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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Home grown
Animated, Autumn 1998. How does a community dance organisation covering 25 per cent of the land mass of Wales enable comprehensive access to its provision and develop a sustainable dance infrastructure? Heidi Wilson puts Powys Dance under the spotlight
As a team of four - three dance development practitioners and an administrator, we decided that to tackle such an important imperative would require innovative thinking. Ideally we needed a network of qualified community dance tutors who were sympathetic to the ethos and methodology of Powys Dance and who were committed to the region. This, combined with the right support mechanisms could facilitate strategic growth - enabling the core team to concentrate on long-term artistic developments.

But, the prevailing question was how to achieve this? We needed to provide flexible, affordable, locally based training of a high standard and specific to community dance. Initially we considered writing and delivering this ourselves but decided that this would 'take our eye off the ball' by diverting valuable time and resources that we simply did not have and would further delay its commencement. This being the case we reviewed what was already available in the UK.

We alighted on stage one of the Laban Guild's Dance Leaders in the Community course (LGDLCC) - a well-established training initiative pioneered by Joan Russell MBE which has responded to changes in community dance practice and which possesses a proven track record with a range of community dance ventures including Swindon Dance, Suffolk Dance, Firkincrane, Essexdance and centres in Dublin and Portsmouth.

Aimed at those with experience in dance (irrespective of genre) the course appeals to a wide range of people, which is reflected in our own participants, who include artists, educators, nurses, social workers, parents, musicians, aromatherapists, occupational therapists as well as dancers.

Delivered over an 18 month period through a series of weekends (11 in total), participants are also required to attend a summer school. At Powys Dance we designed and hosted our own, making it specific to our community dance context. The programme reinforced the value of Laban's work within current practice through a range of approaches: technique and composition with Ana Sanchez-Colberg, dance in special contexts with Jasmine Pasch, body work with Sharna Travers, integrated dance with Blue Eyed Soul, fit for fellas with Dynion all-male dance company and a carousel of styles including Bharata Natyam and African dance.

LGDLCC tutors are accredited by the Laban Guild and all are accomplished artists and practitioners from a variety of backgrounds, approaches, teaching techniques and choreographic methodologies. Although predominantly practical, the course is underpinned by rigorous movement analysis which aims to enable participants to develop a working knowledge of Laban's principals in relation to dance and movement systems. Participants learn to construct choreography and make dances relevant to community groups and to prepare dance sessions with a creative bias employing a variety of leadership styles. Safe practice is stressed through the study of anatomy and physiology as is the need for administrative acumen including budgeting, marketing, insurance and the maintenance of a professional code of practice. Participants are expected to keep an 'active' database containing detailed technical sequences, a choreographic diary, observation and analysis of classes, critiques of live and video performances, annotation, a collection of stimuli, etc. which acts as a resource when they graduate but, which also charts their development throughout and forms part of the assessment process. Two teaching assignments, one mid-course and one at the end, are also an integral requirement.

Course materials are provided by the Laban Guild but the day to day running is the responsibility of the host organisation who also have to: publicise and recruit; be responsible for all correspondence with tutors and participants; provide a suitable venue; generate funding and deal with any difficulties which may arise, including student welfare. This requires a Course Organiser, responsible for administration and a Course Coordinator who provides an immediate point of contact for participants and tutors as she or he attends all aspects of the training initiative. This also has the advantage of providing ongoing support for participants between weekends and ensuring continuity throughout. This aspect has proven essential to the courses' success, but requires a commitment from the host.

Within the current educational and employment environment which places increased emphasis on qualifications we felt it essential to offer participants an accredited course. As it stood LGDLCC: stage one was recognised by the Sports Council and allowed those holding the resultant qualification ie., the Laban Guild Certificate, access to selected City and Guilds courses. However, it did not tie in to a national accreditation framework. Powys Dance worked with the Laban Guild to gain accreditation for the course from the Open College Network (OCN). As such, participants can now gain ten units: two at level two (roughly equivalent to GCSE levels A to C or NVQ level two), and eight at level three (roughly equivalent to GCE A level or NVQ level three). OCN accreditation is recognised by the Further Education Credit Framework and as such is eligible for support by the Training and Enterprise - Councils (TEC) and the Further Education Funding Council. Powys Dance was successful in securing funding from Powys TEC enabling us to waive the course fees for Powys residents.

As the course draws to a conclusion Powys Dance has already set up teaching opportunities for those course participants who have expressed an interest in working in the community. These include: regular weekly classes with three different age groups between five and 16; adult performance groups; education projects in primary and secondary schools and work with adults with learning disabilities. In all instances participants have been offered opportunities to shadow the work of Powys Dance and to attend company training including first aid, disability awareness, the Welsh Language Act, health and safety and equal opportunities. For this initiative to be successful we recognise the need to provide ongoing support in the form of mentoring programmes and follow-up training to nurture this emerging local resource. In order to ensure the maintenance of high standards we will also be monitoring the work particularly if it falls under the kite mark of Powys Dance. (This requires an adjustment of the role of Powys Dance employees and opportunities for mentoring and monitoring have been built into our programme.)

In the longer term we hope to offer advanced training either in the form of the LGDCLCC stage two course and or through the proposed national initiative currently being researched by Community Dance Wales. We believe that this pioneering opportunity has offered a rigorous course with a firm and thorough foundation upon which participants can build, so too it seems do the participants: "Being a community dance leader means to me having an active role in shaping our social world - giving people access to develop their creativity and providing room to express themselves. As a wheelchair-user and woman of size, it is important to me to change traditional notions of disability and passivity, dance and beauty. All of these lofty ideas can't be put into practice with-out a good foundation in the languages of the body. The course allowed me to approach dance from the inside, not from strict rulings of where a body-part should be at any one time. Thus, I have already gained more sensitivity to our possibilities and our expressivity, which is already changing my dance practice."(1)

However, the proof of the pudding is in the 'eating' and we hope in a years time to be able to report on a successful first crop of home grown community dance leaders operating within the field.

Heidi Wilson, Dance Development Practitioner - Education Coordinator, Powys Dance. Contact +44 01597 824370.

1 Kuppers, Petra, Laban Guilds Dance Leaders in the Community Course participant, Powys Dance, 1998.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001