Norwich dancer has a passion for fashion
He's the man known for his high-energy fashion shows at the UEA and his choreography at the launch night at Norwich Fashion Week. As he gets ready to perform two new shows, Emma Harrowing chats to Stephen Knights about his passion for theatrics.
There are not many dance or fashion events in Norwich that haven't had the midas touch from dancer Stephen Knights.
Probably better known for his high-energy dance/fashion shows at the University of East Anglia, which he started choreographing in 1995 after standing in for a male model who had broken his ankle, Stephen has worked on fashion shows with Chapelfield and The Mall, has choreographed shows for the Theatre Royal, Playhouse and Norwich Arts Centre, was one of the forces behind the launch shows at Norwich Fashion Week as well organising charity shows at nightclubs Mercy, Liquid, Time, Lava and Ignite and Po Na Na. He has also worked on fashion shows alongside some of fashions big high street names including Gap, Mac, Toni and Guy, Karen Millen, Topshop and Topman.
This list is by no means exhaustive.
'The UEA fashion shows were once described as 'So You Think You Can Dance' but with fashion and no judges,' laughs Stephen.
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'Although I enjoy my work as a dancer my real passion lies in choreography. I love the challenge of trying to fuse clothing and dance together.
'I have always had an interest in fashion, and with my dance background the two just seemed to lend themselves well to each other. I never intended to become a fashion show choreographer or producer, but I am certainly glad that the opportunity presented itself all of those years ago. It's funny what you fall in to.'
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Those that have seen one of Stephen's shows will know that the 37-year-old dancer really gets into the routine whether it is hip-hop, dance, contemporary or even ballet. His tightly worked routines give the impression that Stephen is not only talented but strong minded, hard working and has so much energy he could put Louis Spence through his paces.
'I remember being seven years old and being glued to the television whenever 'Fame' came on,' says Stephen. 'I used to dance around the living room of my home in Watton kicking my legs in the air and trying to drop into the splits!'
Like many children interested in the glitz and glamour of the entertainment world Stephen practised dance routines in his room to the sounds of the time.
Stephen says: 'Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul and Madonna inspired me and I would scrutinise their performances on MTV, video-taping them so that I could watch them over and over again. I would learn the choreography and then devise some of my own to go along with it.'
It wasn't long before Stephen persuaded several of his friends to learn his routines too. Stephen's dance routines were practised every lunchtime in the drama room at school.
'Like many children I was bullied at school,' says Stephen. 'I was overweight and coming from a small town a lot of my peers couldn't except the fact that I was so passionate about dance. Dance became my escape route. The more I was made fun of the more determined I was to work hard and become better.'
Stephen's resolute attitude paid off and in the early 1990s he and his friends won first place at the Norfolk Disco Dancing Championship. The accolade gave Stephen the confidence boost he needed to really believe in his talent. After studying a BTEC in dance at the College of West Anglia, Stephen went to the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds but had to leave after a year due to lack of funds.
'I returned to Norfolk and was approached by Norfolk Dance just days after my return,' explains Stephen. 'I began teaching a couple of classes a week before gradually becoming one of the most busiest members of staff. I moved to Norwich in 1995 and have lived here ever since.'
In January 2011 Stephen decided to set up his own independent dance school in Norwich and the Knightshift Dance Company was born.
'I always dreamt of having my own school then suddenly the time was right and I took the plunge and trusted my instincts,' says Stephen. 'It is my belief that dance should be made accessible to everyone regardless of age, shape or size.' This belief was put in practice when in 2010 Stephen began working with local breast cancer charity Keeping Abreast on their annual fashion shows. Stephen is currently working with the women taking part in the next show in October this year. All of the models taking to the catwalk have been touched by breast cancer in one way of another and the majority have no experience of dance.
'I am continuously overwhelmed with the women's enthusiasm, determination and willingness to learn,' says Stephen. 'During rehearsals I often forget that these amazingly driven women have or are suffering from illness. I feel humbled and inspired.'
Many people who have worked with Stephen would probably say the same about him. His energy inspires others and despite having no dance or modelling experience the women at the Keeping Abreast shows nail the choreography and get the confidence to strut their stuff down the catwalk.
'We are currently three weeks into rehearsal for this year's Keeping Abreast Dance Challenge,' explains Stephen. 'More than 20 women and men, all related to the charity in some way, are attending regular weekly classes and are being sponsored for their efforts.
'The goal is to create a hip-hop dance performance piece to be performed at the Keeping Abreast Fashion Show in October.'
Stephen is also putting together a dance showcase with his Knightshift dancers to celebrate the first year of his dance school. More than 80 dancers from the school will put on a dance show that explores different genres at the UEA at the end of this month.
'Expect to be thrilled with fun performances ranging from Singing in the Rain and Grease to beautifully crafted contemporary works to the likes of Imogen Heap and La Roux,' says Stephen. 'There will also be commercial and street dance routines to music from Rihanna, Katy Perry and Bjork.'
Many of Stephen's students have gone on to study dance at prestigious dance schools such as the London Contemporary Dance School, Urdang Academy and Bodyworks, but Stephen has not let his success go to his head.
'I'm a great believer that everyone can dance,' says Stephen. 'Often people's perception of dance is that it is only for the fit and young. Once you go through the doors of my studio I'm fairly certain that those myths will be dispelled!'
The Knightshift Dance Company's Dance Showcase 2012 takes place at the UEA LCR on Friday, August 31 at 7pm and Saturday, September 1 at 3pm and 7pm. Tickets cost �7.50 for adults and �5 for students and under 16s. Tickets are available from the UEA Box Office on 01603 508050 or at ueabookings.co.uk
The Keeping Abreast 'More Than Just' Fashion Show takes place at Open on Wednesday, October 3 and Thursday, October 4 at 7pm. For more information and tickets call Victoria White on 07799 258084 or email firstname.lastname@example.org