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Animated Edition - Autumn 2006
A South Asian dance response
Christina Christou, Head of Education and Community Department, Akademi
Akademi warmly welcomes this initiative to build a framework to support professional dancers working in the community and education sector.

Within our work, Akademi has important parallel aims of promoting excellence in dance alongside the creation of wide-reaching programmes for participation in dance. We place equal prominence on our education programmes and our productions.

This paper from the Foundation for Community Dance is important for us as it is an integral part of our business to employ large numbers of freelance dance practitioners who lead our groundbreaking community and education programmes. Many of these dancers and practitioners require clarity in terms of routes into and through the settings and opportunities that exist in this sector of the dance industry. At Akademi we also offer a mentoring and coaching role which helps us to update our practitioners and extend their employment. This can be on a formal or informal basis: for example, talented dancers who are established in the Asian subcontinent may travel to London and through cultural networks; they locate Akademi as a nurturing and guiding organisation. Our Director Mira Kaushik's recent OBE awarded for services to dance recognises the thread of crucial professional development we provide, which runs through all we do.

Often this work takes places quietly in the background, giving dance practitioners a kind of stability to return to when nothing but a one-to one with an experienced guiding light will do.

We have many levels of supporting dancers - we may be inviting dancers to observe our most established practitioners or perhaps have very practical sessions where we support our artists in developing portfolios, learning about self-employment, producing great publicity, and obtaining Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) disclosures. Akademi can also help by providing them with contacts and helping them to network through the partners and friends who work with Akademi. In other cases, the Director may work to broker professional relationships and introduce dancers to other companies or commissioners and open up new paths to paid dance work. In return, we find that dancers we have supported tend to come back and help Akademi on performance and participatory projects and these artists have a nurturing influence once they have found their footing in the dance industry.

We believe this influential role which is characterised by taking time to listen to dancers and to 'match' them with possible avenues, based on the best knowledge and advice can really make a big difference: the level of personal communication and introductions can be invaluable to dancers looking for a specific break. However, as a small organisation, our resources are always in demand and the framework would transform some of the weightier aspects of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) information into parcels of useful gems.

A clearly articulated framework which guides an organisation through a carefully researched pathway would certainly help up in our role of supporting new professional dancers, those at the mid-career stage, those wishing to move across from performing or choreographing to education and community work and those looking at roles in administration and management. Such a framework would also complement the work we do in supporting dancers and companies to market and promote their work to new audiences and promoters.

However, we also recognise that there is a certain amount of individual research and preparation that professional dancers need to carry out, in order to have the full 'portfolio' of tools that they need in order to gain full 'recognition' and access to work. In particular, our dancers from time to time have to face the requirements of child protection, health and safety, working permits, legal status and demonstration of their professional status and practice, before they can even embark on the creative elements of a project and this can change the dynamic of their approach in some cases.

Whilst Akademi carries out CPD on the levels described, we believe that there is a great need for a broader approach. The dance sector needs a central focus to channel all the volumes of invaluable information: somewhere that all the current knowledge and archives of past practice and models to draw on, across all the dance genres and specialities, can be pooled and then used for sharing good practice. Akademi definitely sees a place with the framework for us as an organisation to be able to disseminate further the CPD work we do and it would help us in our role of reaching more dancers across the industry. We also embrace this as a valuable learning opportunity, to be able to access current and new perspectives which will build and maximise the opportunities for practitioners as their skills, experiences and ultimately status transform their work.

Whilst the detailed issues of the definitions of professional competencies, together with how to best 'educate' the wider world about the valuable assets that community dance practice can bring - artistic, social, and a whole myriad of other achievements and benefits, we broadly agree that mapping CPD is one our priorities at Akademi and this initiative would serve to strengthen the work we do to promote, sustain and celebrate South Asian dancers.

contact christina@akademi.co.uk

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Animated: Autumn 2006