James Olivo: dancer

Estimated reading time:4 minutes, 59 seconds

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. Self-taught dancer James Olivo, 17, took a chance enrolling for a Dance BTech at City & Islington College’s Angel campus but already he’s won a place in the prestigious National Youth Dance Company based just over the road at the famous contemporary dance venue, Sadler’s Wells.  Interview by Nicola Baird

James Olivo

James Olivo:  just 17 but already dancing at Sadler’s Wells.

“I saw this dance crew in America, Jabbawockeez, on TV and started liking how they moved. Then I searched them on YouTube and started copying their moves,” says James Olivo who went to a school in Camden where dance wasn’t offered. “I was about 13 or 14 and far too shy to go on stage anyway,” he claims. “But I like dancing because it makes other people happy,” he pauses and then jokingly adds,” I think it makes people happy!”

Joining the newly launched National Youth Dance Company (NYDC) for 16-20-year-olds has certainly made James happy. With just 30 members – picked from a short list of more than 170 talented young dancers – the company will be performing at Sadler’s Wells during the Sampled festival 2013. “With live dance you get immersed into the atmosphere though I’m also thinking what to do next. Choreography has so much detail… I use my peripheral vision to stay in time. Everyone feels the same: we all hope we don’t mess up…” explains James who is due to perform in Jasmin Vardimon’s  theatrical dance called (in between) barefoot. See the programme here.


The Garden Court cafe at Sadler’s Wells is open to the public, and is a place you may spot performers, see here.

Let’s dance
James’ days are spent dancing either at Sadler’s Wells or on tour (with dates at Ashford, Leeds, Salford and Bristol). “We wake at 7am and finish dancing at 6pm,” he says during a short break in the cafe at Sadler’s Wells. “Before a performance we do pilates and yoga and a lot of stretching. We do so much yoga you are sweating! Then, just before the performance we do meditation to get focused. After the show, because you’ve used all your muscles, you need to stretch and warm down. If you don’t it can hurt…”

And then it’s home to their lodgings – the Holiday Inn Islington.

It’s almost the fictional character Billy Elliott’s story of obscurity to fame through sheer grit – except James hasn’t seen the film or the musical.

James may seem unphased by his dance career taking off, but he’s definitely impressed by hotel life where the dancers are staying, watched over by NYDC manager Hannah Kirkpatrick. “The hotel cleans everything, every day,” says James with relish. “They change the sheets, and the towels and there’s a buffet breakfast where you can get a hill of food.”

Time off will see James head towards the London Eye at the South Bank or for football in Regent’s Park.

James with mum Imelda. "Let's do a funny one," says James.

James with his mum Imelda Olivo at the Sadler’s Wells cafe behind the Stage Door.

He’s also been to talks by a range of people in the dance business. One by Akram Khan really stood out for James. “Akram Khan is really interesting, he thinks differently, so I asked ‘Is life random or is it all planned?’ Akram Khan replied with a really nice anecdote. My mind was blown – he showed how he believes in patterns (through a chance discovery that the taxi Khan was in was being driven by his father’s best friend, who like his dad had grown up in the same very remote, tiny Bangladeshi village which few people ever left). I now understand the meaning of life.”

And thanks in part to the National Youth Dance Company James also knows how he hopes to spend his waking days too… “I hope dance will be my career.  I want to be a choreographer or a director, and to teach people dance. I want to make them laugh and enjoy what they do.”

It’s a fabulous ambition for a boy who took his first dancing steps in front of YouTube. Be sure to go and support him and the NYDC when they’re performing at Sadler’s Wells.

More info about the Sampled weekend and Sadler’s Wells
Sadler’s Sampled festival is designed to introduce people to dance for the first time and is jam packed full of special events, art, talks, installations and chances to get involved.

Following the launch of Sadler’s Sampled two week London festival offering a bite-sized weekend of world class dance. As part of the festival, this week sees the start of Sampled Weekend (28 & 29 June 2013) offering a huge array of some of the finest dance in the world today – from hip hop to ballet, contemporary dance to tango – all from only £8 (standing tickets) a night!

You may well be able to buy tickets on the door – shows start at 7.30pm.

To celebrate the launch of Sampled Weekend, the record-breaking dance artist Tim Casson features in a new clip in which he brings a flavour of his interactive dance performance to the people of Islington, creating spontaneous and rather amusing dance moves inspired by the people he encountered – so the Hamburger Dance was inspired by the gourmet burger seller in Islington’s Chapel Market. Watch what happened here 

See www.sadlerssampled.com for more details.

Over to you

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you.

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This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.