The UK development organisation and membership
body for community and participatory dance
You are here:> Home > Developing Practice > Animated magazine > Searchable archive > Autumn 2005 > Between ourselves and other nations
Animated Edition - Autumn 2005
Between ourselves and other nations
At the heart of the Olympic movement is the concern to build greater understanding and peace. 'In an increasingly global and interdependent world, where encountering cultural difference can scarcely be avoided, the ability to enter into respectful dialogue is a vital skill for nations, communities and individuals. In this context, our arts, artists and cultural operators have an extremely important role to play.' Sue Harrison, Chair of the Foundation for Community Dance, reflects on the wealth of opportunities presented by the 2012 Olympics. She calls for dance to agree some common values and ambitions and to use the opportunities surrounding the Olympics to create a lasting legacy for community dance.
Having been involved in the run up to the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002, setting up the framework for an international cultural festival and a legacy programme for local communities, I am acutely aware of how much opportunity there is for all of us to play a part in the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in London in 2012.

It is a once in a lifetime opportunity. No-one is too old or too young. The UK will be the centre of world attention and as such all parts of our society will be under the spotlight, particularly in the run-up to the games. The Olympic bid talked about the importance of Pierre de Coubertin's original vision of sport, arts, culture and education working together to present to young people of the world an Olympic Games that demonstrates excellence in sport and participation.

As occurred with the Manchester Commonwealth Games, communities will be unsure how they can participate, other than by volunteering to help with the preparations and delivery of the London Olympics. Already, over 50,000 people have put their names forward. Whilst this will be easy for those living in East London, others will almost certainly feel detached and excluded sensing that there is little for them other than contributing to the cost of it all.

For those of us involved in community dance there are boundless opportunities to think laterally about projects that could engage local groups with the spirit of the Olympic and Paralympic Games' and the Olympic ideal. There will be cultural events in the four years leading up to the Games; the Olympic torch will be handed over to the UK during the Beijing Olympics which occurs during the Liverpool City of Culture 2008; the Olympic Torch will travel around the world and then throughout the UK in the immediate run up to the opening ceremony of the Games and doubtless there will be other major events initiated cross the UK. Some Olympic events will take place outside London and Olympic squads will be located in centres across the UK for pre-Olympic training and acclimatisation before the Games. This is just a short and fairly obvious list of the possible opportunities to create involvement throughout the UK. However, these are events where community dance could and should be a part of the celebrations, creating a resonance and impact throughout our communities?

In the spirit of this global event we should consider how we can become more involved internationally by perhaps linking up with community dance groups and dance practice in other parts of the world. This would build on the extensive connections the Foundation for Community Dance has already established as well as the links those made by dance organisations and practitioners.

In 2002 there was evidence from the Commonwealth Society that literally every other child in the UK in school had a relative or friend who lived in another commonwealth country. The sheer number of countries involved in the Olympics must mean the almost everyone in the UK knows of someone living in one of those countries. Could we make work that has a real international theme based on some of these relationships?

Never before have we been able to talk to people of different cultures so easily. We can share our stories, photographs, dance ideas and even videos of our dances. We can talk about our processes and communities all in real time. We can find out what other peoples' lives are like and how dance matters to their society and we can share our experiences with them even encouraging them to visit us if they come to the UK.

The Candidate File which was London 2012's submission to the International Olympic Committee in Singapore sets out the plan for the whole Games - Theme 17 is the proposal for the Cultural programmes. Within this there are three threads identified that have real resonance and where I strongly feel dance has a lot to offer:
  • Voyage and discovery
  • Building bridges among communities
  • Individual endeavour within the community.
In looking at how Community Dance can work with these threads I suggest that we make ourselves more international, more connected globally to creative practice in Community Dance and look to provide leadership for our international partners in engaging with the Olympics. This "grand project" could link with dance communities across the world to build on each of these threads and most importantly - foster lasting international relationships as part of a real legacy for community dance.

All parts of the Games will need to demonstrate a legacy, mainly due to the high levels of public interest and investment, and doubtless there will be much discussion about this, but for community participation I feel that it is up to all of us to identify what that legacy might be. It is an opportunity we can seize and show the significance and impact of our work. We will need to plan carefully how we should be engaged and how we would ensure an exciting and sustainable legacy. We can show the potential links to sporting themes as well as ensuring dance is seen in its own right as an area of the arts that can demonstrate the significant contribution it makes to local empowerment and individual self-confidence and self esteem with all ages.

Dance, because of the nature of the art form, has great opportunities to engage young people in activity that could relate directly to the Olympic ideal. This ideal aspires to promote international understanding among the youth of the world through sport and culture. The Olympic Charter States that:

'The philosophy of Olympism is a philosophy of life exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind blending sport with education and culture. It seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles' (1)

How can we make the most of this and create work with our communities to reflect this philosophy and ideal?

One of the building blocks of the London 2012 Olympic bid was the diversity of people living in London 'where over 300 world languages are spoken everyday and those who speak them live happily side by side representing almost all of the countries who will take part in the Olympics' (2)

The Games will be an important moment to see if, as a country, we can build stronger bridges with other cultures and communities around the world and try to reach a better understanding of why we are different and what makes us all tick.

The Olympic movement is committed to building peace in the world by helping people to understand each other better. How can the UK as a whole take this on and do something about it? It is an enormous challenge but not an impossible task. We have to start somewhere, so why not now by trying to get our heads around what the Olympics will mean for us as citizens of the UK responsible for putting on the greatest show on earth. How we can make the world a better place as a result of these efforts and create a lasting legacy for the groups and individuals we work with and for community dancers themselves.

I recently attended the international Catalyst Conference held in both Manchester and Liverpool that examined the idea of Cultural Entitlement. This refers to the entitlement to have access to cultural opportunities and an entitlement to be who you are whatever your culture and wherever you live. I won't go into this in any more depth in this article but is a useful source of articles exploring the concept behind this idea.

The terms interculturalism and intercultural dialogue came up many times during the conference and are being taken seriously by UNESCO, the European Union and others. 'Intercultural dialogue takes as its starting point the recognition of different and multiple cultures in the world sensing that multiculturalism has become a term which however unintentionally seems to have institutionalised separation between different communities based upon benign indifference.' (3) The argument for intercultural dialogue suggests, as an approach to these multiple viewpoints, the development of greater understand and learning from those who may not see the world in the same way we do ourselves. Thus sweeping away this notion of benign indifference and building more active strategies for communities to explore each others cultures and share differences openly so that they can understand the values and laws, whether secular or religious, which make people behave in the way they do. This can apply as much to our own local communities as to other countries of the world.

Jennifer Williams, the Centre for Creative Communities, talks about interculturalism:

'Interculturalism as both artistic process and manner of reflection, is a vision of perhaps the most important issue of our time; the representation of culture in a global perspective. It addresses all the important contemporary issues in political, economic, cultural and intellectual life:
  • History/memory
  • Human rights/anatomy
  • Fact/poetry
  • Travel/geography' (4).
'In an increasingly global and interdependent world, where encountering cultural difference can scarcely be avoided, the ability to enter into respectful dialogue is a vital skill for nations, communities and individuals. In this context, our arts, artists and cultural operators have an extremely important role to play. It is only by coming face to face with the arts and the artists of other cultures and with all that they tell us about the preoccupations, the aspirations and the beauty of the world-view of others that our audiences can begin to make sense of that which they don't understand or which they fear.' (5)

This concern to build greater understanding in the world and to make the world a more peaceful place goes to the heart of the Olympic movement. If we can build such understanding through the programmes and projects in the build-up to the Olympics we will not only be making a contribution to the Games but creating a vital legacy for the future of our societies. What better reason could we have for engaging?

If the dance community in the UK is to make a difference during the next seven years then we should talk together, we should try to agree some common values and ambitions for dance involving those people who put so much trust in the ideas and leadership of community dancers.
  • What questions do we need to ask of ourselves?
  • Can dance go there?
  • Can we create new practice with new meaning?
  • Can we partner with sport to enhance an ideal of the Olympic movement; to "balance body, will and mind"? (6)
  • How do we embrace internationalism and intercultural dialogue through our practice over the next seven years?
  • How do we build international partnerships?
The Foundation for Community Dance has a membership that includes artists, animateurs, teachers, community leaders, local authorities plus other organisations not directly involved in dance. This huge diversity in our membership is a real strength; it creates wide-ranging dialogue and helps to grow practice.

The Foundation's role is to support its membership and to lead and advocate for the vast range of work undertaken by dancers and practitioners who work in a wide range of dance related practices. In order to play our part in planning an engagement for Community Dance in the Olympic cultural programme, we feel we should be encouraging the sector to think globally, olympically, politically and above all artistically.

It is a privilege to chair an organisation that has a constituency that cares deeply about its communities and constantly comes up with remarkable and challenging ways of working. The Foundation wants to support Community Dance in identifying a contribution by the sector to the Olympic cultural programme; we would like to hear your opinions and ideas.

During October of this year our Board will be discussing the future role of the Foundation over the next seven years and would like to be able to take your views on the engagement of Community Dance in the Olympics into account.

I look forward to hearing from you. Send you comments and ideas to or Olympic Ideas, Foundation for Community Dance, Cathedral Chambers, 2 Peacock Lane, Leicester LE1 5PX.

1.& 6. (2005)The Candidate File - London 2012 Candidate City Submission
2. Livingstone, K. (2005) in a speech made as part of the Candidate City Submission London 2012 Candidate City to the International Olympic Committee, Singapore: 6th July 2005. Visit
3. Wood, P. (2005) Intercultural Innovation. London: the Guardian Feb 2005
4. Williams, J. (1996) Across the Street Around the World A Handbook for Cultural Exchange. London: British American Arts Association [Centre for Creative Communities], pp 11
5. Fernandez, N. (2005) Visiting Arts Internal Paper. London: Visiting Arts

The content of this site is proprietary to the Foundation for Community Dance and any access to this site or the use of any content made by any person is expressly subject to these terms:

Unauthorised copying of any material (including artwork) on this site and the reproduction, storage, transmission or the distribution of any content, either in whole or in part and in any medium or format, without the prior written consent of the Foundation for Community Dance and, where appropriate, the author or artist, is not permitted.

Please read our website terms & conditions by clicking here

Animated: Autumn 2005