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Animated Edition - Winter 2005
Boys dancing up north
Janet Archer, Director of Dance City in Newcastle charts the development of boys dancing in the North East and challenges the Billy Elliot effect
Do boys dance up North? Has Billy Elliott made a difference to our overall psyche and given boys and young men a new impetus in daring to step over our threshold and get themselves into dance classes?

I genuinely believe that we have seen a sea change in the last decade in this area. I am not for a minute going to place all the credit with the movie, in fact I'd rather like to think that it's the hard work and effort of the growing number of dance artists working in our communities that might have swung this change, but what is certain is that there is a change.

One of Dance City's first forays into encouraging boys to dance started in 1993 with our flagship project Dance in Action bringing together a boys performance group Booyaka Tribe from some of the most disadvantaged communities in our region. Booyaka were all about 15 years old when they first started to meet and the group went from strength to strength, eventually winning a British Gas Working for Cities Award and representing the region in the BT Youth Dance Awards in London.

Of course the original dancers have now moved on, some going onto further education and some starting jobs. We now have a second generation Booyaka, this time called Stormforce, which is an equally fine group of boys who have developed into highly skilled street dancers who are also into contemporary performance work. All of this has been thanks to the energy and dynamism of Davie Rae, originally from Scotland and resident in the North East for the past twelve years.

Dance City has recently been awarded status under the new Music and Dance Scheme funded through the DfES to provide children aged 11 - 18 years with the opportunity to access high level training in contemporary dance. The Dance City Academy, as we have titled our programme, is headed up by Pete Huggins, our new Associate Director: Education, who has worked with boys in youth dance for over 20 years. We are currently working in schools across the region to source potential candidates for this scheme and to date have come across scores of young men who are interested in dancing.

Yes, street dance plays a major feature in sparking their interest, but we know how easily they make the transition to other equally physical forms of dancing and have seen some examples of boys who have initially attended street dance classes at Dance City, and who are not only dancing creatively through other people's choreography, but also beginning to be inspired to make their own choreography themselves.

Last year a group of 2nd Year Northumbria Dance and Choreography Degree Students (a course jointly run with Dance City) devised and set up a platform for youth choreography platform called SPARK which took place at Arc, Stockton, the flagship Lottery funded new theatre space in the south of the region. A number of boys participated including Jo McNaulty, 11, who showed a new solo work which was so special it was picked up and featured on Tyne Tees TV news. It was an extraordinary achievement for someone as young as this to create a work and perform it at a level which would probably have done the degree students themselves justice as part of their own coursework.

Last year we also supported another young male dancer Jack Tomson, 12, who made a solo Trapped, with support from his inspirational teacher Tess Chaytor which was performed alongside Northern Youth Dance Company at the Linbury Theatre in London. He was credited as "a soaring talent" by Sam Wonfer, a journalist for the Newcastle Journal and featured on the front page of the paper's Culture Supplement. Jack is part of the Dance City Academy Foundation programme and is hoping to move into dance as a career. He can now talk about his work articulately and had no fear in expressing his commitment to dance to anyone. As ever the chance to dance with other boys is important. His mum says it took a while for Jack to be comfortable with the idea of dancing - but now he is, there is no stopping him. "I think he wanted to dance and enjoyed doing it at primary school, but he wasn't sure about coming to classes. But once he was asked to come to Dance City and he saw that there were other boys there, it really seemed to capture his imagination."

Another project which seemed to capture boys imagination was the dance video project led by Tess Chaytor as part of the Academy programme. This saw a group of children taking responsibility for both choreographing, performing, filming and editing. The boys who participated particularly enjoyed the technological challenge that the project entailed and excelled in coming up with new ideas for locations and shots as well as movement.

Random Dance Company recently led an inspiring project which contributed to drawing new boys into dance in this region. Dragonfly, saw almost 200 young people from a wide mix of schools from the Sunderland and Durham areas of the region working for almost six months with members of Random, working with a group of regionally based dance artists under Wayne McGregor's overall artistic direction. The result was an extraordinary project, project managed by Amanda Drago, which culminated in a spectacular performance by both the dances from Random, the regionally based dancers and the kids themselves on the roof of the National Glass Centre. Boys (and girls) had a first hand experience of dancing alongside some of the finest dancers in the country. They were visibly inspired and stimulated by this opportunity and many of them have requested the opportunity to follow up on other similar projects in the future.

Northern Youth Dance Company is Dance City's annual performance group for gifted 16 - 24 year olds which tours regionally, nationally and occasionally internationally. Each year we select 6 boys and 6 girls to participate in working on a repertoire of commissioned work from up to four choreographers. One youth choreographer is also given the chance to make a work that is produced to professional standard and sits alongside the other work. The ratio of girls applying to NYDC far outweighs the number of boys who contact us and show interest in the project. We feel however that our stance in relation to positive discrimination in terms of deciding to have equal numbers of boys as girls has helped go a long way in promoting the idea that boys can dance as well as girls if not even better.

So a whirlwind glimpse around some to the projects which Dance City has been involved in. Enough I think to demonstrate that boys do dance, and more than enough to demonstrate that more and more boys want to and have no qualms about dance any more.

For more information about Dance City contact info@dancecity.co.uk or visit www.dancecity.co.uk

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Animated: Winter 2005