Leia Shorney: BA (Hons) Dance 2016-2019; Freelance Choreographer

20 May 21

“I only applied for Winchester. I didn’t apply to any other universities because l wanted to be on a Dance course that focused on choreography and Winchester did just that; my lecturers gave me different perspectives on dance and I have shared that with my dance school.”

Leia Shorney is a BA (Hons) Dance graduate and Freelance Choreographer. During her time at Winchester she has worked alongside and performed with companies such as Blue Apple Theatre, StopGap and D@win - the University’s Dance repertoire company. Since then, Leia has passed on her knowledge and skills to young people at the dance school she attended as a child. To showcase her work, Leia has created her own website, where she also shares essays about her experiences as a dancer with cerebral palsy.

“During the pandemic I performed in a dance showcase in November for JUMP! Dance Reading. It was all online. The dance I created, called Dis-Abled is about exploring my body and how I dance; when I dance, my hands and arms take the forefront and I put my lower limbs to the side. I want my work to be about my whole body, but I’m working through old habits.”

“Before the pandemic I was working as a freelance choreographer working with teenagers at the dance school I attended before university. I have made my own website to promote my work. It can be tough – there are things you don’t consider at first like the little details, but I just did it to do something and get my work out there.”

“It’s a place to put my writing; it’s a way people can engage with me. I have been interviewed a couple of times since creating my own website and since I’ve started writing about my disability. It’s also a way to share my performances. However, a lot of dance work I have done outside of university has been with young adults and I can’t share this online, so it is great I am able to showcase my university work on my website instead.”

Leia had experience prior to studying at Winchester, having been a dancer since she was four years old. However, she credits her degree for giving her a new perspective on dance and a way to work with a wide range of people.

“I honestly think the Dance undergrad at Winchester is the best degree! Working with D@win and Blue Apple broadened my perspective of what dance can be rather than just what people think, that it’s just jazz hands. [Laughs] My degree has helped me recontextualize my dancing by learning the techniques like Cunningham and Limon; plus working on projects like community dance is so fulfilling.”

“Dance is not always about aesthetics, it is also about lived experience. It can start conversations, political or otherwise. I’m the first physically disabled student on the Dance course and I’ve had so much support, but I’ve stayed away from the topic of disability a lot, from my own disability especially at university. I didn’t just want to focus on that and be known just for that. Instead I have focused on subject matters such as gender and sexuality and movements such as the start of Black Lives Matter in 2013.”

“Dance is a true group effort. You work with lots of different people and it can really open doors. It teaches people lots of new skills; you learn about the world through dance. It is a spiritual experience as well as exercise; you tap into yourself and ask questions, as well as making social connections.”

“I took part in a module with internships. I was the liaison with Blue Apple Theatre Company which included making the team feel welcome at our rehearsals and keeping the company informed of tour dates, so you also learn the admin side of performing arts and dance like I did in my graded internship. I still give advice and documents to current students regarding this module.”

“I did this within D@win. D@win is a pre-professional dance company and part of the dance course. It refines your dance skills, you go on tour, you learn to become self-sufficient. You audition for D@win; but it is a module you can choose to do. It prepares you for the outside world.”

Leia adds how studying Dance, particularly at Winchester, was the best choice for her. She was so sure of this decision that she only applied to study at Winchester when choosing universities. Leia made friends on her course who she has kept in contact with throughout the pandemic, but also made friends while working on campus.

“I only applied for Winchester. I didn’t apply to any other universities because l wanted to be on a Dance course that focused on choreography at undergrad and Winchester did just that; my lecturers gave me different perspectives on dance and I have shared that with my dance school.”

“For example, while creating the last piece I made for my dance school before lockdown, I was inspired by Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring and this gave me a set vision for the piece. The girls I taught were used to the idea of being given choreography to then perform but I gave them a stimulus and then performed a solo for them to learn. Even though I had a vision, I wanted this to be a collaborative experience for the girls which was new to them and something I had experienced on my degree.”

“I made friends on my course, but I have become closer with some of them since lockdown and since university finished. I actually made lots of friends from outside of my course just from being on campus and working at the bookshop!”

Being a passionate dancer before her studies, Leia loved her degree. However, joining Creative Writing Society gave her a new way to be creative outside of dance, and a chance to unwind.

“I joined the Creative Writing Society and it gave me lots of different skills. I was able to focus on other things and stay committed to dancing on my course. It was a great way to relax. Taking part in Creative Writing also diversified my friendship group and I had a lot of fun. I would write pieces including one piece called Hallowed Ground which I used initially to get content on my website. I have written a novel over the course of the year which I am really proud of and would love to get published, I’ve since added a piece of fiction on to my website, called The Vow.”

Leia has many happy memories at Winchester with friends. However, it’s the opportunities she remembers the most. These opportunities include performing in the city centre, studying dance in America and speaking at her course symposium.

“My best memory was speaking at a dance symposium. I’m so proud because it is a big deal for my course. I spoke about neurodiversity in dance, the use of criteria and how obsolete it can become in dance because how do you evaluate someone with a disability? It should be about how the criteria fits the student rather than how the student fits criteria. I was so honoured and struck by how my lecturer had asked me to speak about this.”

“I also have other happy memories such as performing in the middle of Winchester at The Hat Fair and going to James Madison University and Shenandoah University in America for dance workshops and performances. I was nervous being the one disabled student on the trip, but it was like a holiday mixed with hard work; it was a different change of pace – new and exciting but fast-paced.”

Leia hopes to teach young people again once it’s safe to do so; her main goal for the future is to secure funding for her own dance projects.

“I would love to teach choreography again to teenagers once the pandemic calms down. I don’t have the physical facilities to pass the dance syllabus on although verbally I can. However, choreography I can do and a lot of what I do is derived from ballet and what I learnt at university.”

I am also really interested in politics and dance and so I would like to study this in the future, possibly at Roehampton University, but ultimately, I would like to get funding for my own dance projects and hire physically disabled dancers. The perception of dance is that it isn’t a viable option for disabled people but if you want to do it, you’re already halfway there.”

With experience outside of her degree and as a Winchester graduate of two years, Leia has some well-informed advice for students who want to become dancers or choreographers.

“Be open-minded to things like community dance and performing in general; originally I didn’t want to perform at all, but you have to on the course. Also, make sure to stay politically active; know what is going on in life and at university. Be kind to yourself while you’re at university – it can be tough, but it is really fun, so have fun and enjoy it because it won’t come back.”

Back to alumni