Black Voices In Conversation - Sharon Watson: Dance, Diversity and Determination

By Leah Magras, ITV News Calendar

Have you ever met a person who has left you feeling completely inspired? When I had the opportunity to sit down and interview Sharon Watson, she did just that.

Sharon Watson is the CEO and Principal of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. She has toured all around the world and forged a career in dance spanning decades. In her own words, she has 'lived the dream'. But when I spoke to Sharon, what struck me the most was not her impressive career, but her humility.

Sharon grew up in a large family in Harehills, Leeds. As one of eight children, you can only imagine the myriad of personalities she had to contend with! When Sharon was nine-years-old she discovered her passion for dance, thanks to her sister's influence and the powerful impact of one of her teachers - dance legend Nadine Senior. As Sharon told me about Nadine, her whole face lit up.

Nadine Senior and Sharon

Nadine Senior saw a bud of talent within Sharon. She watered, nurtured and tended to her talent, until it produced the fruits of what we see today. Nadine founded the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, which Sharon is now Principal of. It's quite poetic, but also a demonstration of real legacy.

When Sharon reached the age of sixteen, she left Leeds with her sister Dawn to perfect her craft in London. On returning to her home city, she joined a ground-breaking, award-winning dance group - Phoenix Dance Theatre. Sharon was one of the first female members to join the all-black dance crew. She would later become the Artistic Director of the company for 11 years.

Sharon Watson was one of the first female members of Phoenix Credit: Picture courtesy of Terry Cryer

As well as being an accomplished, talented and skilled dancer, Sharon is a born leader. She has an inner determination to change the future and impact those who come after her. One of her personal ambitions is to improve the diversity and inclusion of the dance industry. She welcomes students from all backgrounds to the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, and hopes to instill an ethos that you can overcome barriers - no matter your skin colour or class.

Sharon Watson in the dance studio

It's not about the pigmentation that you carry in your skin, it's about the hard work and the graft you put in.

Sharon Watson

Sharon cleverly uses her Caribbean culture to drive her creativity. In 2018 she choreographed 'Windrush: Movement of the people', a production that received rave reviews from critics, audiences and also her local community. The performance was an example of the importance of diversity within dance, bringing to the fore important events in British culture, but with a fresh and multicultural perspective.

As I reflect on the conversation I had with Sharon, I am inspired as a young, black woman. Her award cabinet is bursting full of accolades, including 'Yorkshire Woman of The Year'. Being black in Britain is not always easy, you will always face barriers and hurdles. But, I am encouraged to see a black woman at the top of her game. She is looking down from the mountain top, and actively helping others to reach her lofty heights.

"If you can see it, you can believe it"

Sharon Watson