I can provide Esc members with a real ‘escape the city’ experience; provide dynamic event management experience; and provide a face-to-face insight into how to make a dream happen.
After a year teaching in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border, 33 year-old teacher Ben Hammond sought a way to bring Burma alive for UK school children. His answer, alarmingly, was dance, and his dad-at-a-wedding dancing adventures have seen him dance on mountaintops, through Glastonbury Festival and the entire London Marathon, and dance the world's longest ever dance: 5 days, 15 hours.
I front the Free to Dance campaign for my charity LearnBurma, helping to open young people’s eyes to the situation in Burma.
It means this year I’ve danced with 10,000 school students and 30,000 members of the public in total as I’ve accomplished the world’s longest ever dance, danced through the Glastonbury Festival, danced on the summits of the UK’s highest mountains, become the first person to dance the entire London Marathon – all as a catalyst to our educational work in schools.
It’s a fun, engaging and positive way to get people to use their freedom to support those in Burma with none – and my part is about showing that anyone, no matter how ordinary, can be free to dance and achieve extraordinary things.
For Free to Dance 2012, we planned the first ever dance from John O’Groats to Land’s End, with rumours of a little round-the-world jaunt in the offing soon after that...
I was a secondary school teacher of Citizenship Education (i.e. politics for kids) in Deptford, south-east London.
Four things triggered me to escape the city.
Aged 11 I watched my first Comic Relief and was inspired by how it took something millions are interested in and used it to get so many people thinking about (and acting on) poverty.
Aged 23 I found myself alone at a club and discovered I loved to dance, felt free when I danced, and didn’t care that I wasn’t very good.
In 2009 I received the heartbreaking news that one of the young teachers I had taught for a year in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border had passed away, and this triggered me to establish LearnBurma as a charity so many more people could learn of Burma’s story.
And last year I came across Derek Sivers’ rapid-fire TED Talk about how to start a movement. I realised that Free to Dance had to be less about watching and more about joining – not ‘look at crazy guy doing something crazy’ but ‘he's ordinary & doing something extraordinary – surely I can join in too’.
It started with a little hitch-hike around the country testing if people would be Free to Dance with me.
Then the penny dropped: I should do all the training for the world record dance marathon publicly. This evolved into a 10-step plan taking in the London Marathon, Glastonbury and visits to dance groups galore.
Yet as a brand new charity with nothing to its name and no idea about the dance world, if we were to get thousands of people involved, we had to build partnerships quickly. So alongside late night training in the art of dalking (dance-walking), I set aside two months to secure them.
In 50 days we had a whole host of experts signed up (Ministry of Sound, Global Radio, Kerrang! Radio, Real World Records, Karen Hardy Studios, Gymbox, Club de Fromage, Ubisoft/Just Dance and many other dance & technical providers) who collectively bolstered our credibility, bank balance and marketing power infinitely.
From then it was about getting the team in place to deliver on our promises.
I wouldn’t wish six days of sleep deprivation on anyone, let alone when combined with dancing for every other waking moment. It was as close to torture as I hope I’ll ever get, and I quite literally went mad.
The other major issue was me being both the front man of the project and the co-ordinator of an 10,000-strong event: I ended up sleep deprived before the sleep deprivation began.
Yet every talk I give ends with people throwing off the shackles and dancing free – and it’s magical to be part of. Meeting dancers in village halls and dance studios has been an eye-opening treat, giving an incredible insight into an important part of their worlds. You can’t beat the moment we broke the world record for epic-ness either.
Looking back the thing that sticks with me is doing it all as part of an incredible volunteer team – growing from just me and my sign to a team of over 100 who surmounted some serious challenges along the way.
Individuals are great; teams are even better. Early in 2011 trustees and friends advised that the only way we could capitalise on the momentum being built by Free to Dance was to create a team to drive it forward and enable me to focus on the big picture – that this could still be a ‘personal’ project, but with the help of a dedicated, delegated team, it could be so much more.
Eleven months later we had an incredible voluntary team who collectively had managed to bring 30,000 people into the campaign, engage 10,000 school and college students, partner with an amazing range of organisations, secure endorsements from the likes of Ricky Gervais and raise upwards of £60,000.