A dance of career and family
Krystal Lowe didn’t have a job in Wales, she went with a dream of becoming a professional dancer. Well-intentioned loved ones questioned her thinking.
“A lot of people were telling me to get a real job, that I should do a secretarial course and give up my dream,” she said. “As a young 20-something I wanted to take heed to their advice, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was gifted by God to be a dancer.
“Of course they wanted what was best for me but at 20, you should take that risk.”
In 2012, she accepted scholarships from the National Dance Foundation of Bermuda and the Ross Blackie Talbot Foundation and headed to Newport for a year’s apprenticeship with Ballet Cymru.
“It happened randomly in [the sense that] I Googled ballet companies in the UK and applied,” said Ms Lowe, 29. “I came here and fell in love with the company and the amount of work they do in the community as well. After three months they said, ‘We definitely want you to stay on as a full-time company member’.”
It was a Hollywood moment, the dancer agreed. “Definitely rare. But it takes grit, determination and passion. If you’re not willing to work for it, it doesn’t matter what talent you have. I know there are a lot of really great dancers from all over the world not working professionally.
“It is really difficult to get a job. They were impressed that I came all the way from Bermuda to Wales to try out and see what I could get.”
The offer was proof she’d made the right decision to leave home.
“I thought that all the responsible things people were telling me to do I could do, when I was 30, when I was 35 my mind would still be sharp, but now while my body is sharp I should go for the things I could only perform now. I started later in life.
“Most dancers decide when they’re 18 or younger. I was 22 when I joined the company. I wouldn’t have to retire at 40, but I certainly couldn’t start then.
“I had a crazy boatload of support from my partner, my family — my parents, Lena and Theron Smith, sacrificed so much for me.
“I have seven siblings and at one point we all danced. My mother would say, ‘If I could just get one dancing professionally, it would be worth it’.”
In 2016, she was hired as an associate dance lecturer at the University of South Wales. Last year, she was asked to lead an arts programme involving the university, Ballet Cymru and Red Beetle Films.
A story she wrote, Whimsy, became the centrepiece of the six-week project, which benefited from a £15,000 grant from Arts Council Wales and the UK National Lottery. With 21 dancers from Newport’s Jubilee Park Primary School and live music, it’s her “biggest” production so far.
“It’s about a little girl who can see beauty in everything around her and how she comes to see the beauty in herself,” Ms Lowe said. “Seven years in, I am in a more stable position, so I can work as a guest artist, so I have time to do choreography and my own projects.
“I’m the project manager, writer and choreographer for the project, leading a team of four practitioners in music, dance, writing, drama and art.
“What I really hope for the next stage is to turn my story into a professional production that can tour, that can come to Bermuda and show in [other parts of] the UK.”
Fifteen months ago she had a son, Thomas.
“The stereotype is that a woman in the arts can either be a dancer or a mother. There are so many women giving up careers or motherhood and both are very valuable things.
At Ballet Cymru, Amy Doughty and Darius James, the assistant artistic director and the artistic director, I got to watch them have children and bring them into the studio and it worked; they won awards for their choreography, they still have a thriving company. Having children doesn’t have to hinder your career.
“Amy was a big inspiration to me. Definitely at the time I thought I would never have a child or would wait until I was much older.
“After seeing them, I thought I could make it work and my partner was so supportive of that. I danced until I was six months pregnant. It meant I didn’t have as much soreness. Thomas came early and then I performed again when he was three months.
“Twice I’ve had him in rehearsals in his carrier. I believe you can work with a child in the room and he can benefit as well. He’s really liking the studio atmosphere. He loves watching the dance and really loves the music.”
Wales has also given her a chance to further herself academically.
“When not working, I’m doing an undergraduate distance degree in English literature and creative writing with Open University. For me, at first it was just that I always wanted a degree and part of me was insecure about whether I could attain that.
“But it’s also kind of like a rest period to have to use my brain in a different way. I would like to write more and so [having a degree] would fine tune what I think is a natural talent in me.
“I would then like a master’s degree after that so I can work full time at the university as a senior lecturer.”