Let’s dance

This feels like the perfect time to be launching a new pilot dance project, says Emma Green, Project Manager at Children & the Arts.

Two of the biggest talking points during the Olympics had nothing to do with sport at all. The Opening and Closing Ceremonies were incredible visual spectacles, featuring a fusion of music, dance and some quirky British humour.

I was excited to see how big a role dance and movement played in expressing and explaining British history during both Olympic ceremonies. It created a real sense of vibrancy and excitement. If the participants hadn’t danced, many of the ideas simply wouldn’t have worked!

Despite its importance, however, if you ask many people what they think about professional or contemporary dance, they may admit to not knowing much at all. They might even find it a little intimidating. Certainly, contemporary dance remains less popular than other art forms  in this country, and live performances are not always well attended by the general public. But events such as the Olympics have shown us all that its impact can be magnificent and powerful.

With that in mind, I’m delighted that we’re launching our new pilot DanceQuest project this September. This will introduce children from disadvantaged schools  to dance in a wide range of forms, from hip hop and salsa to ballet. It’s not necessarily about finding talented dancers, it’s about engaging kids who might not otherwise get the chance to see a live dance performance or be able to visit their local arts venue.

I think that our aims are ambitious. Over the next three years, we’ll be working with four fantastic venues – the Birmingham Hippodrome, The Lowry in Salford, Festival City Theatres Trust in Edinburgh and Sadler’s Wells in London – and linking each venue with four schools in their area, meaning that the project will, in total, introduce 800 11- to 13-year olds to dance every year.

With the help of each venue, we have also created a highly varied programme for the 2012/13 academic term. Each child will see two very different live performances –some of the showsinclude Batsheva, a contemporary dance company, as well as the ballet The Nutcracker and Some like it Hip Hop. They will also  take part in six workshops with professional dancers in schools, covering anything from learning salsa steps to understanding choreography and movement. They will then go back to the venue to take part in a final sharing.

With debates surrounding the legacy of the Olympics, and the importance of children taking part in more sport at school, it’s easy to pinpoint the physical benefits of a project like DanceQuest – certainly, it’s about improving fitness, learning teamwork and communication skills.

But it is also about encouraging  broader advantages for children. We want to boost their confidence in watching and creating movement. We’d like them to feel comfortable visiting their local arts venue, and we would hope they will even revisit that venue with their parents or friends after the project has finished.

This is our first DanceQuest and, for me personally, it has been hugely rewarding to watch the project develop and grow. I can’t wait to see how the children respond during the next three years.

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