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Animated Edition - Winter 2007
Dance as a creative catalyst: Creative Partnerships Cornwall
Laura Martin, Communications Manager for Creative Partnerships Cornwall writes about how dance has contributed to whole school change and the creativity of pupils and communities across the county
Creative Partnerships Cornwall has worked closely with creative development agencies and a range of individual dance practitioners and companies for the past four years, investigating how dance can enhance and act as a catalyst for positive change and deeper learning in the region.

In this, the organisation has benefited from a vibrant regional dance 'ecology' thanks to the innovative work of partner organisations, as well as a team member whose specialist experience and ability to foster partnerships have played a crucial role.

Sarah Waller is an Advanced Skills Teacher with a dance specialism, an experienced dance animateur and trained school teacher who has managed her hybrid role between Cornwall County Council and Creative Partnerships since the pilot first arrived in Cornwall in September 2002. She has also acted as the main link with what was Dance Agency Cornwall, now called The Works during that time, using the connection with this dynamic regional agency to push boundaries and try out a host of risk-taking, ambitious programmes of work.

Creative Partnerships Cornwall's work using dance has concentrated on two sides of the same coin: work with young people and teachers in schools to challenge their approaches to teaching and learning, and work within the dance sector to raise skills and experience in individual practice and working within the education sector.

Dance as a tool for change: the challenges
Sarah Waller says: 'The challenges to working in schools are usually physical space, timetables, fears, preconceptions about 'dance', and working with curricular subjects.'

'Dance as a creative art form has been a very useful tool for us: as well as firing up imaginations, it has allowed us to engage with places and spaces differently. In a region where rural schools have small or often no school halls, working in a risk-taking manner using dance has really allowed us to shift perceptions of what you can and can't do in school spaces, as well as beyond into the natural environment through site-specific working.'

She continues: 'Curriculum pressures are another set of challenges that can be worked round with a little inventiveness: we've worked hard to investigate ways in which statutory subjects such as literacy and numeracy be delivered within creative, dance-related projects and often with unexpected benefits such as raised attendance rates and higher attainment.'

On fear, Sarah says: 'Dance is often also the area of expertise that has most terrified teachers: through simple approaches that work to demystify the art form and offer up some easy-to-use creative tools, we can help give teachers back confidence and inspire them to try their own ideas, and leave them with skills and understandings that they can employ long after we've gone.'

Preconceptions such as 'dance = ballet', 'dance is for girls, not boys', and 'dance is impossible to teach unless you are a trained dancer' are challenges that can be bypassed using the right tools and offering participants a way of engaging that dissolves prejudice and builds confidence.

In all of the work, partnership has been the key to learning and success. 'Our programmes have all been developed and delivered with a close eye on the development of the dance 'ecology' in the region, building on the ground already gained by our partners in order to maximise learning and to have a sustainable effect on the embedded creative industries.'

Interventions and achievements
Whilst working to facilitate whole school change, tackling issues such as attitudes to learning and major gender divides in individual schools, and exploring the delivery of traditional curricular material in an immersive contemporary manner through the catalytic use of dance, Creative Partnerships has also developed shadowing and Continuing Professional Development programmes for regionally-based dance artists, often linked into larger scale site-specific collaborative projects in extraordinary places, working with international dance companies. Motionhouse Dance Theatre, Random Dance Company and a range of individual practitioners have worked in the region alongside C-Scape Dance Company, AttikDance and a host of individual practitioners.

Traditional curriculum subjects delivered through dance: Coverack Primary School's Digital Egyptians project
'When learning is more physical, it's a more powerful thing, it sinks in and is a much more real way of learning.' Kathryn Crocker, parent from Braddock C of E  Primary School, about The Beach Classrooms Expo project.

As one of a range of whole-school projects tackling the teaching of a traditional school curriculum subject through dance, Coverack Primary School, on the Lizard Peninsula, delivered its ancient civilisations curriculum through the Digital Egyptians project in 2004.

Famously turning the entire school into an Egyptian tomb - including burying the playground under tons of sand with the help of some keen parents - the school worked with practitioners in dance, visual art, digital media, music and blue-screening techniques to make the learning as immersive as possible for the youngsters. Through this, their learning was transformed into actual, experiential contact with aspects of the civilization and therefore a richer understanding of the people, their rituals, beliefs and customs, facilitated using dance as the primary art form.

Coverack's Head Teacher Martin Dalton says: 'We undertook Digital Egyptians in such an ambitious way because we were given the expertise: it couldn't have happened in the way it did without that creative input, and it's amazing what youngsters can achieve with a relatively small amount of input from a set of high quality professionals.'

'The children had a tremendous experience: at no time did they consider it schoolwork, and yet the teaching of a key curriculum subject was achieved through dance, music and digital media. The children learned far more than they would have from an ordinary paper-based project about the same subject.'

Challenging attitudes to learning and the gender divide: Looe Community School's Cultural Architects project
Looe Community School in East Cornwall challenged attitudes to learning in a group of Year Eight boys through an intensive process. Identified as 'cultural architects' in the project of the same name, the boys underwent a six-week process working with dance artists and cutting-edge multimedia artists. The term was coined by sports psychologists to define individual characters who have strong influence in their peer group, thereby having the power to 'tip' others towards either bad or good behaviour - David Beckham was described as one by Sven Goran Eriksson for having the strongest peer influence over the England football squad's winning mentality.

Deputy Head Teacher Mike Keveth recognised the opportunity to work with Creative Partnerships to try something radical with these boys. 'Influential members affect the work ethic of a whole sports team,' Mike says. 'If a few 'players' have the right attitude, they can move the team forward.' He adds: 'We didn't mention dance at first. We knew they wouldn't like that. So we told them there were warm-up activities and team-building.'

Challenging preconceptions about dance, teamwork, role models and their own lives, the boys experienced a two-part approach as a team of dancers - Phil Hill, Claire Cleeve and Sarah Waller - trained the group in movement using a team sports-based approach, while multimedia artists Yeast worked with the boys to mix images of their personal heroes with footage reflecting their own goals and aspirations.

The two aspects came together in a powerful performance piece shown to the rest of Looe Community School and to visiting groups from local primary schools, showing that the boys had raised their own game in more ways that one. Becoming heroes and role models themselves both within school and beyond it, they began behaving differently, displaying a more mature approach to all aspects of their school lives and developing new goals for their own futures.

'The adulation from the audience at the performances' really helped the boys' self-esteem,' says Mike Keveth. 'We dug the boys out of their comfort zone, and they had to work very, very hard to meet our demands. Success like that drives people on.'

Cultural Architects participant Robin says: 'I thought I would be rubbish at it. But it was really fun in the end. I got a huge adrenalin rush - there was a sense that if we have done this, we can do anything.'

Another boy, Elliott, says: 'A lot of my friends look up to me now. My attitude has changed. I used to muck around in lessons, and I didn't listen much. But I want to be a dance animateur, and if I want to do that, I have to do well at school.'

It seems academic attainment as well as attitude has shifted hugely: in the year preceding the project, boys' attainment in KS3 English had dropped to an all-time low of 30% compared to 75% for girls. After the project, the boys' results in 2004 had rocketed to an astounding 84%, matching that of the girls that year.

Multi-school, multi-partner, multi-art form: large scale learning in site-specific projects
Creative Partnerships has worked with partners including The Works, Creative Skills, the National Trust, English Heritage, Cornwall County Council, a range of private and public organisations, entire villages and hundreds of individuals to develop a series of ambitious multiple-school projects over the last four years.

Using dance alongside other art forms, these projects have served to develop ideas and deliver learning in ways that Sarah Waller says: 'have really allowed schools and dance practitioners to meet half way, with all participants moving into scales of work that were not really conceived of with confidence previously.'

The 2003 Polperro Arts Festival project linked up a dozen schools in the Polperro area with the local annual festival, augmenting the content and reach of the event, enhancing skills and ideas development within the schools linking into curricular subjects, and strengthening relationships between the schools and community.

Polperro also saw the first professional commission for C-Scape Dance Company, a group of young graduate dancers returning to Cornwall and newly formed as a company, who led the schools dance and cross art form work alongside a special professional development strand that also saw them develop their own performance.

The Road to the Beach project the following year brought Motionhouse Dance Theatre to Cornwall to work on an even more ambitious scale alongside the regional artists. More than 25 schools and groups worked with Motionhouse dancers and Cornwall-based dance artists, facilitating a massive skills development and peer networking process for them alongside regional visual artists and partnering the regional practitioner development agency Creative Skills.

800 individuals were eventually involved in the massive site-specific processive performances over two days at Watergate Bay in June, including the now-famous diggers and dancers whose pictures made the national papers.

Sarah Waller says: 'Road to the Beach was about partnerships on so many levels, from six year olds helping each other remember their next dance moves to some large organisations opening themselves up to partnership in every aspect of their work.' It also helped create a strong, experienced cohort of 25 local dancers who moved naturally into more leading roles in subsequent projects.

Landings, linked into the 60th anniversary of the D-Day and Normandy Landings in 2005, took this practitioner development aspect still further, fostering rich partnerships between dance practitioners and those from other art forms and working with 15 schools and groups.

With time to develop deeper relationships and richer material over a whole school year in the most practitioner and teacher-owned process yet, and with the final dance, installation and film work shown at Trebah and Glendurgan Gardens over a full week in July, the programme also offered Helen Tiplady of C-Scape Dance Company her first directorial role leading a team of 18 dancers and artists from other disciplines. These practitioners were also given the chance to develop their own creative responses to the anniversaries as a distinct strand within the project, developing on from Road to the Beach.

Helen Tiplady says: 'Each school identified their own specific creative exploration and chose artists from different disciplines to work with, and the dancers and artists worked in school time with subject matter coming directly out of the National Curriculum - the whole project worked to really embed creativity into the curriculum by illuminating core subjects.'

And on the practitioner side of things, she adds: 'Landings really maximised what everybody got out of the whole process on all levels - the teachers, the young people, the practitioners, the organisations and the community.'

Sarah Waller says: 'We've worked really hard to help develop the skills of local dance practitioners through direct mentoring and shadowing, and also by creating opportunities to allow emerging practitioners to collaborate with leading dancers and artists from other areas of practice - from visual artists and film makers to writers and even marine biologists!'

As with all things, some elements of the larger projects have worked better than others, and in each the learning about the 'we could have done better' aspects has been carried forward into the next year's work, enriching understanding and skills.

For Creative Partnerships Cornwall, the work's success is thanks in no small part to the work of many individuals - teachers, dance practitioners and others - working round restrictions in an inventive manner. We hope we've left a legacy of confidence in creativity and skills, inspiring teachers to be braver and to take more risks after they have seen how simple ideas can be so effective in practice.

We've worked hard to show that openness to working in partnership can produce something that is far more than the sum of the individual parts, working round seemingly insurmountable restrictions to achieve extraordinary results out of ordinary circumstances, and raising attainment, improving attitudes, enhancing behaviour and increasing learning.

We've brought young people and young emerging practitioners into contact with the highest quality dance artists, and helped to establish links between dance and its sister art forms such as visual art, music and digital media, with an amazing level of respect developing between art forms and practitioners. We've also helped develop a vibrant network of practitioners with real ambitions for working in and celebrating their region, and assisted new young dance companies to grow and thrive here.

We've even helped prove to boys that dance can be 'cool'! No mean feat.

And finally, happiness is on the agenda more than ever, linked into the creative development of young people, and with dance being acknowledged as a powerful trigger for this. We really believe that the application of imagination using the medium of dance can open doors and reveal pathways to a very different level of learning and experience.

Creative Partnerships
The Works: Dance & Theatre Cornwall

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Animated: Winter 2007