The late, great, Elroy Josephz would have been 75 next week (20 February). He came to Britain from Jamaica in the 1950s and went on to change the way dancers and choreographers thought about movement. Elroy was a dancer, actor, producer, and teacher. Here, one of Elroy’s former students remembers him fondly as mentor and friend.
Elroy Josephz played a central role in changing how modern dance is both taught and performed. However, since his death in 1997 his legacy has lived on through the work of former colleagues and students throughout Liverpool and the UK.
One of those former students Karen Gallagher, MBE, is Artistic Director at Merseyside Dance Initiative. She was a teenager when she first met this dance pioneer :
“I first met Elroy Josephz when I was 16-years-old and attending dance class at IM Marsh Campus, Liverpool Polytechnic (now Liverpool John Moores University). I was studying Graham technique with Irene Dilks and found out there was another course in Jazz Dance. I was intrigued and thought I would try it out. That was 36 years ago and was probably one of the most instrumental decisions I made in terms of where I am now in my career. The teacher was Elroy Josephz.
“Elroy was extremely charismatic and a most wonderful teacher. His style was dynamic and he was a very caring man and artist. He taught me about the traditions of the dance style, its cultural origins and provided me with a history not only of the dance, but my own heritage and identity.
“I got the dance bug back in grammar school (Notre Dame High) under the tutelage of many local, national and international greats, such as Chris Maddock and Tom Jobe with Mica Bergese of London Contemporary Dance Company (LCDC). This gave me the courage and determination to consider dance vocationally and I took classes with the amazing Irene Dilks, also at IM Marsh at the time. But it was Elroy who took me one step further and who encouraged me to apply to The Laban Centre of Movement and Dance. I applied and was accepted. After three great years I returned to Liverpool to teach, choreograph and perform.
“I don’t think those of us taking classes at IM Marsh at that time realised how truly special both of these amazing artists were and how much they were an inspiration to all of us training then.
“My stand-out memory of working with Elroy was the preparation for the Laban audition and his absolute commitment and encouragement to support me to be the best I could be, achieving a dancing goal: the quadruple pirouette, which stood me in great stead when I was introduced to ballet training for the first time at Laban, with the gregarious, yet kind hearted Laverne Mayer.
“Elroy had great style and was always resplendent in his sky blue lycra all-in-one (dance fashion of its time; well we are talking about the late 70s/early 80s!). His class was always intense; full of technique and choreography, but he also allowed some freestyle moments, which enabled you to be creative with the choreography he set; improvisation as it later became known to me.
“He was an absolute joy to know as a teacher, mentor and friend. I know I am very lucky to have had a chance to meet and work with such a great dance legend, on reflection a true pioneer.
“Always remembered, never forgotten RIP Elroy. My partner composed this music as a tribute.”
You can learn more about Elroy and other key figures who had an impact on British dance in our exhibition British dance: Black routes which runs until 23 March at the International Slavery Museum. Free Entry.
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