Speakeasies were secret underground parties which start- ed during the prohibition era in 1920s America. MyCharleston, a Brighton based dance company at the NatWest Accelerator, were looking forward to celebrating the return of the Twenties with their annual speakeasy at Brighton Fringe but lockdown forced the party underground in a way they never could have imagined.
Company co-founders Elena Burslem and Fiona Ring had already moved their weekly classes online back in March and soon realised the value of coming together to dance digitally. They decided that an event would be possible but in a new virtual format and so the planning for the most secret of speakeasies began .....
The pair brought together fifteen performers for an afternoon of entertainment, Charleston lessons and a dance contest at their secret online speakeasy to raise money for the charity RISE.
Via Zoom, over eighty glamorously dressed guests joined in all their finery to bring the Roaring 2020s to life. “Moving it online we were able to run dance classes, vote for the dance contest winner and have a cheeky cocktail from the comfort of our homes” said Fiona.
"Despite Brighton Fringe being postponed, we still wanted the public to experience all the humour and energy of our annual party’, Elena said. “We also want to support a local charity which is helping those in need during these difficult times. We are delighted to have raised £220 for RISE.
“We weren’t really sure what to expect but it was incredibly uplifting to see everyone dancing together in the group lessons and in time with our singers, The Saturnalia Sisters who recorded two of our favourite tracks especially for the show”, added Fiona.
The afternoon included a dance competition where three different households competed for the audiences' votes, who had tuned in from the UK, Norway, France, Canada and India. Winning dancer Natalie, who performed a Charleston solo from her garden in Holland, said "It genuinely felt like a special afternoon. Although we are in lockdown we can still dress up and dance together even if we are in different countries!"
MyCharleston has been running speakeasies at Brighton Fringe since 2015 and they wanted the 2020 Speakeasy to be something really special.
“Lockdown certainly made it different!”, says Fiona, “managing the new software was quite full on but the feedback was amazing... one person even saying we were more pro than the BBC!”
To counteract a feeling of anti-climax after running a big event and the challenges of social distancing, Elena and Fiona are teaching online classes with up to 100 weekly attendees. Fiona said: "These virtual lessons are the highlight of my week- it’s a great way to stay in touch with others, lift spirits and get fit at home whilst having fun".
The dancing duo have also kept students swivelling by creating a new video series on their YouTube channel. These videos showcase Charleston routines performed by their students at home. “We have already produced four dance films since March and have another three on the way! We are amazed by how many people want to be involved in these projects”, says Elena.
To join My- Charleston upcoming events, classes or watch the videos, visit www.mycharlestondance.com
Each month the leadership team at Brighton’s NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator select a founder of the month to recognise the individuals that have demonstrated a growth mindset and entrepreneurial spirit to overcome challenges and accelerate the growth of their business in a short space of time.
To find out more about the Accelerator hub, email BrightonAccelerator@natwest.com