Dance Off: Helena Bumpus


Most people will freely admit that their childhood dreams haven’t necessarily come to fruition.  The jobs that we proudly declared would be ours when we were toddlers – astronaut, pop star, fairy godmother – are sadly not plausible once we grow out of our favourite superhero costumes.  Unusually, Helena Bumpus’ transition from childhood dream to grown-up reality came from an active decision.

One year out of university, Helena works as an Assistant Comedy Agent in London.  She loves her job, but it’s a far cry from what she dreamt of as a child:

“I was dancing from when I was two, so I was in a position when I was fourteen to start teaching two year-olds.  It is something I’m quite proud of…people know I like to perform, but I think a lot people don’t know how long I danced for and how big a part of my life it was before uni.  It was something I was really seriously considering doing instead of university.”

Being able to teach dance at the tender age of fourteen is more than a little impressive, and it demonstrates how much of her life Helena devoted to dance.  Having cherished her dream of dancing for her entire childhood, Helena is surprisingly detached from it now.

“I did a lot of shows in London theatres, and my parents always go on about it ‘cause they’re really proud, but I think it’s just a nice fact: ‘oh you’ve danced at Sadlers Wells, bla bla bla’.”

Putting aside how bizarre it is to hear someone I know say “bla bla bla” about having performed at one of the premier dance venues in the country, I can appreciate Helena’s stance on redefining your life.  Once she got to university and started her Drama & Theatre Studies Course, eventually specialising in Directing for Theatre, she found a new side of her creative self that she wasn’t expecting.  Having worked on a lot of movement pieces, she found herself enjoying the process over the product.

“I was never really that sort of physical actor; I was more interested in the process and the training part than the actual performance, and that really clicked with me.  I found myself becoming more of a nurturer and a teacher as a director, and I became much more interested in the directing process than the actual end bit.  And it was much more fulfilling for me to teach them a technique than to see a thing go well.”

Discovering that she could transfer her passion for teaching dance into physical theatre and into directing in general was a significant turning point for Helena, who is happily convinced that her life experiences have led her to her employment position now, even though it seems so far removed from her childhood dreams.

“I’m not an agent yet, but when I am one, I think my passion will lie in discovering new talent and nurturing them and developing them more than finding people who are already established, ‘cause whilst that’s great, I just think for me that’s where I can bring in my experience with directing…There’s just something about feeling like you’ve discovered someone – or not discovered, but feeling like you’ve helped them…I’ve always enjoyed teaching people.  I don’t know if I have much to teach…but what I do know I like to pass on and I like to feel like I’ve made a difference.”

It is genuinely humbling to listen to Helena talk about this, because in her eyes she has found a new dream rather than discarded an old one.  Her outlook, passion and determination are all working in her favour, and it is incredible.

Having said that, I feel we should answer the obvious question: why give up dance in the first place?

“I’m quite a competitive person…but dancing was another level, and in the end it was quite unhealthy for me.  So I decided when I was seventeen to stop teaching, to stop dancing, to go to university, and if I wanted to pick it up then, I would.  And I never felt the need to again.  And it was really strange, ‘cause it was something I did for years, and I took so seriously, and I did all of these dance competitions and big shows up in London, with so much money poured into them, and I just left it completely behind when I went to uni.  And I don’t regret it, but I think I do sometimes wish that I could put it on my CV and say, you know, this is what I spent my childhood doing.”

And then, of course, there’s the most worrying indication that Helena is overly competitive: her crippling addiction to cheating at board games.

Next time: Steven Laverty

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