The UK development organisation and membership
body for community and participatory dance
Animated Edition - Spring 2006
Jump Crawley
Helen Linsell, Community Arts Officer for Crawley Community Arts describes work being undertaken to increase participation in dance by boys and young men
Crawley Community Arts, part of Crawley Borough Council, has been successfully providing a range of arts projects, workshops and events in and around the Crawley for approximately 18 years reaching people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.

However, when I was employed as a Community Arts Officer in January 2003 with a background and training in contemporary and community dance from Laban, there was an opportunity for Crawley Community Arts to focus on dance development, particularly with young people. Crawley Community Arts recognised the distinct lack of creative and contemporary dance activities for young people in the community so one of my key responsibilities was to attempt to fill this void.

As I was not familiar with the Crawley area, I knew very little about what dance provision existed in the town. Therefore, I decided that my first task should be to meet with the teachers responsible for dance in schools in order to establish what kind of dance activity was taking place and how to develop links between educational and community dance.

These initial meetings promptly revealed a common interest in finding successful methods for increasing boys' participation in dance. Three schools - Thomas Bennett Community College, Ifield Community College and Hazelwick School - were particularly keen for me to help them engage more boys in dance activity, predominantly in creative and contemporary dance styles in the hope of increasing their interest in opting for GCSE and A Level dance.

After an initial planning and research period I set up and coordinated a Boys' Day of Dance, Crawley Boys Youth Dance Company and a mini-residency with Motionhouse Dance Theatre Company. I also produced a film Momentum - documenting the progression of boys dance in Crawley. All of these projects were supported and funded by Crawley Borough Council as they were meeting certain corporate objectives within the council, particularly education, life long learning and health and social care.

After evaluating and observing these activities, it was evident that the boys and young men in Crawley were enthusiastic about the dance activities which took place in school hours, yet asking them to commit to a project over a period of time outside of school hours and in a community setting was much more of a challenge and the numbers involved were considerably lower. What then was the answer to a successful and well attended community boys dance project?

This question arose at the time of Jump London and Jump Britain - the Channel 4 documentaries about Parkour - also known as freerunning - which is the art of moving over and around obstacles in urban environments. Although sometimes categorised as a sport, what I clearly saw was a form of dance and choreography. So, was this perhaps the answer to my boys dance predicament? Could it be possible to incorporate parkour into the next boys' dance project in Crawley? The real motivation to pursue the project came from a conversation with a dance artist who had been involved with Crawley Boys Youth Dance Company. He convinced me that the project would be feasible and provided me with the confidence and enthusiasm to embark on what would be an eighteen month venture.

The first step in March 2005 was organising my initial thoughts and ideas into a draft project proposal: Six month project; boys 11-18yrs from three schools; weekly workshops in dance and Parkour delivered by dance artist and Parkour coach; sessions take place after school but in school venues - no cost for participants; creation of dance-for-camera piece - incorporating site-specific work around Crawley; creation of performance piece - live event at The Hawth Theatre; professional development work throughout project for dance artist and Parkour coach; professional development for other artists after the project.

The project was immediately recognised as not only supporting local and county council agendas but also being a ground-breaking youth arts project which would raise the profile of Crawley Community Arts and dance development within West Sussex. The project also offered potential for strengthening and creating partnerships with other organisations such as Hampshire Dance and Laban, both of whom have also been researching and developing boys dance.

The project secured funding from Crawley Borough Council's Social Inclusion Fund as it would be providing positive activities for boys and young men between 11 and 18yrs outside of formal education. There was also a substantial contribution from The Hawth Theatre's budget for youth arts development within Crawley. Management, administration and financial support was also received from Jo Egerton, Dance Development Officer for West Sussex County Council.

However, in order to offer a high quality, open access dance project over the period of six months incorporating the creation of a piece of dance-for-camera and a live theatre production, the project would require a considerable amount of additional funding. So an application was made to Arts Council, South East.

With confirmation received from Arts Council England that our application for funding had been successful, we were able to move forwards. Dance artist/choreographer, Fiona Findlay, and parkour coach, Jason Matten were employed to deliver the project whilst SnakeOil film company were employed to create the dance-for-camera piece. In addition, Cindy Gower, previously Projects Manager at South East National Dance Agency was employed to monitor and evaluate the project.

After a number of preliminary planning meetings and creative workshop sessions the first stage of the project was put into place and so began Jump Crawley.

October 2005. Initially, the project attracted almost 60 boys - all keen to learn how to run up and flip off a wall! Boys from all year groups, of all abilities and from a range of backgrounds were attending the sessions and within the first few weeks were making enormous progress. The general atmosphere in the sessions was one full of excitement and enjoyment, expressions of delight and self-worth as they cleared the vault or landed successfully from one surface to another.

The sessions always incorporated both parkour and dance skills as well as placing a great emphasis on body conditioning and fitness training. Observing the sessions was incredibly rewarding - witnessing the young men committing to every task they were set and working together and supporting each other despite ages and abilities. It was clear to see their development as the weeks progressed and their eagerness to challenge themselves physically and creatively.

However, it became evident at an early stage that once the apparatus was taken away, some of the boys started to lose interest and began to drop out of the project. Boys also dropped out due to their inability to commit for more than a few sessions. Nevertheless, many continued to participate in the project, all gradually starting to appreciate and understand the links between the dance and parkour - exploring journeys and pathways without the apparatus, working with each other instead of the equipment, and starting to build up challenging and dynamic movement vocabulary and choreographic skills.

Evaluating the first term revealed many positive aspects of the project:
  • Sense of achievement and ambition from the participants
  • Participants supporting each other and taking responsibility for each other across year groups
  • Improvement in body awareness, fitness, strength and movement skills
  • Increased understanding in health and safety
  • Engaging boys who have never taken part in any creative movement activity
  • Fusing the two forms and transferring this appreciation to the participants
  • Support and enthusiasm from teachers.
There were also certain issues we needed to address in terms of moving forwards:
  • More joint delivery between parkour coach and dance artist - co-leading and mutually supporting the session
  • Increased planning, reflection and evaluation time
  • Strengthen links between parkour and dance
  • Definite artistic vision to work towards for the film and performance piece.
Since January 2006 the team has been working towards a clearer artistic vision and there is more emphasis on creativity as opposed to skill-building. The links between parkour and dance are strengthening and there is an increased awareness from the participants that there is a goal in sight. The film-company are gathering ideas for the dance-for-camera piece and things are being put into place for the final event on 19 May at The Hawth, Crawley - which may involve other boys dance groups from across the region.

There has also been an opportunity for the boys to come together for the first time at a joint workshop session held at K2, Crawley's spectacular new leisure centre. Over 30 boys attended a four hour workshop session on Sunday 5 February in a fantastic gymnasium space. The workshop incorporated both dance and Parkour activities and enabled the participants to meet new people from different schools and start to realise the scale of the project in which they are involved.

We are still only half way through the project and are all continuing to learn, grow and develop new skills - the boys, the artists and myself as a project coordinator. However, I am confident that we are reaching a wide variety of boys and young men from Crawley and providing them with an exciting, challenging and unique experience which is not only developing their movement skills and understanding of parkour, dance and choreography but is encouraging a significant increase in their confidence, self-esteem, team-work and communication skills. It is also helping them overcome fears and limits and achieve what they never thought possible. There is still a long way to go but the excitement and dedication is there to make it happen.

For more information about this project contact helenlinsell@hotmail.com

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Animated: Spring 2006