Namron is a contemporary dancer whose career spans over half a century. Widely credited as the first black dancer to be employed by a British dance company, Namron was a founding member of staff at Northern School of Contemporary Dance, where he taught Balbir Singh.
This is the first in a series of four blog posts by Natasha Joseph exploring Namron’s life and career, based on interviews conducted with him in 2020.
It’s about eleven o’clock in the morning in the middle of October and I am sitting down to call Namron. Leeds is its usual grey, rainy during down outside but one comes to expect such things by now. Namron picks up after a few rings and cheerfully tells me that the weather in London has surprised us all and the sun is shining. We have never met in real life but that doesn’t seem odd anymore as the pandemic continues to rage on. We jump straight into it and I ask him when he first met dance and he replies in a voice I will come to recognise as Namron’s storytelling voice, “Well that was a whole chapter.” He laughs to himself as though he is going back to the story and continues, “But it was purely by accident. I was an apprentice – doing mechanical engineering and I bumped into dance because of where I worked.”
“This fellow invited me up to this studio in London, and I went around. When I walked in there were these bodies heaving around in the room and I recognised about three or four fellows in there because they worked where I worked. The person who had invited me was recruiting. His name was Thomas and he was a very nice guy. They needed young dancers and Thomas was in his late thirties early forties and we were just about eighteen or nineteen years old, most of us. He was recruiting boys and there was loads and loads of girls – that must have been the attraction and I was thinking this was better than cricket.
The teacher came in and she was not a lot older than me, she was about the same age as me. Of course she had started dancing ballet since she was 5 and there I am, 18, going to my first dance class in this gym. I was sitting to the side and she came and introduced herself. She never stopped trying to get me involved, coming over from time to time to encourage me and join in, but overtime she did I held my arms in front of me and shook my hands and I said, “No no!” But she still persisted and in the end she got me to take my shoes and jacket off and join in the class and that’s how it all started. History. That was history in the making. That was Namron in the making.”
As the conversation goes on we start to delve into his first performance. He continued going to dance once a week, attending the classes and rehearsals and before he knew it he was going to be doing a performance in an open-air theatre in the park. This was Namron’s first performance in 1962 in Roundwood Park’s Open Air Theatre, which he says was also well known for hosting an agricultural show every year. His show was going to be for a whole week and back in those days you couldn’t get away with much unless you were 21. Everything had to be signed off by a parent if you were underage and unfortunately Namron was only 18 at the time.
Now Namron has had been dancing once a week for six months but still hadn’t told his parents what he was up to. It was summer time and it didn’t get dark till about nine at night, sometimes ten. So they naturally assumed he was out playing cricket every Thursday and none was the wiser. But six months later there was this show and the meticulously coveted secret operation was going to have to be revealed. But Namron thought it best to leave out the finer details until the very last moment.
So he approached his parents and said, “Mum, Dad I’m sorry but I’ve got a show in the park. Would you sign my consent form, so I can be in the show?”
To which is mother replied, ‘What show?’
“We’re just doing some show in the park and it’s part of the agricultural show, they’ve got cows and sheep and baby competitions and we’re doing a show that’s part of it” So of course he had to get them tickets to this elusive show.
When the day arrived, Namron’s family turned up and sat right in the front row. The first piece was a duet with him and a girl named Lorna Laymen, she was from Sri Lanka but in those days it was called Silong. In the duet he was to play a scarecrow and she would find the scarecrow and come dance with him to cheer him up.
The scarecrow had to do a small solo and when it began Namron’s head was bent down. There he was, centre stage dressed in ripped up tights and plimsoles, a hat filled with straw- frozen and waiting. There was his mother and father, unknowingly about to witness their son’s first performance. He could hear his mother’s booming voice travelling the few feet that separated her from him, she was saying to his father, “Mack! Is that. . . is that Namron? Is that our Namron?” His father sat silently, watching.
Namron began to move, his head was hanging down and as he began to roll and lift his head up she recognised him straight away and bellowed, “Jesus! What’s that he’s doing! Jesus! What’s that he’s wearing! Oh my one son! My only son!”
Namron says all he wanted to do in that movement was to say ‘Shush!’ because everyone could hear her voice but of course he didn’t and the evening went by. The car ride back was a silent one, no one uttered a word. When they arrived home, Namron recounts his mum giving him a rather loud telling off.
“I didn’t drag you all the way from Jamaica to London to wear ripped up tights with a bulge between your legs to do all this stuff. If you want to buy a house or get married one day you can’t do all this nonsense.”
“She was not pleased”, Namron says with a chuckle, “But of course the story goes on and I kept dancing. It was in those first years that I found my love for it and my taste for it.”