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Animated Edition - Autumn 2008
A large dose of faith
Jim Brown, Senior Education & Access Officer at Swindon Dance, thrives on a heady mixture of adrenaline, collaboration, reflection and strategic planning as he considers his career in the 'people dancing' business
You would have thought that, after 22 years in the 'people dancing' business, I would have a formula for managing the perfect participatory dance event. After all, how difficult can it be to bring together an audience, artist/s, participants, appropriate space and resources, technical support, stewarding, press, and, if outdoors, a little sunshine, in July?

The Big Dance launch event in Swindon on Sunday July 6th reminded me of the delicate balance between exhaustive planning, faith and a little bit of luck on the day.

I had already gone to press with the schedule and publicity for our 'Bhangra meets Bollywood' event when the local Swindon Screen steering group decided that an Andy Murray Wimbledon Tennis Final was a distinct possibility.

A week to go and we re-scheduled our day, leaving my guest artist Michael Kitchen only one hour to teach a mixed ability youth & adult group his Bollywood routine.

Trudging bleary-eyed through heavy rain on a Sunday morning, I would have forgiven everyone involved for collectively questioning the sanity of this endeavour. One hour later though, things were looking up. The group was buzzing from Michael's infectious teaching and Arjun Toor's Bhangra beats. All we needed now was a break in the rain. Now, I'm not a religious man, but the sunshine that bathed Wharf Green in Swindon's Town Centre for exactly the two hours we were scheduled was nothing short of miraculous.
Here is what one youth dancer had to say about the event; ''It was great fun! I have never done anything like it before, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would like to do it again. After a lucky break in the weather, I was really excited to perform, and I was absolutely exhausted afterwards."

Swindon Dance's director, Marie McCluskey, talks about the need for 'an instant response unit' to manage the rapidly changing world in which we work. This may sound more like a police initiative than community dance, but her point is that we are now working in a world of instant mass communication. The challenge is to be strategic, positive and pro-active in a rapidly evolving partnership rather than being merely 'reactive'. Swindon's Big Screen wasn't on my radar last September. I have now co-ordinated three live dance events since the launch on May 2nd. The world is moving very quickly and this is an opportunity for profile-raising, artistic innovation and community participation that we just could not ignore.

It's a huge buzz, for young and adult community dancers, performing and being filmed live on a 40 ft by 30 ft screen, but is there a downside to this new instant TV? My fear is about the quality of interaction between artist/s, participants and audience. As a freelancer, working on the Burn & Rave project with elderly people ten years ago, I took three years to run this process through, giving time and space for the relationship, trust and confidence to develop between all participants. Performance would grow out of the work over 12 weeks or more, not be the goal of a day's workshop. Adrenaline, rather than creative reflection fuels much of my work now.
Balancing quality delivery and a willingness to work in collaboration, with reflection & strategic planning that serves our core mission as an organisation, is a huge challenge and one that, after 22 years, I am still thriving on.

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Animated: Autumn 2008