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Animated Edition - Spring 2005
Dance is the art form whose moment has come
The Rt Hon Estelle Morris, Minister for the Arts in conversation with Dr Scilla Dyke MBE.
The Foundation for Community Dance believes that dance is at the heart of human experience, for dance demands every fibre of a person's being. How does the Rt Hon Estelle Morris perceive the importance of dance in people's lives and to the diverse communities of the UK? What is the Minister's view on the centrality of art to communities?

Since I joined the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in 2003, I have learnt so much about the arts and had the chance to see the power of arts and culture in people's lives. The Government is committed to ensuring that everyone, regardless of their social background or financial means, can participate in the arts to a level that suits them. This means building pathways of progression by giving young people the chance to experience the arts for the first time, by providing opportunities to deepen their interest and develop their skills, and by supporting exceptionally talented young people to fulfil their potential. In order to achieve this, we are supporting the development of dance as an artform - its artists, infrastructure, buildings and companies. At the same time we are maximising the contribution that dance can make to encouraging everyone of any age to exercise and live a healthier life.

During my time as Minister for the Arts, I have been spoiled for choice so far as arts events are concerned - English National Ballet, and Merce Cunningham's Split Sides are just a couple that I was lucky enough to attend. At each dance performance I have experienced, I have noticed the unique power of dance to communicate very strong messages without words and to transfix an audience through the exploration of movement. Likewise, when I go to events that celebrate and discuss the future of dance, I always leave feeling immensely encouraged by the dedication and enthusiasm of those involved. When I saw Akram Khan's performance of Kaash at the Royal Festival Hall just over a year ago, I was inspired and captivated by the experience. The collaboration of music, visual art and dance was so powerful it had the audience gripped for the duration of the performance.

Those of us who are lucky enough to work in the dance field already know the benefits that dance can have on those that engage with it. One of those benefits is the way that dance brings people together. It has no language barriers, so is a unique form of communication for people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds. It can build partnerships in diverse communities, help us to socially interact with others and develop our creativity, self-expression, innovation and self-confidence. These are key, transferable skills that all young people need and which the economy will demand in the future. Having witnessed the power of dance to transform people's lives at different levels, I feel strongly that it should play a central role in community life. However, it can only play this role if we ensure that opportunities are available for those that wish to pursue them. This is the challenge we face.

Getting to the heart of the rich legacy of the Rt Hon Estelle Morris's Ministerial experience. A personal and departmental perspective on the relationship of community dance - the engagement of people in dance making processes - to both arts policy and the government's wider social policies. How can we ensure other government departments value dance's contribution?

I think that this is already happening in a big way. My department and Arts Council England are talking to other departments across Whitehall, highlighting the contribution that dance can make to their agendas - whether that be through health, social inclusion, regeneration, education and so on. One of dance's great strengths is that it contributes to so many different areas and that is why DCMS is determined that this contribution is recognised. Dance already features prominently in the joint DCMS/DfES government strategy, which is called the Physical Education, School Sport and Club Links Strategy (PESSCL). The Continuing Professional Development module of this programme is already ensuring that teachers are equipped with the necessary skills to provide high quality dance in schools. Workshops, videos and interactive training are among the resources being made available to teachers. Dance Links, the club links strand of the strategy, will look at ways of connecting schools and dance clubs to provide more opportunities for young people to take part in dance outside of the curriculum. Arts Council England is also funding projects that demonstrate the value of dance in the wider social agenda. One of these projects, Dance Included, run in partnership with Dance United, is taking dance to young people in Young Offenders' Institutions. Research and publicity will help to provide the evidence needed to demonstrate dance's value.

So other government departments are already involved in dance collaborations. However, we are always striving to do more. The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee inquiry into dance, which was held last summer, received over 60 replies to its request for written evidence, a particularly large number for such an inquiry. This illustrates the value and importance of dance to many people. We all know how valuable dance is, but there's a need for us to identify exactly what impact dance can have on different areas (someone's health, for example). Dance has holistic benefits as a recreational activity contributing to healthier lifestyles, as a means of supporting emotional well-being and as a healing agent for specific ailments. Over the coming months we will be bringing together key representatives from the sector to take part in focus groups to discuss and debate how to maximise the impact of dance in these areas. We will be calling on advice and support from the dance sector in taking this work forward, and value input from anyone else who has ideas on how this might be done.

How successful does the Minister perceive we have been so far?

I think that we have come a long way over the past year in highlighting dance and the range of fantastic, innovative work that the sector has taken forward. The joint work that I have mentioned is just a snippet of what is happening throughout the country, and illustrates how other government departments are starting to take greater notice of dance and become more aware of its intrinsic value.

The Select Committee's inquiry last year helped to boost our case for dance even further. In light of all the recent press coverage surrounding obesity amongst young children, the Committee was particularly interested in the role that dance could play in contributing to the health and well-being of the nation. Our relationship with the Department of Health has really cemented since then. With their help, we held a Dance and Health seminar in December last year at Laban. This brought representatives of the dance, sport and health sectors together under one roof to look at current collaborations and future areas for joint working. We look forward to building on all the work in this area over the coming year, and providing a strong, positive case for dance and health in the future.

Is community dance a useful term? Why? Where does it sit in the wider social agenda?

Yes, I think it is a useful term. My department's priorities for dance centre around three main areas; access, excellence and a contribution to healthy living. We want all young people to experience dance and become involved to a level that suits them. Ultimately we want more people to participate, whether they want to develop a career in dance, to dance for personal fulfilment or self-expression, or just want to feel healthier and better about themselves. Community dance encompasses all of these things and a lot more. It can range from children taking ballet lessons after school to older people taking part in tea dances in their village hall. The rise in popularity of other dance forms such as salsa and ceroc, partly thanks to TV programmes like the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing and Strictly Dance Fever, has also increased the opportunities available to those wishing to dance.

Furthermore, Creative Partnerships, the DCMS initiative that forges partnerships between schools and cultural organisations, is delivering a number of dance projects in schools across the country. One such project, entitled Safahr, enabled young people to tell a their stories through dance. It took place in my constituency and built on a very successful existing collaboration between dancers from the Birmingham Royal Ballet and pupils from two schools in the local area. With Creative Partnerships' involvement the project was extended to a further four schools, and, as a result, reached over 500 young people.

Community dance is therefore playing a significant part in the wider social agenda, contributing to health, well-being and social inclusion. These are all key priorities for this government. Dance has the potential to both contribute to and benefit from this wider social agenda.

What are the challenges for the future?

Much is being done already but we will always face challenges and questions. How do we promote the benefits of dance more widely so that we can encourage more people to get involved? How do we reach those groups in society that do not normally participate in or go to watch dance? How do we build upon work that already exists in these areas? How can we build up the evidence base for dance and its benefits? These are all questions that my department is working on, and we value your input.

For information about the work of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport visit www.culture.gov.uk
Scilla Dyke, Lead Professional Studies, Royal Academy of Dance.

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Animated: Spring 2005