Dancing up that hill

12 May 2009 | By Lorelei Vashti

One of the most incredible and unlikely stories to ever come out of the pop music world dates back to 1975, when big-business record label EMI gave 16 year-old Kate Bush a record deal as well as the unheard-of permission to spend the first three years of her contract on ‘artistic development’. She knew exactly what she wanted to do with the time: she wanted to learn how to dance.

She started attending open classes at The Dance Centre in Covent Garden, London, under the tutelage of Lindsay Kemp, a dancer who studied with Marcel Marceau in the fifties and also trained David Bowie in mime. These classes were the starting point of an extraordinary career, a career in which Bush has relentlessly sought to use dance as an extension of her music.

At the end of 1977, Bush burst onto the scene with her first single, Wuthering Heights. Watching both the ‘white dress’ and the ‘red dress’ versions now, they stand out for their expressiveness and originality.

Other film clips followed, often featuring her two regular dancers, Gary Hurst and Stuart Avon Arnold. Babooshka, Sat in Your Lap, Them Heavy People and Suspended in Gaffa demonstrate Bush’s refusal of being labelled as merely a pop singer – from the outset she was an artist whose sole intention was self-expression, with dance and movement being a crucial way of getting her ideas across.

Over the years she worked with several choreographers, including Kemp, Robin Kovak and Arlene Phillips, and also created choreography of her own. She only toured once, for 1978’s ‘Tour of Life’, but dance was so integral to the show that she instructed her sound technicians to come up with a headset device so that she could sing and dance without any restrictions. Essentially, it was just a wire coat hanger with a mic on it (Bush remembers they used to pick the cabs up on it), but this invention of the microphone headset revolutionised live concert performance forever.

Perhaps the most starkly beautiful and affecting clip is 1985’s, Running Up That Hill. Featuring dancer Michael Hervieu, and with choreography by Dianne Grey, Bush explains what their objective was: ‘ We wanted to do … a nice, serious piece of dance: simple, well-filmed [so we could] give dance a chance … in this pop world.’