Transcript

This tribute film, which was not part of the exhibition, was commissioned and produced by Merseyside Dance Initiative, with support from Susan Lancaster and Stephen Mulrooney. The film was created by Daniel Williams, Moonman Media.

Bill Harpe: I must have met him when he was dancing in West Side Story, in  the original version, because I knew quite number of people in the cast then, so we must have passed each other as early as the 60s in West Side Story. I greatly admired the fact that Elroy himself went to the best teachers that he could find in London. He was really very, very well informed, across a whole range of dance and that maybe taken for granted now but for someone to be doing that in that in the 50s and 60s was a great deal more remarkable.

Steve Mulrooney: Maybe I took a step back when I first met him because, wow, who is this charismatic guy who has just got loads of energy without being loud or in face, he’s got loads of drive without being a pusher, in that kind of sense, you know, forcing you to do something but he could encourage you too. It was a turning point meeting Elroy, for me.

Sue Lancaster: I was really shocked by this bang on the window and there’s Elroy telling me to come in and I was like "No!". Anyway, I came in and that was the beginning of an absolutely fantastic relationship.

Bill Harpe: Elroy was a guide that one could turn to and phone up or meet and talk with and he was wise and one could... unpractical... a good combination.

Bisakha Sarker: Warmth, his care for people. He taught anybody who came. And his love of dance.

Steve Mulrooney: Elroy throughout had this encouraging, almost soft approach to things. Soft like, gentle approach to things, which would encourage you to develop the skills that you had, develop your technique, from a dance perspective and also from a personal perspective.

Sue Lancaster: Elroy was a giving person, a very kind person. Can never remember Elroy raising his voice, ever. And coming from a stage school background, we were getting screamed, constantly, at all the time. And we used to come here and it was so quiet and relaxed and you felt like you could express yourself, truly express yourself. Elroy was brought up in the Caribbean and his mother was a very religious person who studied religious dances and authentic Caribbean dances. Elroy took the elements of that and fed it through the classical technique that he’d been trained in London, and some of the show work that he’d done. And he actually developed his own style and technique. And he also went back and studied slavery and colonialisation and brought that into effect in his teaching of the technique, which I think was extremely important.

Steve Mulrooney: It was instantly accessible. Elroy’s stuff was more earthy, it was more earth bound, it had more reality to it. The whole thing about it was about life and energy. So, it was perfect for me at that moment in time. It was all all inclusive, it was about communicating through movement, through dance, without being aggressive or forceful. When you came in you were just as important as everyone else, it wasn’t a sort of like an higher echelons group and then a lower group. It was literally everyone together and Elroy has this ability to make even someone who might have not had a great dance vocabulary feel fully involved and not feel insecure within the group.

Karen Gallagher: He brought lots of different nuances to jazz technique, he brought his whole area of Caribbean dance. And he would bring in costumes and we’d dress up in these amazing traditional costumes and he’d teach up lots of repertoire, lots of dance classes.

Sue Lancaster: The dance technique literally starts from a beginners’ level and can take you right up to finished product. It has retentions of classical dance, of African and Caribbean influences. And he retains that throughout his technique. I can honestly say that it’s a very authentic jazz technique.

Judy Smith: At the time of his appointment at the then Iron Marsh college, no other course in the country had any jazz on the curriculum. He really was an innovator. It was really was through his expertise in that style of dance that Iron Marsh led the way in the development to a new form of technique. Up to this point, contemporary technique was the only kind of technique that counted. He made jazz, that had always been a recreational study, something really important.

Bill Harpe: He could take a class of people who were beginners of dance and do it excellently. And he could take a class or a workshop with the most excellent dancers, you know from an internationally renowned company, and do that equally well.

Bisakha Sarker: To open your eyes and teach you how to see. Won’t tell you ‘see this, look at this and look at that’. Elroy had that wonderful quality of bringing out what is within each dancer.

Steve Mulrooney: He helped me to focus in on what it was I really wanted to go. Or, where I was going.

Sue Lancaster: Elroy made you feel that you were an individual. He also made you believe in yourself. If a teacher believes in their students, they are going to get so much back. But he would never give up on anybody.

Alicia Smith: He was very strict but very good as well. And he always got the best out of everybody. Obviously we’d go through a technique, class, through the warm up and you’d all try and hide behind your baggy t-shirt and stuff but he’d have none of it and come and poke you in the ribs and stuff and make sure that you were doing your rib shifts!

Steve Mulrooney: He cajoled me into his flat and said he was popping out for a bit and when I tried the door it actually was locked and there was a note there saying ‘you need to do this work before I can let you out of the flat’. That was kind of guy he was. In the nicest possible way, he knew that’s what I needed to get the focus out of me.

Judy Smith: He spent hours of his own time helping students. One memorable occasion he had given up a whole weekend to ensure that students had the work ready for an assessment. On the Sunday night, they left him, it was complete. On Monday we searched, no sign, no log books anywhere. After a vast amount of investigation we discovered that the students had deliberately not handed those log books in. They so liked working with him, that they felt that if they gave their log books in they wouldn’t be able to come back next year. So, no log books. Working with him gave them the sort of self respect that they didn’t know was possible. They really valued themselves as people. And they come to that because of their contact with Elroy. He had that kind of caring presence.

Elroy Josephz: Even if the kids decide not to become professional dancers, the discipline they learn during the class is very strict, very strict. Also the interaction between the kids the development. Its surprising very often they come in and, very shy, very withdrawing, and within a period of a couple of months, they relate, they interact, and become sort of, really developed.

Karen Gallagher: I was just very inspired by him as well because for me he really introduced a whole cultural aspect to my life that I hadn’t had because of where I was brought up, in the centre of Liverpool, in an all white community. So it was really good to have that other side of my culture that I didn’t really know.

Elroy Josephz: The jazz came out of oppression of Black people. And very often it was either a release, a cry for help, a cry or whatever. And it was ridden with emotion. If you take the emotion out of it, forget it. You ain't putting down nothing. It’s got to impact, it’s got to be human, it’s got to be alive.

Bill Harpes: He was very conscious of the fact that what you receive, you’ve got to pass on. And he passed it on very carefully. He saw himself as a conduit from one generation to the next.

Steve Mulrooney: Once we’d been bitten we were hooked. Everyone who spent any time in his space couldn’t help but be moved or be left with something very special. Even if they didn’t make dance a career, they would pick up something which is really important when it comes to communicating with people.

Alicia Smith: And he would offer me to stay in his house. I could stay in his house, ‘I’ve got a house there, you’re more than welcome to if you need to’. And that was for someone who didn’t know you so he was a very kind, gentle, generous person with a lot of creatively and a lot of talent that he passed onto people.

Steve Mulrooney: This open door through which energies, creativities and movement were non- stop flowing and it seeped into the community.

Karen Gallagher: He was a real gentlemen. He was always very honest, but very disciplined. A real task master. And he was just mad, was the description. He was just this amazing guy, who probably looked older than he was thinking about it now, he was kind of in the prime of his life, but could he move.

Bisakha Sarker: I went to see him in the hospital and there he was, just as he always been. Very there, just making you feel extremely secure. Somebody that you can talk to without any hesitation. And I danced for him. And I said ‘now what I want to tell you, I can’t tell you in words, but maybe this dance will tell you’.

Steve Mulrooney: He would often walk around the community with a pair of scissors in hand taking cuttings off people’s plants as he walking past gardens. So if he saw a wonderful garden with wonderful roses in, he would more than likely have a little cutting. Not destroy a plant, he would take a safe cutting which he would then grow in his apartment. It wasn’t until Elroy passed away that I realised that, in a way, I was one of those cuttings as well. But I was a physical one, I was a human being in a sense. So he captured me at an important stage and drew me into his world.

Maxine Brown: He’s left a lot of teachers behind now, you know what I’m saying, because there’s so many of us that are there working still in his style, working in his way, teaching in his way of teaching. You know so I think he’s left a lot of that behind. For me anyway, he’s left behind that thing of being able to develop your work in your own way, from where you’re coming from.

Judy Smith: I was very privileged to have had the opportunity to work with Elroy, because he was both a master teacher of a distinctive style of Afro-jazz and a style in which he had to be spiritual, eloquent and expressive. I think those 3 things really do um his entire work. But he was also a very charming colleague and friend and I have great affection in my memories of him.

Alicia Smith: Unique experience. A totally different way of teaching. No one has ever, ever taught that way since really.

Sue Lancaster: It all just takes me back to that little knock on the window of ‘come in’. I think that would have to be, for me, what Elroy is all about. His approaching people and saying ‘just come and try this’.

Steve Mulrooney: When I teach and I have a group of people then, I think, without consciously dong it, I can include the whole group and make each person feel as important as everyone else. And that is a legacy of Elroy’s, that’s come directly from Elroy.

Judy Smith: I think it’s a tribute to the work that he did that here in Liverpool, and in the nation wide, the curriculum in dance has changed because of him. Also so many young people who would have never have, in some senses, done anything they considered to be worthwhile have found themselves careers both at the top professional level and in the community. And I think it’s all these kind of things that made contact with Elroy so special.

Steve Mulrooney: What he left, what he gave us was the ability to communicate with a whole range of people. And the ability to be involved in a whole range of dance genres as well.

Sue Lancaster: Most of those students then went on to college, and I saw them, accepting lots of different types of people. To me that was the biggest revelation of all really, is that fact that Elroy’s technique and his history can bring people together. And I think perhaps that was the essence of Elroy.

Maxine Brown: It’s only the physical that’s not here with us anymore. Everything else about Elroy will never ever go.

Bill Harpe: And I wanted to say how much we owed to him, how much I thanked him, how wonderful it was. I so I paused to get my words right and Elroy just put out a hand and he said ‘don’t say anything’.

Bisakha Sarker: His coffin was being brought in and he had his students as his pall bearers. I mean just I don’t know what more a dancer could ask and they were all coming. Later on they were talking amongst themselves, I don’t know their names, and they all said, lets everybody start together, otherwise Elroy will be very cross. ‘One two three, start!’ This is how they almost made it like a dance. Everybody had never been to a funeral like that, I think, the way we would do... everyone laughed, everybody sang, and they all just celebrated.

This tribute film, which was not part of the British dance: Black routes exhibition|, was commissioned and produced by Merseyside Dance Initiative, with support from Susan Lancaster and Stephen Mulrooney. The film was created by Daniel Williams, Moonman Media.

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