Fancy footwork? Top footballers learn to dance

Can a choreographer teach Premier League footballers how to dance? Suzy Willson gave it a go

At Clod Ensemble, where I am co-artistic director, we’re used to working with lots of different groups of people – doctors, young people, elderly people in day care centres, fashion designers. But it had never occurred to us to work with footballers. That was until Wales Millennium Centre invited us to do a workshop this week with players from Cardiff City FC.

In preparing for the workshop, I realised that many of the techniques we use in preparing the dancers for improvisation and for the pressures of performance were transferable.

We did some exercises to warm up which encouraged the footballers to think about how they use space as a team. The difference to their usual warm ups is that there is no ball in the room, so they had to think a bit more laterally than usual, developing skills of sensitivity and peripheral vision which could then be bought back into play on the pitch.

We moved around to music, focusing on the fluidity and movement range of different body parts – head, neck, pelvis, chest etc. One of the physiotherapists had said to me that one of the things the footballers needed help with was flow and flexibility. Working with particular styles of music really helps to encourage this flowing movement. I asked the players to echo the way our dancers were moving and immediately you could see their range of movement expanding as they turned and jumped in time with the music. Their bodies immediately seemed to relax and as a result became more responsive.

We moved on to do a series of chorus exercises requiring performers to notice where they are in relationship to each other and the space around them. As a group they must move exactly in time and copy the movement of the ‘leader’. This was great fun and the players began to create some fantastic moves of their own.

Football dance workshop © Peter Thomas
© Peter Thomas

Finally, we taught the players a section from our show An Anatomie in Four Quarters. Not surprisingly, they had incredibly good spatial awareness and were good at remembering where they had to be placed on the stage. It was really joyful to see the dancers and players work together. We were all really impressed by their generosity of spirit and openness to such different ways of working.

These young men are under tremendous pressure all the time both on and off the pitch. It seemed to be a good opportunity to for them to de-stress and work in a different way as a team.

Working with theatre and dance artists can create a space where people can talk about the pressures of their work life and where solutions can be rehearsed. Ideas are expressed very differently in arts to the way they are in sports, and it seems to me that working with people from the arts could be very useful to football players – helping them to develop skills of benefit to their performance on the pitch but also to become more articulate, sensitive and inspiring role models for the thousands of young men who are influenced by them off the pitch.

Photos: Clod Ensemble’s workshop with Cardiff City FC players at WMC © Peter Thomas