Building a regional youth dance network


Every Tuesday a group of young girls come together to dance. Nothing new there, right? Except this new youth dance company is made up of young people who would never have had the opportunity to dance otherwise its the fruit of a new project across the region which aims to link up dance networks and increase dance prospects for young people.

The girls, aged between 11 and 14, meet at Kingswinford High school on Tuesday nights and are the new Dudley Youth Dance Company. They are the first of four companies to come out of the Black Country as part of the Youth Dance Englands project across the West Midlands. There are six Youth Dance Contacts across the region, and Youth Dance Contact for the Black Country, Laura Simmons, is busy building youth dance groups and networks in the Dudley, Walsall, Wolverhamption and Sandwell areas.

Laura has a hefty job on her hands not only will she create four new youth dance companies for all four districts in the Black Country, but she needs to link these dance networks with other networks being built by her colleagues in the rest of the region. Confused yet? The overall aim is to create a National Youth Dance Network. This is a mammoth undertaking, but one which is vitally need to raise standards and improve routes into dance for young people.

The projects going on in Dudley will be similar to those being rolled out across the West Midlands according to the national brief, although each part of the region will be interpreting this differently. I went along to Netherton Arts Centre where Laura works as the Dance Contact for Youth Dance England and as the Dance Curriculum Leader for Dudley Performing Arts (DPA), to find out what they were doing.

The Youth Dance Contacts have been installed in posts across the region for two years. Part of building the network involves linking up schools, artists, and local authorities to help develop new dance opportunities including the dance groups which started as taster sessions in schools. Girls who enjoyed the sessions or were picked as particularly talented come along to the group without need to audition, and hope to compete in U.Dance a national programme to give young people the chance to dance on a stage which comes to Stoke-on-Trent in July 2010. They will also perform on December 14 at Kaleidoscope. Laura said she hopes the other youth dance groups in Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton will be set up by January 2010.

The schools we did the workshops at have not got much dance activity at the moment so for some people this will be the first dance they have performed in. I hope in two years time the group will represent a high quality of youth dance provision across Dudley, Laura said.

The young people really take it on board and really value another opportunity to get involved in something. The careers days will allow other young people from the area to see the dance group and it raises their aspirations about how they can make a career out of dance.

But Laura is worried about the long-term health of dance in the Dudley area since many dance artists are drawn to the provisions and bright lights of Birmingham to continue their career. She hopes the Youth Dance projects will path ways for growing talents to stay close to home and continue pursue what they love.

This aim is being carried out through making sure young people who get involved in dance through the groups are given the nourishment they need to continue. Laura will be coordinating Dance and Health projects in the Black Country, as well as a dance mentoring programme and careers events for 13-19-year-olds to find out more about how to turn their passion into a career.

Dance teachers are already pushed and want to do this it allows those who want to take it further to do dance GCSE.

The Dudley Youth Dance Company has been going for three weeks now learning a contemporary style, and the group are now focusing on getting through the application process to get their dance to the U.Dance contest. Laura said:

If we could get through to show our work on the regional platform in Stoke-on-Trent it would be great, but if we dont get through weve got a good goal for next year.

But Lauras wider focus goes beyond the group and remains on building partnerships between venues and schools and making sure this connects with the rest of the region.

I see my role as joining up the dots, she said. Money creates opportunities but being a contact and joining people together to create a hand-holding network is key. People involved in dance sometimes dont know what else is going on but theres loads and we need to shout about so those in Worcester and Birmingham but also recognise the cold spots and make it happen there.