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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Bursting into life
Animated, Spring 1997. The Claire Russ Ensemble, Motionhouse and local dance artists have joined forces to create the pioneering Warwickshire Youth Dance Programme. Claire Russ reveals how
In 1995 the Claire Russ Ensemble launched a series of outreach workshops throughout Warwickshire to see if there was enthusiasm for a youth dance company. There was! We met over a hundred young people between the ages of 13 and 18 who wanted to dance and 22 formed the first ever Warwickshire Youth Dance Company. Two years later the company have performed countless times regionally, further afield in Liverpool, and in the BT Festival of Youth Dance with a piece called Goosebumps created by Ensemble member Carol Wellman and myself. This year we are commissioning two new works from group leaders Conny Parks and Jayne Dowdeswell. I am also coming across numerous possibilities for international exchanges in France and Germany, and am hoping that the company can create a dance film, directed by Kevin Finnan about the contexts that dance as an art form can exist in which will be a good way of communicating what we are doing.

A close association with Motionhouse means that the Youth Company has its home at Motionhouse's fully equipped studio base, Manor Hall. The association also means that in addition to myself, and two group leaders, the company can invite commissions from Louise Richards, Kevin Finnan and other Motionhouse dancers living in Warwickshire. The level of professional input that we can give means that company members are beginning a training which will stand them in good stead for formal entry to a dance institution, grants permitting. This issue is one which we are ready to fight when the time comes.

The group ranges between 13-19 begin preparing their bodies by working on alignment through 'release' and other anatomically 'kind' techniques whilst developing strength and power through formal technical work. They also gain all round first hand experience of professional contemporary dance as they become aware of the performance work of the Claire Russ Ensemble and Motionhouse and have direct access to us as creators and performers. They have seen Conny Parks dance with both companies at Warwick Arts Centre and regularly see other performances there and in Birmingham.

The Youth Company is however only one part of Warwickshire Youth Dance. In association with the Warwickshire Association of Youth Clubs (WAYC) an extensive programme of satellite workshops covering all Warwickshire and particularly rural areas is underway. Warwickshire experiences similar problems to Britain as a whole in that wealth and opportunity are weighted towards the South with Stratford on Avon, Leamington Spa, and Warwick as key towns. Our outreach programme is endeavouring to take dance countywide, providing a workshop series where there is little or no precedent.

We take a responsive role to these numbers are sporadic and young people travel from surrounding villages to attend what is essentially a new activity for them. Because dance isn't part of a wider context there is more work to be done to encourage a sense of security within dance. We frequently link with youth clubs, where flirting and playing pool is the norm, using their spaces and structures and engaging in conversion tactics, as well as teaching dance. A Paul Hamlyn Foundation award has enabled a satellite programme to rural areas and we hope that out of satellite workshops, other satellite youth dance companies in Northern and Eastern areas will emerge.

Youth worker training is the third element of Warwickshire Youth Dance. Again with WAYC we are running a programme of youth worker training to increase the number of people with skills to lead workshops or the verbal skills, experience and enthusiasm to advocate contemporary dance in youth settings. The future of this we hope will be an established training course in youth dance for youth workers not only from Warwickshire, but nation wide possibly the accredited Laban Guild Leaders Community Dance Course. The current format includes Saturday sessions for the group of workers, and attendance at satellite workshops where they can get first hand and some hands on experience of the power of dance for young people. The extent of the practical programme of Warwickshire Youth Dance means that first hand experience is automatically part of the training.

New project co ordinator, Sara Wyatt, will take over operations from the end of April and Gwen van Spyck will work with Warwickshire Youth Dance to make a Arts For Everyone lottery bid with funders, Warwickshire County Council, Stratford on Avon District and Warwick District Councils and West Midlands Arts to secure funding for an exciting range of new projects. Oh yes, and West End and TV star Sarah Crowe is the company's patron.

In the year that I have been working, I have never experienced the sort of public interest and potential for a project as I do with this one. It is a winner, a happening thing, a project which is bursting at the seams and what we need now is continued support, encouragement and funding for growth, in order to bring the potential to fruition. Do contact us with any ideas for performances, exchanges or funds on 01926 889494.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001