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Animated Edition - Winter 2007
A quiet revolution?
Jeanette Siddall is a member of the Department for Education and Skills' Music and Dance Scheme Advisory Group. With the help of the centre leaders, she looks at the impact and aspirations of the new Centres for Advanced Training for exceptionally talented young people
The Music and Dance Scheme (MDS) is quietly revolutionising opportunities for tomorrow's dance artists. Since the 1970s, the Scheme has been supporting young dancers attending one of the boarding schools specialising in ballet; more recently it has been moving into territory that is both strategic and far-reaching.

The search for excellence is driving access and diversity. It has led to the establishment of Youth Dance England and, more recently, to Andrew Adonis, Minister for Schools, and David Lammy, Minister for Culture, jointly commissioning the Dance Review. Led by Tony Hall, Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House and Chair of the Music and Dance Advisory Group, the review is looking at barriers to dance for young people. The Observer on 5 November announced 'Dance "tsar" to get schools in step', and quoted Tony Hall: 'Dance and ballet have suffered too long by being the poor relation of music. There needs to be an overall strategy.' Alongside describing the growth and popularity of dance, for example in being one of the fastest-growing subjects at GCSE, the article also highlights issues including the lack of diversity and geographical equity, and the short-term nature of many initiatives.

The strategy for the Centres for Advanced Training (CATs) aims to begin addressing these issues. It is firmly about exceptional talent, but in a wider range of dance forms so making it more relevant to a wider range of young people. Initially the Scheme has had a focus on preparing young dancers for professional training in contemporary dance and possibilities for South Asian dance are currently being explored. The Scheme also aims to improve the balance of gender and diversity among young dancers, to enable them to stay at home and in school while providing individual learning plans and means-tested grants to support their advanced dance training.

Consideration of aspects including geographical spread, leadership, track record and facilities, determines the organisations invited to develop proposals. Currently, Centres are based with dance companies, national dance agencies and professional training institutions. This builds on the integration of the profession with dance in community and education contexts, rooted in a philosophy of 'everyone can dance' and recognising that talent takes different forms but is precious wherever it emerges.

With great wisdom, the MDS is facilitating regular network meetings for the new Centres to share experience, challenges, research and progress. Helen Laws, Dance UK's Healthier Dancer Programme Manager was at the meeting in September and commented that: 'Each centre is passionate about achieving the best possible training and experience for young dancers. Health and fitness assessments and individual training plans are enabling them to really take ownership of the learning process. I had the feeling that the CAT leaders are positively seizing the opportunity of having a 'clean slate', to look at the training of dancers with fresh eyes, backed up by experience and sound up-to-date information.' This sense of shared purpose, of excitement about learning and discovering is shared by the CAT leaders themselves. A scheme that inspires and invigorates in this way is special and really worth celebrating.

All the Centres provide physical training in more than one dance form. Often students continue to train with their own teachers, although not all students have previous training. In contemporary dance the CATs are initiating provision for young people that has never previously existed. Research, such as Laban's work looking at the physiological/physical factors and the psychological issues associated with training exceptionally talented young dancers, is contributing to the debate and will have an impact across all forms of dance.

Each Centre structures its programme differently, most including some weekly activity complemented by intensive holiday projects. Content includes working with professional artists, creative and choreographic skills, performance skills, musicality, and professional skills including health and fitness. The ethos is about the whole person, the thinking dancer, fostering creativity and artistry and creating a safe environment for taking risks. Working with professional artists provides a variety of role models and signposts students to the range of choices that a dance career can offer, while regular teachers provide continuity and often mentoring to help young people navigate their way towards the career of their choice.

When fully established the Scheme might cater for up to 1,500 young people across the country. This is a tiny proportion of the whole population, but it provides the missing link in opportunities for progression for the most talented young dancers. It provides a means of addressing artistic needs, in terms of different traditions, and of raising standards. Currently, professional schools at further and higher education levels find students from other countries are better prepared for full-time training, and too many British students become injured in their first months of training due to their lack of preparation and experience. The Centres for Advanced Training provide a unique and vital means of addressing these concerns.

As yet, only a small number of Centres are established or in the planning stage and their details are on the proceeding page. Describing the benefits of the Scheme, Assis Carriero talks about joining a partnership of some of the finest training establishments across the country and the fantastic generosity of the group; views that are echoed by other Centre leaders. Assis highlights the scope for individuality, while Marie McCluskey values the emphasis on going out to seek young talent, and in particular targeting boys, a view also expressed by Pete Huggins at Dance City Academy. Lucy Field sees young people flourish in an environment where their peers are dedicated and enthused by their learning. Selina McGonagle sees the Scheme as providing the missing link between local dance schools, youth dance and professional organisations, enabling students to train and experience choreographic and artistic projects.

The involvement of the Department of Education and Skills brings benefits beyond funding, through raising the profile of dance within local schools, education authorities and Gifted and Talented initiatives. While the numbers joining the Centres are small, many more young people are involved in outreach projects and, by providing a beacon of aspiration, Centres are raising sights and ambitions across their catchment areas.

The Scheme is not without its challenges. All of the Centres are questioning how to identify talent, recognising that personal qualities are as, if not more, important than physical aptitude or technical proficiency. Groups are often drawn from a wide geographical area, making the logistics of time-tabling and planning complex. Few of the Centres had space sitting vacantly, and finding enough space and time adds to the complexity of the logistics. Even funding is a challenge. While it is exciting to plan with the expectation of funding, there is always more that could be done. The costs of organising, researching and developing programmes have to be met, and the individual approach is both labour intensive and time consuming. As grants are means tested, some talented young people fall just beyond the limit but not far enough for their families to be able to pay the full cost of their training.

A significant challenge is working with other dance providers in the locality. This can be tricky, as the student may be continuing training with other teachers, having to juggle several demands on their time and commitment and, on occasion, conflicting teaching styles. Sadly, a few local dance teachers see the Scheme as a threat, seeing it as 'poaching' their students, rather than signalling the excellence of their teaching and an achievement to be celebrated. Several Centres are starting to work with their local dance teachers to improve understanding of the Scheme, and there are plans for the Centres to invite the major teaching associations to a future network meeting.

The CATs offer a wider challenge to teachers less used to working with groups of talented young dancers, and to the professional schools that their students aspire to attend. As Viv Slayford of the Swindon Youth Dance Academy asks: How do we nurture creative, thinking dancers and still equip them with the tools to gain entry to professional schools, and how do we equip students to cope with full-time training and still retain the creative, autonomous person within? These are challenges that are good for dance, that many professional schools relish and with which they are already grappling.

In the longer term, the existing Centres aspire to be more recognised and understood within their locality, among private teachers and professional schools, and there are good indications that this will come in time. Several already see the need for more space, more opportunities to develop talent spotting schemes and to work with professional artists and companies. Some are planning to develop programmes specifically for disabled students, others dream of bringing together students from different Centres, for national summer schools or performances. Some see the value in developing optimum training programmes or in students gaining some kind of qualification from their involvement. Several are turning to international models, to look at the structures and curricula that appear to work effectively elsewhere.

Pete Huggins confesses to a feeling of growing optimism when it comes to the development of training strategies for young dancers: 'The willingness of individuals to share and learn from each other, along with the opportunities to undertake meaningful research, can only enhance our understanding of the needs of our students'. Assis Carreiro recognises the luxury of launching DanceEast Academy on the back of the learning that has already taken place, but that, as the Scheme is so young, there are bound to be hurdles to overcome and new challenges to deal with.

The revolution may have started quietly, but its impact will benefit the future of dance and dancers for years to come. For this, and for their generosity in providing material for this article, I want to thank the leaders of the first pioneering Centres for Advanced Training. On behalf of future generations of young dancers, I wish them all possible success in their many quests.

For further information on the Music and Dance Scheme visit or contact Jeanette Siddall at

Yorkshire Young Dancers
A partnership between Northern Ballet Theatre and Northern School of Contemporary Dance, it has worked with over 1,000 young people so far and has around 76 young dancers on its programme. Contact - Annemarie Donoghue at or Selina McGonagle at

London Contemporary Dance School at The Place
Having auditioned 121 young people for this year it currently has 43 on its programme, compared to 19 in its pilot year, 2004/05. Students have gone on the School, and to Laban, Roehampton and Lewisham College. Contact - Lucy Field at

Dance City Academy
Hosted by Dance City, it has worked with almost 2,500 young people and currently has 78 young dancers on its programme. Contact - Pete Huggins at

Swindon Dance Academy
Hosted by Swindon Dance, it has worked with over 500 young people and has 55 on its programmes. Some students from the first year have gone onto Laban, HND and Swindon's Foundation Dance Course Contact - Viv Slayford at

Laban has recruited its first cohort of 36 young people ready for launching its programme in January 2007. Contact - Jessica Hemming at

DanceEast Academy
Launching its programme when its new building opens in Ipswich in September 2008. Contact - Lucy Hegarty at

Other possibilities are in discussion currently in the East and West Midlands, and in the longer term it is hoped to extend the geographical reach of the Scheme.

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Animated: Winter 2007