A hub for the Northern Soul movement. Home to a football club who enjoyed a fairytale FA Cup victory in 2013. Pies, perhaps. Wigan is a household name for a variety of reasons. And the writer George Orwell famously followed the road all the way to the town’s pier, which, infamously, doesn’t really exist.
What definitely does exist, though, is Wigan’s vibrant dance scene, part-choreographed by Edge Hill dance graduate Amy Burdon.
A performer from an early age, Amy got involved with her local dance school. She developed confidence as well as technique under her inspirational teacher, before getting involved in an elite performance project and performing at Wembley and Cardiff in front of thousands. By then, Amy had comprehensively caught the dance bug, and eventually joined the BA (Hons) Dance degree at Edge Hill University.
“The course had a great reputation and offered really diverse modules,” says Amy. “I enjoyed studying different styles of dance. There were some amazing performance opportunities and the facilities in the performing arts department were world class.”
But the truly career-defining moments took place off-stage.
“Studying modules that developed my skills in arts administration, teaching and choreographic practices helped me to prepare for starting my own dance company. Having lots of different learning experiences and connecting with local professional artists was invaluable.”
Because Edge Hill’s Dance, Drama and Musical Theatre degrees offer something different to the conservatoire experience, where the focus is largely on what people do on-stage.
Our degrees prep you for a life working across the performing arts sector. That could well be under the spotlights, but the course offered a more holistic, rounded view of the industry. And Amy could see what could be achieved:
“We took part in a six-week placement in a local primary school…the opportunity to experience delivering dance in a school setting and put our learning into action.”
Senior lecturer in dance James Hewison expands on the philosophy behind Edge Hill’s dance programme:
“Amy’s accomplished brilliant things since she graduated, and really understands her audiences and client groups. Dance at Edge Hill has always been closely allied to applied practices, such as teaching and leadership in educational and community contexts. We have specific modules that focus students’ skills and abilities and enable them to take that knowledge into real world situations, building students’ confidence and experience.”
Growing up with no local facilities, Amy had to leave the borough to train. When she finished her degree, Amy took the resilience, independence, teamwork, and critical thinking she’d developed on the course, along with memories of her own inspiring childhood dance teacher, and, in 2015, started building WigLe Dance CIC, accessible studios in which to “ignite the fire within children and young people across the Wigan Borough”:
“There was a lack of accessible and affordable youth dance opportunities in the Wigan Borough. We’re committed to providing dance as a creative discipline to a new generation.”
Pretty ambitious for someone barely into their twenties, but with continuing support from Wigan Council, Arts Council England and Sport England, and leaning on the modules, work experience and networks cultivated on the BA (Hons) Dance degree, Amy now works with over 300 children.
And she remains hands-on:
“We’re a small team which means I still do a bit of everything – teaching, performing, producing events, as well as day-to-day tasks that keep WigLe running. I enjoy the flexibility and independence that comes with running a business. I get to make decisions and have big plans without having to ask anyone’s permission.”
One of Amy’s ‘big plans’ was the Wigan Borough Dance Festival, launched in 2017. Initially it was 10 per cent inspiration, 90 per cent perspiration, working hard to get schools and community partners onboard, but it’s fast become a fixture in the local cultural calendar:
“There’s always a massive sense of achievement at the end of the week having seen so many children and young people having an amazing experience and sharing it with their families and friends.”
Edge Hill University’s dance students have also benefited from the Festival’s success. A team of students wowed crowds in 2023 with a piece choreographed by Senior Lecturer Michelle Man.
And for the first time, the department also secured work placements at the Festival:
“Having the extra capacity has been really valuable, supporting young people to develop their skills in producing events,”
Third year dance student Leah Mullock’s eyes were opened when she took on one of Amy’s placements:
“Although I enjoy performing, I didn’t wish I was performing, which I was surprised about. Working on ticket operating, hosting, teaching workshops, money handling and marketing made me realise the importance of considering all aspects of the industry, not just performing or choreographing, when planning for my future.”
“Dance is an inherently generous discipline,” says James. “Teaching and passing on knowledge of what you know and what you’ve learned is core to the life of the subject.”
Amy is proof of that, and more than happy to share her real world knowledge. She’s often back on campus, teaching and recounting her experiences for the next generation of dancers, directors, choreographers, teachers and who-knows-what else. And Edge Hill maintains a strong relationship with the wider dance community:
“Having a direct link with the EHU dance department means we can signpost those young people and create new links. Seeing a university course available so locally is really important for lots of the young people we work with.”
Despite her success, Amy finds it hard to stand still, as you might expect of a dance grad. Not only is she hoping to expand her studio, but also build on its legacy by creating an arts-based youth centre in the heart of Leigh town centre.
Amy continues to be the choreographer of her future.
Discover more about dance at Edge Hill University
July 28, 2023