Although I decided not to go to Drama School I didn’t leave my love of dancing behind. I continued to perform at the Northcott whilst studying for A-Levels in Dance, Drama, English Literature, Philosophy and Religious Studies. It was through A-Level Dance that I discovered my one true love – contemporary dance. I had always been academically inclined as well as artistically, and studying for my A-Level in Dance I fell in love not only with the style of contemporary dance itself, and dancing it, but also analysis and history. Although I still harboured dreams of a performing career, I decided to go to University to further my passion and to keep my options open.
So off I went to De Montfort University, Leicester in September 2004 to study for a dual honours degree in Dance and Theatre. DMU was the best option for me. They had (and still have) one of the highest-ranking Dance courses in the country, an internationally renowned academic faculty and, being an Old Polytechnic, more contact time than at Red Brick Universities.
Now don’t get me wrong. Not a lot had changed in two years, and I still wasn’t really ready to leave home. I cried all my first night in Halls I was so homesick. But I knew I was ready to deal with the challenges and new experiences that my degree would offer me.
One of my first Lecturers at DMU was Dr. Martin Hargreaves, who at the time was lecturing part-time at DMU and editing Dance Theatre Journal. Apart from thinking Martin was generally quite cool, he had just finished his PhD and had jobs that involved teaching, researching and writing about dance. I knew what a PhD was, but I don’t think I had realised up until this point you could get a PhD in Dance. And in my 18-year-old world, even though I knew I would be taught by people at University, it hadn’t occurred to me it was a job – and one that I could aspire to. Within 3 weeks of starting my undergraduate degree, I knew that it was what I wanted to do. So I chose my modules and put all my energy in to working towards the goal of doing a Masters, a PhD and finally becoming a Lecturer.
I completed my Masters by Independent Study and my whopping 35,000 word thesis at DMU in October 2008. I had already discussed PhD options with my Masters supervisor, Professor Ramsay Burt and had started looking at funding options. Shortly after my viva in March 2009, the University of Leeds advertised for a Research Associate in Dance. This new type of role would include a 0.5 teaching contract alongside a 0.5 PhD studentship. The role was designed to be a training ground for new academics, and seemed to be a dream come true (are you sensing a theme yet?) So I applied for and rather miraculously was offered the job.
From September 2009 I entered a whirlwind of dancing, teaching and researching. And I loved it. I discovered that even though I had intended to get into academia for research, I also loved teaching. Being able to share my love and passion for new knowledge put a real and metaphorical spring in my step. I discovered new challenges and new avenues in my research, and within my first year was co-authoring a book chapter with one of my supervisors.
I was privileged to share an office with two other Research Associates who became my closest friends and my lifeline. A real comradery existed between us as we navigated teaching and PhD-ing together. And of course, we loved our Wednesday afternoon procrastination. We used to imagine what we’d be doing if we weren’t academics – David would be a full-time artist, Katie would be on Bake Off and I would be the first female Doctor Who (sadly I’ve missed the boat on that one).
Sounds good doesn’t it? And it was. To start with. But over time the combination of workload and my tendency towards over-work and perfectionism became an issue. 3 years into my ‘dream job’ I burnt out and as a result, my physical and mental health suffered. Eventually, I had no choice but to take some time off, and ultimately withdraw from my PhD. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.