Sports Editor, Lucy Brogden, met Team Newcastle Sports Personality of the Year winner, Pippa McLeod-Brown, to talk about her prestigious victory.
How do you feel to have won SPOTY?
Really surprised! I was so surprised to be nominated at all, let alone make the shortlist, and then to win! I can’t believe it. I really didn’t expect it at all- there’s a lot of debate as to whether dance even qualifies as a sport, so it’s great for us to be recognised.
How did you get into dance?
I started dancing when I was two, attending weekly ballet classes. When I was four, I started going to tap classes. From the age of four I tried in ballroom dancing, jazz, and contemporary. Then, when I was 9, I joined a CAT scheme (Centre for advanced training), and I danced there for four years, which was really intense- I trained for 25 hours a week on top of taking classes at my local scheme, and playing basketball. Most people from on the CAT scheme chose to audition for dance school, but I decided to come to university instead.
What’s your favourite style of dance?
Contemporary has got to be my favourite. I was never going to be a ballet dancer, and I love how expressive and fun contemporary is. At Newcastle I do around 12 hours of dance a week.
“I trained for 25 hours a week on top of taking classes at my local scheme, and playing basketball”
What do you do for the club?
I taught the advanced contemporary class last year, and this year I’m teaching the advanced jazz class. This means choreographing and teaching routines to my classes for competitions. We only have four hours to teach a group an entirely new routine, so it can be stressful! All of our teachers (and we have about 40 for all the different styles of dance) are students.
What does it mean to be president of dance?
Being president of dance means that you’re the president of the society, and the club. The society is mainly social, and members dance for their own enjoyment. With the club, members have to audition, and go on to dance in competitions across the country. There are a lot of dancers at Newcastle- we have 404 members in the society, and 104 members in our club.
What did you do for the club during your time as president?
When I became president, it was only the second year that dance had been a part of the AU, and I wanted to make sure we became fully integrated. There were small things like ordering kit from the Team Newcastle supplier and making sure we had the Team Newcastle logo on our kit, but I also wanted to work towards making the club more serious, so that it ran more like a competitive sports team.
To do this, I made limbering sessions compulsory, since flexibility is so important in dancing, and inflexibility is often what brings you down most at competitions. I also became stricter with session attendance, which encouraged members to become more committed. It was hard to change people’s minds on why becoming more stringent was a good thing, but eventually people seemed to come round.
We also ran our own dance competition last semester, which was a big financial risk, considering that the last competition we hosted three years ago made a big loss. Thankfully, it was a success, with over 450 dancers from all across the UK coming to compete at the Sage. This year, we’re planning on running the competition again.
I also tried to make dance classes more consistent- with so many classes it’s logistically difficult. The timetable used to be emailed every Sunday night, and your classes would be at a totally different time each week, which meant if you did more than one class you just had to hope that they didn’t clash. I tried to make is so that all classes were held roughly at the same time every week, and that as many as possible were held in the sports centre.
“When I became president, it was only the second year that dance had been a part of the AU, and I wanted to make sure we became fully integrated”
What are your best moments?
We were shortlisted for the pride of Newcastle University awards, which was great. We also came second for ‘best society’ at the national society awards, and won best event of the year for our competition too! A personal highlight was that it was our most successful year as a club- we won 31 trophies, which was a huge improvement on the previous year where we won 18. It’s not until you go to a competition and get an actual result that you see if what you’re doing is making a difference, so it was amazing to see that the changes were making an impact, and the club was thriving.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m doing my year in industry in London next year, and I’m looking forward to dancing while I’m there because there are so many great schools in London. What I love about dance is that people dance forever.
Any final words?
The year required a lot of really good time management, and it was tricky to fit in with my degree, but I enjoyed every minute.
"Pippa is such a diverse dancer and a huge success in so many different categories. She’s also clearly a brilliant committee member, with a bubbly personality and has helped the Dance club to succeed in so many aspects!"
Sophie Matthews, AU Officer