Namron OBE returns to his dancing roots in Willesden for one-off show

Namron OBE

Namron OBE - Credit: Archant

He was the first ever black dancer to be employed by a British company after curiosity led him to a jazz class in Willesden back in the 1950s.

Namron OBE

Namron OBE - Credit: Archant

How, more than 55 years later, the mononymous Namron OBE is back for a one off unique performance – not in a theatre, but in Willesden Library, in the High Road.

The trailblazer is taking his audience on a trip from his early years in Jamaica to joining his parents who’d come over to England as part of the Windrush movement, and on to becoming one of the most celebrated contemporary dance performers in the country.

An exhibition of his life is showing all week preceding the perfomance on Friday, which includes rare film footage and four solo performances.

Not bad for a teenager who didn’t know how to dance when he first got to the UK.

Namron OBE

Namron OBE - Credit: Archant

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He said: “My parents were here when I arrived in 1959 aged 13. It was so different – everything was dark and gloomy compared with Jamaica, which was sunny and warm. Quite a contrast.

“Somehow I survived, and other people also survived, as we see now with Windrush awareness rising.

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“I was working on my performance well before Windrush broke, but was invited to do a taster at Willesden Library by Brent Council. As a consequence the council invited me to do a whole show. We are talking 55 years – my dance career has spanned 55 years.”

His first experience of dance was at the secondary modern he attended in Salusbury Road, Queen’s Park.

Namron OBE

Namron OBE - Credit: Archant

“My last year at school, we had a dance,” he said. “All the girls were on one side and the boys were on one side. You had to walk across the room if you wanted to ask a girl to dance.

“I was brave enough to walk across the hall to one of my teachers to ask her to dance.”

It was while working as an apprentice in mechanical engineering that a friend told him of dance classes with the Willesden Jazz Ballet Group, one of the earliest community dance projects.

“I was curious about it,” he said, “then saw a report in the centre pages of the local paper, so went along.

“I never looked back. I liked what I saw and there were plenty of girls. Maybe it was girls that made me go back – I’ll never know!

“The whole dance group was a way of getting black and white youngsters together, to socialise and mix. There were prejudices and racial divides in the 1960s, so they used dance as a means of bringing communities together.”

He won a scholarship to the Rambert Ballet School in 1965 and was then invited to Martha Graham’s London Contemporary Dance Trust in the West End.

“I went to see it and my world turned upside down,” he said. “I’ve never stopped since and I’m still shaking my leg.”

There he began to teach new students, becoming the first black dancer to be employed by a UK dance company.

Two years later, in 1969, he became a founder member of the London Contemporary Dance Theatre.

He moved to Leeds, where he lived for 18 years, becoming a founder member of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance.

He taught and toured globally, and collaborated with renowned choreographers.

In 2014 his hard work was recognised when he was made an OBE for services to dance.

He recalls the Friday he was at Buckingham Palace, not knowing which member of the Royal Family he’d meet. “We were all in a room trying to guess who it would be that day,” he said. “Turned out it was Princess Anne. She knew of me – she said she had seen me dance. I was the only dance-related person that day, so perhaps it was easier for her. We were talking dance, not horses.”

Now he’s looking forward to the “unique opportunity” to perform in front of a home crowd.

“It isn’t a theatre,” he said. “It’s a library. I said I’d do it because I started in Willesden.

“It’s just me, with old footage and photos and people talking about me – including my first ballet teacher in Willesden.

“The challenges, all the hard work – there were crazy times,” he said. “It was the ’60s, after all, confronting racism. It was rife.”

He added: “My mum’s a baddie in the piece. She didn’t want me to dance. She’d say: ‘I didn’t drag your arse from Jamaica for you to put on a pair of tights.’”

Doors open for Asphalt to Maplewood Floor: An Evening With Namron at 6.30pm on October 12. Tickets are £8 in advance from Eventbrite, or £12 on the door – where pensioners get in ‘two for one’.

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