I was delighted to renew contact with Toria Ford, former student of Clevedon School. Toria who is a dancer, teacher and choreographer, graduated last year with a First Class Honours Degree in Professional and Commercial Dance from University Centre Weston and has just started her own dance business at ‘Motion Dance and Fitness Studios.’ in Bristol. When we talked about this new venture her excitement was palpable as was her disappointment when once again we went into lockdown and the studios were forced to close.
Toria still lives in Clevedon with her parents Elaine and Andy and her brother Scott who is a firefighter. She loves Clevedon because it still has that small town feel to it and is a very supportive, inclusive community. Being situated on the M5 corridor also makes it very attractive to her in terms of ease of travel. Toria also appreciates Clevedon’s picture perfect views and loves going for walks on the sea front and along the sea wall, never more so than in lockdown. She shared her love of the primordial sound of the waves which really resonated with me because I do find they have such a calming, soothing effect. I guess that’s why they figure so largely in videos and stories to help people sleep.
Toria’s business is located in the heart of Bristol in All Saints Street. The studios run a variety of adult dance and fitness classes. Toria herself offers Lyrical and Jazz but she works alongside Frankie J who offers House, Munio who specializes in Hip Hop, Gabbie whose passion is Musical Theatre, Laura who focuses on Street, Beky who offers Heels and Commercial Dance and Keanu, Leighton and Beth whose main interest is Open Choreography. The studios are the perfect environment for Toria because she is totally immersed in the world of dance.
Toria’s passion is energizing and creates such positive feedback that drives her forward. There are many fabulous testimonials on her website, here are three that I felt encapsulated her talent as a teacher, her values and her love of dance.
‘I have had the pleasure of teaching Toria in her final year at university and I have watched her grow from a passionate student into a beautiful dancer and confident teacher of her own. Toria’s classes welcome people of all levels and she creates a fun and safe environment for dancers to enjoy and express themselves. Having had to start her career during the pandemic, she has done an amazing job… I can’t wait to see where she goes in the future.’ Beky Humphreys
‘I started dancing about 10 weeks ago! When I first went to Toria’s lyrical class I was so nervous but she creates such a safe space for people to express themselves that it quickly became the highlight of my week and what I look forward to most! You can tell from the pride she has In all of her students that she really wants everyone to feel positive about themselves and to push us each week. She pours her heart into each choreography, you don’t just dance the routine, you really feel it! I am so glad I started these classes, my confidence has built thanks to the encouragement from Toria and all of the kind, supportive class. Shauna Penney
Toria is an inspirational teacher who is always up for a chat and a laugh which I have appreciated from the start of her classes. As a beginner to jazz and lyrical, she explains the movements with technical vocabulary and practical demonstrations. Her choreography echoes this effort as it is stylistically informed and enjoyable, therefore I can improve and also have fun which is a key trait of a good teacher! As a hip-hop dancer myself I can see training from Toria helping me in this. Francesca Russell
Check out her showreel here which was made at the Motion Studios https://www.motionstudiosbristol.com
Toria started dancing at the tender age of six when she began ballet and tap lessons, she went on to explore Latin and ballroom before moving on to jazz and contemporary at the age of nine. She was a competitive dancer nationally and whilst at primary school, she performed in the south west leg of the Evita tour and Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. High profile performances were a feature of life at secondary school, of note were her roles in Christmas Pantomimes at the Hippodrome and time spent with the award-winning street dance company Flawless.
It was at Clevedon School, inspired by her dance teacher Mrs. Niescior-Mockford that Toria realised she wanted a career in the dance industry, notably within teaching. She chose to study Dance at G.C.S.E and developed skills in several different dance styles including contemporary, urban and ballet as well as developing her choreographic skills. She went regularly to see public performances and started to develop ideas about her own dance specialism. She also completed her Bronze and Silver Arts Award, these being critical in terms of her developing leadership and choreographic skills.
Having excelled at G.C.S.E and having reaffirmed her decision about wanting a career in dance, Toria then went on to do A Level Dance and her Gold Arts Award. The A Level allowed her to increase her knowledge and understanding of the dance world and the history of dance as well as improve her technique, choreographic and performance skills. For Gold Arts Award qualification she was required to lead on an Arts Project which involved her choreographing a dance with a Year 9 group which they then presented at the Weston Dance Festival. It wasn’t without its challenges but she loved every minute of it and knew that teaching was definitely the career she wanted to pursue. Her studies led her to be more confident, creative and reflective and she knew for sure that she wanted to continue with dance after her A Levels.
Throughout her school career, Toria also took advantage of the considerable opportunities to get involved in performing arts related extra-curricular activities. She was a member of the Elite Dance Team, who are a small group of students representing the Dance Department and Clevedon School at local, regional and national events.
She was involved in choreographing, teaching and performing in all the whole school shows and productions and in Year 12 volunteered to act as in-class support working with a Dance and Drama class for the whole academic year. She took on tasks such as leading warm ups and teaching sections of choreography along with directing final GCSE pieces. She was in her element!
Starting her degree in Professional and Commercial Dance was a dream for Toria and she loved her course which enabled her to further progress the dance genre she was familiar with but also introduced her to a fusion of commercial styles including Heels. For those of you not familiar with Heels, it’s a dance form that emerged and evolved in America and Europe in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. It is named after the women’s shoe style, since one of its distinguishing features is the wearing of high-heeled shoes during performance.
One of the highlights of Toria’s course was a week long visit in her second year to Studio School which is located in the Centre Studios in downtown Los Angeles. The school was developed to help support and shape future entertainment professionals by offering them collaborative, innovative education in a practical real world setting. Toria loved the time she attended there and was very impressed with how their curriculum had been set up.
Visiting dance agencies, allowed Toria valuable insight into the dance industry and gave her the opportunity to compare the career paths of a dancer in LA and a dancer like herself in the UK. She did also manage to do some sight seeing. Happy days!
In the final year of her course, she was offered the opportunity to teach younger years which she thrived on and made her very excited for her future as a teacher.
Toria launched her business just before the first lockdown but was unable to do much teaching before July. The impact of lockdown has of course been colossal because unless they are working for a big ballet company, most dancers and choreographers are freelance. According to One Dance UK, the sector support organisation, the figure is as high as 81%. Being such a new business, Toria like many others who have fallen through the cracks is not eligible for any financial support.
She teaches an additional class at the Hideout in Bristol whose focus is on mental health and developing self-worth, self-belief and self-esteem through physical activity, a concept that Toria believes in passionately. She described it as a beautiful place to teach and loves that it offers so many different classes, workshops and events to support all aspects of health. She does just an hour of jazz technique and full body stretch but having only started at the very end of September, she did very few classes before this was also curtailed. https://www.thehideoutbristol.co.uk
Her third and final teaching post is with the brand new Stagecoach school which has just opened in Weston. It offers Performing Arts lessons in a fun and engaging way for children from 4 to 18. She was due to start two weeks ago. Again it is an organisation whose values she is very at home with. Their motto is “Creative Courage For Life” – because not only do students get a fantastic grounding in terms of singing, dancing and acting they are of course developing a huge range of additional skills such as team work, problem solving, empathy, language and communication skills and of course becoming more physically aware of their bodies. https://www.stagecoach.co.uk/westonsupermare
It has also been difficult in other ways, she misses her colleagues at the studio as well as the beautiful, physical space that she has there and the thrill of connecting with students and teaching ‘live’. She does however see the ‘big picture’ and is just supremely grateful to the NHS and others who are working to keep us safe.
Ever resourceful, Toria is of course hosting zoom classes and stays connected to her colleagues and students through daily posts on Instagram @toriaford where she constantly articulates gratitude, optimism and positivity. She reminds her followers of the successes and rewards they have shared, paints a picture of a brighter future and is constantly reaching out offering support.
What keeps Toria so buoyant and upbeat is of course the dance – it keeps her fit which is naturally important to her – in terms of physical benefits it strengthens the heart, lungs and circulatory system and improves bone and muscle strength as well as flexibility, endurance, co-ordination and balance. And of course like any form of physical exercise it raises levels of dopamine and endorphins, the neurotransmitters responsible for keeping us happy and positive and increasing our energy levels.
But it’s more than that for Toria, dancing for her is a form of mindfulness, when she is dancing, she is focusing uniquely on her body, her movements, the music, and its rhythm. She is at her happiest when dancing, it’s her creative way of expressing herself, of releasing anxieties and coping with difficult feelings.
Toria ended 2020 on such a high note, she was working with individuals and teams who inspired her, she felt that her confidence had ‘sky rocketed’ both as a dancer and a teacher and her choreography skills had grown exponentially. She has laid such fabulous foundations for an exciting future and I am sure that in 2021 she will continue to thrive and flourish.
Her good wishes on Instagram for 2021 @toriaford are typical Toria:
‘Here’s to dancing through 2021, being happy and finding sparkle in every step.’
She often refers to people or places sparkling but she’s the sparkler! All the best Toria.