I was instantly bowled over by this dance artist’s candour and warmth when I first bumped into her, in the parks of London’s Bloomsbury
Jemima may appear laid back and charming at first sight, but she’s got a vision for all of us, there’s no two ways about it!
Our kids got playing and we’d have meaningful conversations, and it never felt heavy as it could happen, instead I came away from these encounters refreshed and even a bit strengthened.
She has dedicated the past 20 years of her career choreographing her own works and commissions in the UK and abroad. She’s worked as a movement director for theatre, as well as performer, trainer, teacher and speaker and is also associate artist with Candoco Dance Company.
On top of that she’s a British Sign Language Communicator and works as a performer and advisor with dance companies interested in making their work accessible to deaf audiences. Much of her experience over the past 18 years has been within the inclusive professional dance sector, working with exceptional disabled and non-disabled artists.
What’s the one thing that you excel at, that you do better than anyone else?
Having spent 20+ years working with diverse groups in professional dance and outreach settings I have developed excellence at responding to the demands of diverse environments, reading groups and knowing what is needed for progress and development, both for individuals and the group as a whole.
I am extremely adaptable and pretty unflappable!
List the three most important principles you live by
Authenticity is the foundation of everything I do.
I’m interested in collaborations with authentic genuine people, that are founded in reaching for a common goal or vision, not about personal advancement. We all have egos that need a bit of bolstering occasionally, but I honestly find situations or people who aren’t authentic exhausting. I’m interested in art that expresses something raw, honest and risky. As artist Scottee says “Get political or go home!”: I believe art can and should challenge privilege and question the status quo.
I have high expectations for myself and everyone I work with.
This encourages growth and development. Sometimes this can manifest as never seeming satisfied with what there is, but experience has shown me that having exceptionally high expectations can lead to positive change, as long as it’s done with kindness and belief in something greater.
Taking action to make positive change for myself, my environment and society is often what gets me out of bed in the morning.
So often I feel powerless over my environment, but I’ve been inspired by people who have not taken no as an answer and have fought for change and for something greater.
I watched the film Suffragette recently and I was so inspired and excited by this story of people – and in this instance, mostly women (with a few brilliant feminist men) – coming together, crossing class divisions and taking huge personal risk to force profoundly positive change.
Taking action feels so empowering and positive. I think I’ve always been a bit of an activist; I may have learnt it from my eldest sister Siri O’Neal, who at the age of 12 years organised a sale to raise money for a charity responding to an international disaster.
She had me out in a sandwich board advertising the event! I became interested in animal welfare as a pre-teenager and amongst other activism to raise awareness I staged a two-woman protest at a local fishing harbour against their fishing practises!
The older I have got, the more interested I have become in politics, as I see that real change can be implemented with policy, but the policy makers don’t always seem to have normal people’s best interests at heart.
Do you keep hearing the same compliment? What is it?
People tell me I am strong, confident and competent. They are often surprised if I say something about myself to counter the idea of perfect confidence, but I think it’s important to experience vulnerability, as it deepens empathy.
Why do people seek you out?
People seek me out because I have a lot of dynamic energy and always aspire to deliver high quality outcome with an inclusive approach. I like to have fun along the way and enjoy collaborating with other people.
List three words that describe you, how do people introduce you?
People describe me as dynamic, creative and fun.
What’s the secret sauce you add to your working life?
My secret is knowing when to inject humour and fun into a very focused working environment. I think comedy and humour are powerful tools for facilitating serious work, debate and discussion.
What makes your heart beat faster? What gives you energy?
The thing that gives me energy and makes me excited is when I am part of something important and good.
I enjoy helping to facilitate a breakthrough in potential and brilliance in the people I am working with. Collaborating with other artists is a catalyst for explosions of innovation and growth. I love it!