaz 6:03
And what form of dancing were you doing? Was it ballet? Or was it a mix of different styles?
Amanda Britton 6:07
It was ballet and something that she called contemporary dance, which was rooted in some Graham work and some work that they’ve done in Ballet Rambert. So yeah, that was… and then some tap and some acrobatics and all the rest of it as well. The commercial stuff!
Gary Crotaz 6:23
And what was the time when, when you, when you went from – I love doing, I love dancing to, This is actually what I want to make my life? Do you remember how old you were?
Amanda Britton 6:33
Oh, probably about seven. Yeah. I’ve only ever wanted to be a dancer. And I, as I say, I have no idea where that comes from.
Gary Crotaz 6:42
And as you’re going through your teenage years, and you started to look at how you get into professional dancing, what did that route look like for you?
Amanda Britton 6:51
Scary. Unknown. I started to audition for vocational schools at sort of 16, so in other words, looking to move away from the school in Bournemouth and I went to the Royal Ballet School and got to the second stage and got turned down. Terrible feet. Terrible en pointe. I had no… there wasn’t much alternative in those days, it was sort of ballet or musical theatre. But then my teacher said, There’s a new Rambert School, because Rambert had split into and there was a new school opening called the Rambert Academy, that was based round the corner from the current school in Twickenham. She said this looks good. It’s associated with the Company. Why don’t you audition there? And so at 16 I moved to Twickenham. Yeah, round the corner from where I now live!
Gary Crotaz 7:38
And you remember walking through the doors of the Academy as it was then, on your first day? Do you remember what that felt like?
Amanda Britton 7:44
I remember the audition day. It was terrifying. And I remember the early months when I was there, feeling like a fish out of water. Lots of other students had come from vocational ballet schools. And even though I’d been training hard, I was quite far behind. I had a lot of catching up to do. But it was an incredible two years, I only spent two years there. And it was unbelievable. Yeah, really eye opening.
Gary Crotaz 8:10
And now when, when you see new students walking in on their first day, does it bring back memories for you? Do you feel you remember your time doing the same thing?
Amanda Britton 8:18
Absolutely. And I say to them, even in the audition talk I say I remember my audition day. I know how you feel. I can… it’s such a strong memory, you know? Yeah, of course.
Gary Crotaz 8:29
And do you think it’s strange for them hearing the principal of the School talking in that way?
Amanda Britton 8:35
No, I think it’s reassuring.
Gary Crotaz 8:37
It’s interesting. And I know, I mean, you have a number of people in your team who who also have a background with, with the School, that, that sense of family in the School is very important.
Amanda Britton 8:45
Yeah, it is. We call it the spirit, you know, the Rambert spirit. Somehow I think she’s still here somewhere. But I think actually in dance, you know, as in many things, you know, certain things do get handed down through the generations from one set of students to another. So in some ways, I think there is still a bit of Rambert herself still in the school here.
Gary Crotaz 9:06
And tell me a little bit about about Marie Rambert and what she means to you in, in your own, you know, dance life and contemporary for you.
Amanda Britton 9:15
You know, this is a difficult one. Because it’s so deep inside me, it’s hard to capture. You know, when trustees ask me about the Rambert method and what that means, it’s, it is hard to put into words. I think, I didn’t meet Rambert herself. That’s the first thing to say. But when I came to the school, and when I joined the company, her presence was very, very tangible. I could, you know, I could really sense it, I think something to do with expression, freedom of expression on stage. Sort of integrity, in the movement. Total belief in the movement, whatever it is, however contemporary it may be. Creativity, of course, and she had a very strong sense of bringing out the individual, and all of those things, I think we’ve really cherished and still, you know, nurture in the School in our young people here. So I think there’s a wonderful quote where she said something like, [Dame Ninette] de Valois had a wonderful sense of, you know, business and how to create something that was on a magnificent scale. But that she didn’t want to create a row of lookalikes. She wanted her dancers to be individuals. And I think, you know, that’s really stuck with me all these years.
Gary Crotaz 10:30
And it’s interesting, you know, having a School that is named after a person, I mean, do you feel like that comes with sort of, some weight to it, or, you know, something you have to sort of live up to or hold on to?
Amanda Britton 10:43
I do. I think, you know, one’s history is so important, it’s a hundred years of history, as you said, and I think that’s what makes this school distinctive, in many ways. So although one has to, of course, change with time, and, you know, change your curriculum. And, you know, there’s been so many, been through so many changes, particularly in the last few years with COVID. And, you know, the Black Lives Matter movement’s had a massive impact in dance in so many ways. But I think, you know, you have to hold on to those kind of original innovations and ideas somehow, so that you don’t sort of throw the baby out with the bathwater. And that’s really important to me, certainly, when I took over this role. And I had a sort of major review of the curriculum, not necessarily what was taught, but how it was taught. And the intensity of the training, but I really had that in the back of my mind, you know, don’t let go of everything. Because some things are really important and are really what make it what it is, if that makes sense.
Gary Crotaz 11:47
Yeah. So take us on through the story. So from being a student in, in the Academy back then, what, what was your professional dance career as a dancer and then later as a teacher?
Amanda Britton 11:59
So at the age of 17, only in my second year at the School, Christopher Bruce, the choreographer, came into the school to restage a work. It’s actually a work that we’re about to put on this summer as part of our … it was supposed to be in the centenary celebrations, but obviously got postponed. It’s called Dancing Day. It was a piece that was made on students of the school, and he was invited to come back and restage it, this was 1983, 84, beg your pardon. And so I was cast in the work. I had never seen anything like this choreography, I was absolutely blown away by it, so inspired and terrified and admiring of him in equal measure. And so worked my socks off and performing that work in the summer of that year was just such a highlight, you know, with my however many years of dancing already. Off the back of that I was invited to take class with then Ballet Rambert. I remember that first class I turned up, was absolutely terrified. Chiswick Studios. And off the back of that, I was eventually invited to join the company. And I was 18 years old, by the, by the time I joined, and by far the youngest in the Company. So the first couple of weeks they, you know, somebody teased me that I was supposed to do the washing up and I believed them. I was so naive, I fell into every elephant trap under the sun. Anyway, I was sort of an apprentice and they didn’t have apprentices at the time. But that was the idea, that they would sort of train me up and give me opportunities. And so yeah, that’s how I started. I spent about a year sort of sitting on the radiator watching and covering work, and then trying to get on stage and making a complete pig’s ear of it because I hadn’t had enough rehearsal. And then finally, I got a couple of breaks where, you know, somebody got sick or injured. They threw Amanda on. She knew the work, she did all right. And then I started to get cast in works properly in my own right and spent nearly 10 years there, w working with some unbelievable choreographers. Chris Bruce included, he’s now the Patron of the school. Richard Alston, Siobhan Davies, a number of amazing postmodern American choreographers. Merce Cunningham. Trisha Brown. So yeah, it was, it was an unbelievable 10 years. Toured the world, had an, had an incredible time. Met my husband! Yeah.
Gary Crotaz 14:34
Amazing, amazing and, and after your performing career, you then, you then came into teaching and you, you came back into to the school as a member of the team.
Amanda Britton 14:44
I did. So I spent three years working at London Contemporary Dance School where I did a Master’s degree as well, which was really interesting, first experience of higher education, eye opening. And then I was invited to come back to Rambert School to head up the newly-validated degree programme. And, and to deliver the academic programme as well as to teach contemporary dance. So yeah, I spent 10 years, sort of working on that, working under Ross McKim, who was then the Principal of the school, learning a lot from him. I remember I, I spent, you know, the first couple of years thinking, gosh, maybe one day, you know, I might apply for a role like that, watching him and then just thinking, There’s no way I’m ever going to apply for a role like that. So, yeah.
Gary Crotaz 15:31
And I think that’s something that, that I’d really like to understand more about. I mean, this is, this is coming into your Unlock Moment, this, this moment of, when you first, you know, took on the leadership of the school. So take us into that, that moment of, of, of when it was first a possibility that you might, that that might, that might be something that you could, you could take on,
Amanda Britton 15:54
I was getting itchy feet. I’d applied for a couple of roles elsewhere. I felt, you know, it was time to move on. I was painfully aware that my ability to teach full on contemporary dance was limited. I was already in my 40s. You know, I was like, I don’t want to be doing that in my 50s. Because, you know, it’s getting harder to get up from the floor now! And to be honest, you know, I felt ready to take on a leadership role, I had strong views of what this school should be, could be doing. Strong views of other training. And I just felt, yeah, I just felt like, you know, I was ready to have my, to have the autonomy to take that sort of more powerful role and have a chance to move something forward. So I applied for some roles outside of school, actually, and got very far with one in Hong Kong. And about the same time, the then Principal announced his retirement. And I thought, Okay, this is it, this is kind of now or never. So, put together my application, did, you know, the rounds of interviews. It was unbelievably difficult to be an internal candidate. I knew all four panel members extremely well, one of whom had been, in fact, two of whom had been colleagues of mine in Rambert Company. So it was awkward. I had to present of course, my vision for the School, it was, it was very, very stressful. And I got to the end of that, and thought, Well, I think I’ve cocked up, you know, I don’t think it’s, I don’t think it’s gonna happen. And then, just before Christmas that year, I remember the Chair of the Board phoned me up and said, we’d like to offer you the role, and I fell on the floor! So, so yeah, and then I spent, you know, about six months, while my predecessor was, you know, planning to step down and really handing over to me in many ways, and making plans for the future, and so on. So I had a sort of transition period. But it was strange. I remember the day my colleagues, the other members of staff, found out that I was to be the new Principal. And literally the second they found out, they started looking at me and speaking to me differently. And I found that really, really strange. You’ve known me years, it’s me. It’s me, but because they knew I was going to be their, their boss, they changed the way they felt about me instantly.
Gary Crotaz 18:24
I went to an event years ago by a very successful chief executive in the retail industry. And he said, The last day I knew that my jokes were funny was the day before I became chief executive. And when you were taking on that role, I mean, there were some things that would have come very naturally to you, you know, you understood the history, you had your your views, your opinion on the creative direction, of the School, all those kinds of things. And this is the case for, I mean, I think there’s something that really resonates for a lot of people considering their first chief executive-type role. Were there things that were ahead of you that you had not done before? Not had to own before that felt daunting to you?
Amanda Britton 19:05
Oh, yes, absolutely. So I knew a lot about the higher education aspects of our offer. The student-facing ones particularly. What I didn’t know was exactly how the School was funded in terms of, you know, real numbers. I didn’t know about our exact sums of government funding. I didn’t know basically, anything about the financial, you know, financial details of what went on. I knew broadly, you know, I had a rough idea, but not the kind of, the numbers. I didn’t know in terms of recruitment, how, you know, you’d start with your number in your audition process and kind of crunched down to our 45 or however many we take, that was completely a new thing for me. And then I suppose, you know working with a Board of Trustees. I’d presented before, I’d spoken to students, I’d spoken to staff, never to a Board. And I think I’ve really had to work at that skill. You know, I’m quite happy dancing. But speaking, that’s, yeah, that’s a whole new thing!
Gary Crotaz 20:20
And for some people, when when they look at those kinds of challenges, you know, somebody like you who hadn’t come from a business background, you’d come from a, from a dance background. Some people might look into those challenges and say, I can’t do that, you know. So it’s a lovely idea, but I just couldn’t do that. What did you feel when you, when you looked at that list of things and said, you know, This isn’t my background, this isn’t my experience, I don’t have this knowledge. What did you feel?
Amanda Britton 20:47
That’s a great question. I love a challenge. I, I like to be in control. I’m not a control freak, I don’t think, I’m very happy to delegate, you know, get a good team and delegate to them. I think that’s really important. But I do like to be, I’ve realised, I like to be driving the bus, not a passenger. And so the, it was the best feeling, to be really honest with you. And I think, you know, when I talk about, if you’d like The Unlock Moment, it’s all around sort of getting my hands on the, you know, the sort of nuts and bolts of the finances, around the business decisions, around where we were going to invest, where we were going to pull away, and so on. And that has actually been the aspect of the role that I’ve enjoyed the most.
Gary Crotaz 21:37
And it’s interesting now looking back, because you’ve been in that role since 2015. And if you look back, and you think, you know, if you were advising somebody taking on their first chief executive role, and you think, what were some things that you did in that first sort of three months or six months that you look back, and you think I’m really glad I did that, as one of the early things that you did to get that control? What were some of those things that you’re pleased you did?
Amanda Britton 22:04
Restructure the team. The restructure of the team was the best thing I did. I wasn’t happy with the previous structure, and it didn’t feel like mine, you know, I needed to get the, get the right people in the right roles. I’m sure, you know, that’s a fairly obvious thing to say. But I do believe that’s the crucial piece of the puzzle. It’s quite a big role. It’s a smallish school, 140 students, 10 or so postgraduate students, and a number of things around that in terms of our outreach work and other things, activities that we do, but it’s a smallish school, but the role is very broad. The artistic, the educational, the financial, you know, all of those aspects, take a lot of work, especially these days, in terms of the amount of regulation that we have in higher education. And so, you know, finding the right people, and really trusting them, and being able to delegate to them, was the best thing I did.
Gary Crotaz 23:04
So you’ve been in that role for, for five years in kind of pre-pandemic, normal pre-pandemic times, and obviously, lots of, lots of, lots of changes and development and growth happened in that time. And then, you know, come sort of March 2020, suddenly, the pandemic hit. So, you know, what was the impact of that on, on a dance school delivering, you know, dance training in studios with everybody together, what happened?
Amanda Britton 23:30
It was devastating. And, you know, I talk about enjoying being in control, I had just about got used to that, you know, I’m driving the bus, I know where we’re going, you know, we’ve developed our strategy, I feel, I felt much more confident in every aspect of the role. And then suddenly I was no longer in control. You know, the… COVID was driving the bus and the government, or the government scientists, or whoever, and that I found unbelievably stressful, because one of the things I care about a lot is supporting both students and staff. And I think we have a very strong and supportive, as I think you said in your intro, a very family atmosphere here. And suddenly, we were split apart. I couldn’t reach, I couldn’t pull people together. I couldn’t get people in the room and sort of get everyone on the same page, either teams of staff or groups of students. And I think I pride myself on being quite good at that. Everybody was in a complete state of panic. Everybody’s experience of COVID was really different. And so managing and supporting however many, 200 people through a completely unknown kind of navigating through, you know, this crazy time. I think I’ve likened it before to sort of steering a very small ship through the Southern Ocean in a storm, it was absolutely awful. I don’t mind saying it, it was awful.
Gary Crotaz 25:07
And just bring to life for the listeners. So you didn’t stop the activities of the School, you couldn’t just say, Well, we’ll come back when this is over and start teaching again? And, you know, the students at the school. I mean, they live in local houses and digs and all sorts of things, don’t they, around. So what did that look like? So when you started activities without being able to bring everybody together in the studio, what were you actually doing?
Amanda Britton 25:32
So we pivoted on to Zoom within three weeks. Everything. When I say everything, I mean ballet classes, contemporary dance classes, obviously academic work, lectures and so on, creative improvisation classes, Pilates and conditioning classes, everything moved on to Zoom. So we had teachers in their own homes holding onto their mantelpiece for a ballet barre, demonstrating, and students in their student digs, or some of them had managed to escape, the first lockdown, some of them had managed to get back to their own countries. And I should say now, our students come from 23 different countries at the moment. So time zones were interesting, because they wanted to join Zoom classes live. Some of them, it was four in the morning, if they were in Trinidad, and others, you know, it was the other end of the day, six, seven o’clock at night, if they’re in Australia. So they would be in their own homes joining in the class, the teacher would set the combination, the exercise, and then would go up to the screen with the little Zoom windows, and be peering at the students who were, you know, doing the work in their living rooms, giving them feedback on their work, just as we do in the studio. It was a big challenge.
Gary Crotaz 26:46
I think, I’m going to put a link in the show notes to this film that Blair Moore, one of the students made, called Away As One, and that brings, that, that shows what the students were doing. And I think it’s one of the most powerful things I’ve seen coming out of the School, because, you know, I never believed that it was really possible to continue that sort of world-class dance training in that format – you could do something. But, but actually, you know, the resilience of the staff and students was, was quite incredible.
Amanda Britton 27:15
Gary Crotaz 27:17
What happened with, with the mood in the school, at that time? How were people feeling, how the students and staff feeling at that time?
Amanda Britton 27:24
When the pandemic first hit, we have a lot of Italian students. And so there were people running around crying, because their families were so stressed that they were, you know, they wanted them to come home before the borders shut. That was a terrible time. For much of the pandemic, we were not allowed in the School, when we were allowed in it was in small groups, socially distanced, with one-way systems and so on, all the doors and windows open. So none of the creative interaction, social interaction, or peer observation that usually takes place, you know, just by students watching each other through the studio windows, none of that could happen, which meant that they weren’t learning really from each other, in the same way as normal. Course, they could also, they couldn’t touch each other either. So there was no partner work for at least a year, which is such a crucial part of what they do. It was, it was very, very upsetting, and stressful.
Gary Crotaz 28:25
I mean, as you come out of the pandemic, I remember, I was in the audience. You, you standing on the stage at the Linbury Theatre under the Royal Opera House in London, for the first performance back, you know, in that amazing theatre with the students. How did it feel for you?
Amanda Britton 28:41
So I walked out. And I’d been asked to say a few words, and I had them prepared. And somebody started applauding, and then the, you know, the, the audience, socially distanced audience all applauded, and it completely knocked the wind out of my sails. And I could feel the emotion rising up, I can’t cry, you know, but honestly, it was overwhelming. And then seeing the students perform work that they literally put together in a few weeks, because, you know, we’d been in lockdown, and we’d only got a short period of time to put it together. So there was an intensity about it. And a sort of, they’re always passionate, but you know, an emotion and a feeling of being back together again, that I think, I hope the audience could really feel that as well.
Gary Crotaz 29:27
And what did you learn about the School and the team? Now when you look back to how it was managed through that time,
Amanda Britton 29:36
I learned a lot about managing a team in a very difficult, in very difficult circumstances, when we didn’t necessarily all agree with each other. And normally, we’re very coherent. We’re very we communicate very well. There’s a lot of humour. There’s a lot of care for each other. A lot of us have known each other for a very long time. But we would be in Zoom meetings, you know, with the key COVID sort of staff. And we would be at loggerheads, because opinions were so varied, and it was very, very difficult to manage, it would have been hard in the room. But on Zoom was doubly hard with people who were really not in agreement. And, you know, I remember one awful meeting. You, we were just basically having a massive kind of barney about how we were going to deal with things. And everybody was really zipped up and really kind of anxious. And on the pad, you know, my notepad in front of me, I just wrote, “I want to give up.” And that was the lowest moment, it was just the only way I could express. I just don’t know how I’m going to pull everyone together through this. But of course we did.
Gary Crotaz 30:48
What was the next thing that happened? After you wrote, I want to give up?
Amanda Britton 30:54
I think I, we came off Zoom, I went for a walk. And you know, there’s always that strength, feeling inside, inside you that, you know, we’ve got to get through this, this school is 100 years old, it’s absolutely amazing. I’m not going to see it close on my watch. Somehow, we have to find a way. And then you just reach out to your colleagues. And you you know, try and, try and bring everybody back onto the same page. But it was certainly challenging.
Gary Crotaz 31:22
It’s something that I work with people a lot on, going through all sorts of changes, not always as extraordinary as a pandemic. But, that to get to the positive future, you often have to go through a dip that is worse than today. And that feels like guilt and frustration and anger and hostility and all these kinds of things. And there is the lowest moment. And often you can name it. And you can say, What did I do right in that moment. So actually what you articulate that, there I think really will resonate with so many people when they hear, because they’ll think I know when I was when I wrote the “I want to give up” note. And for some people, they can’t get past that note, actually. And what’s interesting for me to hear is what it was that brought you through was back to what it’s always been for you, which is the power of the School, and the family, and the history, and the, and your, you know, your journey with it. And the team’s journey, and your journey with that team. All those things, that, that’s what makes it so special.
Amanda Britton 32:22
Yeah, that’s right.
Gary Crotaz 32:23
So when you, when you look at the school today, what makes it a special place for students to learn, do you think?
Amanda Britton 32:31
I think that family atmosphere that I’ve spoken about, I think the creative exchange that goes on, is quite extraordinary. So we have those students coming from 23 different countries, they’ve come from very different, obviously, very different backgrounds. Don’t even need to say that. Very different dance and educational backgrounds as well. And one of the things we advertise and look for in our audition process is, you know, that sort of openness, that willingness to share creatively. And I think, aside from the technical training, which is extraordinary here, we have some just unbelievable teachers. And the training is very intense. So you know, that is is vital. And is at the front and centre of what we do. But I think it’s you know, that creative exchange, the opportunity to make work, to watch each other, to learn from each other, and at a sort of socio-cultural level as well as a creative dance level. I think that’s pretty special.
Gary Crotaz 33:34
And I think it’s a really important theme that’s been coming through in recent years, and I know it’s really central to your vision for the School, is this theme around access and participation. So broadening access, making it such that the most talented dancer, regardless of means, can, can be trained at the School. So what does that look like do you think for the School over the coming years?
Amanda Britton 33:56
So this was one of the first areas where I really started something from scratch. There hadn’t been any, really any outreach at the school before I took the role. And so in many ways, it was a sort of door waiting to be pushed open. You know, it was, it was easy, that so many people want to engage with with Rambert, we’re lucky we have this amazing name and reputation. And so suddenly, a lot of opportunities opened up from nothing. We were running summer schools, we were getting school, local schools in here. We had a programme running with some local secondary schools where our third year students would go out and create a work and then bring it in here. We were developing partnerships with youth programmes and so on. So we have a strong three to five year plan for expansion of that. And really, that’s just about looking for new opportunities, particularly post-pandemic because of course, those sorts of things dried up, and just strengthening those, and building those partnerships. You know, looking at schools across our London community, you know, building different kinds of opportunities there. And then I suppose the the biggest piece of work is we’re hoping to go, to become independently registered with the Office For Students as a higher education institution. We have been part of an umbrella organisation called the Conservative For Dance and Drama, but we’re currently all splitting apart very amicably, and going our own independent way. And as part of that work, we have to have our own Access plan. It’s called an Access and Participation Plan. And that’s about, that plan is about building our widening participation work in lots of different ways, building pipelines for students from all sorts of different backgrounds to be able to come into this School. And really, it’s the thing I’m probably the most passionate about, you know, when I first started teaching, it was for Rambert’s, the company’s Outreach Department. I used to go out on a Saturday on tour and, you know, teach a workshop based on some repertory and… to non-dancers, I mean, and it’s something that I’m, I’m really passionate about, I suppose because I love dance so much. And I love contemporary dance. And I just think everybody should have a go, because it feels so great.
Gary Crotaz 36:11
And it’s an expensive thing to do, isn’t it, to train in School, I mean it’s a university course, it’s university fees, and living fees, and so on. So what’s the, what’s the role of funding to support your students from, from different backgrounds to be able to come and train at the School?
Amanda Britton 36:30
Yeah, so it is expensive, but important to say, as I said, it’s not a private school. So we’re part of higher education and UK students will take student loans to come here. That’s not to say, you know, that, that’s a significant undertaking of course. And then there are living costs. And of course, for dance students who are going to be training 30 to 35 hours a week, as opposed to a normal university student. You know, it is hard to have time and the energy to work alongside your training and support yourself financially. So all of those things are, you know, it’s a huge undertaking for a family to come here. Our overseas students pay pretty much double that. So around £19,000 a year plus living expenses. We’re in a lovely part of southwest London. It’s expensive to live around here. And so it’s really important to us that we provide some bursary and some scholarship funding to ensure that we’re offering places to students on the basis of talent, not on the basis of ability to pay. And that’s absolutely fundamental to what we do. To that end, we fundraise as much as we possibly can to offer both in-year bursaries to students in terms of sort of hardship, means tested bursaries, also support so that for instance in third year they can go off and audition, those auditions might be in Europe or further overseas, and also offer some scholarship funding for our very talented overseas students. We have worked out that the cost for overseas students, that is really what it costs us to train a student around between 18 and 19,000 pounds a year. And that’s because our training is so intense, many hours in the day, one-to-one coaching as well as larger classes, a big group of staff, a huge group of student support staff, and so on. So, yeah, it’s intense,
Gary Crotaz 38:26
And what facilities do the students have access to when they, when they come to the School?
Amanda Britton 38:30
So we have five studios, we’re just extending one of them actually, to make it larger. They are beautiful, it’s a beautiful space, beautiful building. We’re very, very lucky to be here. We have academic facilities, it’s a degree programme, obviously, all of the you know, a library and the various resources they need, online and physical. We have a very strong student support team. So that’s a pastoral person, a full time osteopath, who looks after students when they’re injured, but also helps them kind of understand how to get the best out of their physical structure. We have a full time conditioning Pilates tutor. We have English language tutor, dyslexia, someone who helps students with specific learning differences, an amazing teaching faculty, all of whom have been professional dancers. So of course, they’re in the studio with them. They’re also working with them, you know, in tutorials and one-to-ones. And then finally, a lot of guest professionals. So between sort of 75 and 100 in a year of professionals who might come in here to teach workshops, create work, and so on, teach improvisation. This year, we’ve been privileged to work with Akram Khan company, who came for residency in January. And then just last week, we had some dancers from Hofesh Schechter’s company come in and work with our second year students. And we also had Matthew Bourne’s company coming in and working with students this year as well. So we, we’ve got that sort of engagement with, with professionals, which is really, really important for them as they make that transition into life as professional dancers.
Gary Crotaz 40:08
Amazing. And the students rate their experience don’t they, in the UK system.
Amanda Britton 40:12
Yeah, we do pretty well in the National Student Survey. So consistently in the 90 to 95% student satisfaction, which is something we’re obviously really proud of.
Gary Crotaz 40:21
And where do the alumni from the School end up, where do they go?
Amanda Britton 40:25
Well, they go back around the world. Pretty much everywhere. Many in the UK, mostly contemporary dance companies, some go off and make their own work. As soon as they leave. You mentioned Arielle Smith, she only graduated about four or five years ago. Just won an Olivier Award. So pretty much any contemporary dance company in the UK will have students from Rambert School. I mentioned Akram’s company, Matthew Bourne, many students from here, Rambert, of course, the company, National Company Wales, Phoenix Dance Company, Motionhouse, lots of the smaller companies, and then abroad throughout Europe, I won’t mention everywhere. We’ve got some Australians that have gone back and are in Sydney Dance Company. Yeah, they’re worldwide, we get everywhere!
Gary Crotaz 41:14
And tell me a little about your, your, your favourite project, and mine also, which is the Rambert Grades project, give me a little taster of Rambert Grades.
Amanda Britton 41:23
So about 15 years ago, I was teaching a little, some little classes outside of, outside of school. And to young, to young kids, and I just had this kind of flash of, There isn’t a contemporary dance syllabus for young people, you know, there’s ballet syllabus, there’s obviously music grades, there’s drama, there’s LAMDA Exams, there isn’t a contemporary dance syllabus, and there really wasn’t at the time, anything. And I began to think I wonder if we could start one. And I think that was one of the things you know, when I first took this role, suddenly I’m driving the bus, you know, I brought it to the attention of the board. And of course, everyone thought it was a brilliant idea. So we’ve, we’ve been developing that now for probably five years seriously, it’s, it is a syllabus, grades one to eight. It’s it is about contemporary dance technique, learning all those lovely things, feeling free and moving in the space and all of that stuff. But it’s also very much about creativity, improvisation, and performance. And, and those sorts of areas of improvisation and, you know, building that confidence to put your own ideas forward have, you know, that’s such sort of transferable skills to be gained from that? So, so yes, we’re sort of growing the business from scratch. We currently have about 140 teachers, we’re building some very exciting new partnerships at the moment, everybody who’s engaged with it absolutely loves it. And so we’re hoping it will expand and hopefully globally.
Gary Crotaz 42:58
Fantastic. And, this is a hard last question. What legacy would you like to leave behind at Rambert School?
Amanda Britton 43:07
Gosh. Well, in a way, it’s not hard, because I realised pretty quickly, that, that maybe what I needed to do was to build the financial sustainability of the School and with opportunities like Rambert Grades. And with some of the other activities we were starting to build, and with a new approach to sort of fundraising to really try and diversify and build new, build new relationships, that maybe I had the opportunity to do that. I want to leave the school in a, I mean, one could never have a very secure place in this world. You know, it’s, there’s so much uncertainty, who could have predicted COVID? Government funding is always uncertain, you know, we never really know what’s going to happen. But if I could hand on a School that was a little bit more sure of its finances, of its business plan, of its sort of longer-term strategy in that respect. I feel like the next person coming in, maybe could concentrate maybe more on the artistic if they you know, if that was felt to be the right thing to do. And maybe that would be a luxury that I haven’t had. Although having said that I’ve made lots of changes artistically as well!
Gary Crotaz 44:24
I’ve heard all those as you’ve talked through. The Unlock Moment is that flash of remarkable clarity when you suddenly know the right path ahead. For Amanda Britton. It was realising that she was ready to take on the top job and go from having an opinion on the future to being the person leading it. Dancer teacher, to Principal, Artistic Director, Chief Executive. It was a mindset-shift that unlocked her full potential as a natural leader and is driving a vibrant and exciting future for the Rambert School. I’m very proud to work with Amanda and her whole team. Amanda, thank you so much for joining me today on The Unlock Moment.
Amanda Britton 45:00
Gary Crotaz 45:02
This has been The Unlock Moment, a podcast with me Dr. Gary Crotaz. Thank you for listening in. You can find out more about how to figure out what you want and how to get it in my book, The IDEA Mindset, available in physical book, ebook and audiobook formats. Follow me on Instagram, and subscribe to this podcast to get notified about future episodes. Join me again soon!