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Cardiff Character: Martha Dunbar

Although studying contemporary dance, Martha acknowledges the importance of ballet in the development of any performer and frequently uses her ballet training as inspiration

The benefits of dancing are becoming more and more recognised in this day and age. At the beginning of this autumn, the government launched a new loneliness strategy which will see dance classes being offered to those who struggle with loneliness through the NHS.

Having danced since the age of nine, Cardiff contemporary dancer Martha Dunbar, 21, is no stranger to the rewards that dance can muster.

“It instantly lifts my mood,” she explains, while stretching in a Cardiff studio after a full day of rehearsals.  

Early Beginnings 

Martha, from Monmouthshire, trained in a South Wales dance school for nine years, before moving to Cardiff to pursue her career as a contemporary dancer. She now trains eight hours a day and has performed all over the country, including appearances at The Welsh Theatre Conference and comedian Jack Whitehall’s At Large tour.

Martha knew she had a passion for dance at a young age, and believes that her early introduction to dance in the media was where it all began.

“I wanted to start dancing in the first place because I was so influenced by what I saw on TV,” said Martha. “I knew that I wanted to do what they could do. So I went to my first ballet lesson and it brought me here,” she explained.

Now, a normal day for Martha involves being surrounded by other like minded dancers and creators – a factor which, when combined with the endorphins released from exercise, she believes can work to improve mental health and breed positivity.

“I think that the community side of dance is so helpful for people who suffer with feelings of loneliness,” said Martha.  

“Sometimes I could be having the worst morning, and being surrounded by other dancers instantly lifts my mood- we’re all here for the same reason, we all have a shared love for dance. It makes you feel good.”

Pushing Boundaries 

A working day for a dancer, however, is not without challenges. The association between dance and a pressure to obtain a specific body image has long been documented, with ballet being linked to both eating disorders and a lack of physical diversity.

Only this month have world renowned pointe shoe manufacturer, Freed of London, released shoes in black and asian skin tones for non-white dancers in the UK. This takes place after decades of dancers of ethnic origin having to stain their shoes by hand.

Martha herself has experienced the physical exhaustion and challenges that can often accompany the pursuit of a perfect performance piece.

“Today we rehearsed the same structure for two hours straight,” she explains, as she described what a normal day entails.

“Physically, it’s so hard keeping your body awake and able to do what you want it to, even when you’re tired and you feel like you just can’t move.”

But according to Martha, dance has so many positives which people can benefit from, including the development of resilience.

“When you get over a challenge and are able to accomplish something, it’s such a massive personal achievement. It makes it all worthwhile,” she smiles.

Martha also believes that engaging in dance can expand your mind in areas that you least expect. Her own experience as a contemporary dancer has even augmented her appreciation of Welsh culture, as she now performs to Welsh spoken word tracks, and collaborates with Welsh Bafta winners.

“It was really nice for me to see other dancers who have come from England to train learning Welsh and wanting to understand it.

“I know that the Welsh language is a very important thing now. Dance has opened so many doors for me.”



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