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Animated Edition - Winter 2008
Presenting solutions: Made in BC - dance on tour
Robyn Campbell currently Dance Programme Officer at Canada Council for the Arts describes the development of Made in BC, an initiative linking communities to contemporary dance
In 2005 I returned to British Columbia (BC) after spending six years in London. I went to London to become infused with contemporary dance and to develop knowledge in community dance. Following my studies at the Laban Centre, I worked in dance academia, community dance, and dance management. As I neared my seventh year away from Canada, I realised it was time to see if I could contribute to the development of dance in my homeland. Not long after I got my feet on the ground, I was told about a new three-year pilot project Made in BC - Dance on Tour that was searching for a Director.

The focus of Made in BC is to work with eight innovative small-town presenters across the province of British Columbia get more contemporary dance touring to regional communities. BC contemporary dance hasn't been touring much in the rural regions of the province in the past twenty years, and Made in BC was created to reverse this trend.

British Columbia is an utterly stunning province, in great part due to its extreme landscapes. The numerous mountain ranges cut off the north and south at the midriff of the province. The west-of-centre strip is nearly impenetrable with much uninhabitable wilderness; to the east is ranch, cactus and rattlesnake country, while the rugged Pacific coast is laden with salt-slicked rainforest. There are few roads crosscutting the province; the rich topography mixed with rough weather mean road travel can be challenging in winter.

We call the 'regions' of the province nearly everything outside of greater Vancouver, the major city in the furthest southwest corner of the province. The regional-urban divide is strong here - we have a town called 'Hope' that marks a psychological threshold. Both sides believe that once you've crossed it, you're in a territory 'beyond hope.' Touring in British Columbia is challenging at the best of times.

With a particular focus on the regions, Made in BC works with presenters across the province: Nelson to Prince Rupert, Vernon to Salt Spring Island, Kitimat to Nanaimo, and Terrace to Courtenay. The most westerly province in Canada, BC covers 947,800 sq km, and even without comparing it to England (130,410 sq km) it is clearly massive. It is also the most urban province in Canada, and the 2006 federal census report shows we have more people living in Vancouver than living in the entire rest of British Columbia. The more populated Vancouver becomes, the more the regions become drained of funding for cultural development, alternative artistic exposure and risk-laden performances.

From the get-go,Made in BC's participating presenters highlighted two main challenges to presenting contemporary dance: dance artist fees are too high (especially when box office returns are so low) and regional audiences are confused by the dance form.

After seed funding for Made in BC was secured from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Department of Canadian Heritage, the BC Arts Council and 2010 Arts Now (Olympic legacy funding) in January 2006, it became my job to quickly kickstart development activity. Made in BC established two fee subsidies for participating presenters to allay their key concerns: a dance artist fee subsidy reduces the financial risk of touring dance, and a dance outreach worker fee subsidy to develop grassroots local dance development.

Setting up dance outreach work in regional BC has been an enormous challenge, both practically and tactically. In order to deal with the variable regional knowledge of dance and the far-reaching distances, coordinating this outreach has been tricky. We asked participating presenters to select a local 'community champion' to create tailored activities to raise awareness of dance in her/his community prior to the dance tours. The presenters found individuals with warm personalities, fabulous communication skills, great local contacts, a passion for dance, and keen insight into their unique communities. Many of these dance outreach workers have basic knowledge of contemporary dance, several have never seen it performed live, and a few are deeply rooted in private dance studio practice.

The task of our dance outreach workers is to expose their communities to contemporary dance in whatever way is most appropriate for them and their communities using their skills, talents, contacts and interests. We asked them to create three dance outreach activities during the year. The dance outreach fee subsidy is low - they receive $1,500 -$3,000 (£750 - £1,500) per person per year. Most of them hold full time jobs, and are doing this outreach work for pleasure.

The resolve and interest of the dance outreach workers meant that last year over100,000 rural residents in eight communities were exposed to contemporary dance. Activities included regular columns on dance in a local paper, displays at key craft and business fairs, exhibits in libraries and museums, special workshops and lectures, representation at festivals, meetings and even at dragonboat race festivities. The dance outreach workers are using what is available, and tailoring their activities to their capabilities; as a result they shine, their local communities benefit, and the rural appreciation for contemporary dance grows.

Made in BC's contribution to professional development has had significant impact on bringing dance artists and presenters together. Establishing several face-to-face networking opportunities a year provides time and space to develop trusting relationships between dance artists, presenters and dance outreach workers, towards ongoing fruitful exchange.

Made in BC's work has only just begun, but the as yet intangible benefits so far have been large. From whichever perspective, that of community engagement or access, revitalisation or community development, well-being or lifelong learning, this work happening in regional British Columbia cuts through the discourse to impact on lives and communities.

To see how Made in BC is working with presenters and dance artists to exchange ideas, bridge the urban/regional divide and stimulate awareness of contemporary dance in local communities, check out the work at www.madeinbc.org.

Robyn Campbell was Executive Director of Made in BC - Dance on Tour from January 2006 to August 2007 and is now working on contract as a dance programme officer at the Canada Council for the Arts. She heads up the research sites www.terminalcitydance.blogspot.com and www.canadacommunitydance.com. She has a Professional Diploma in Community Dance Studies and an MA in Dance Studies from the Laban Centre.

Joyce Rosario has taken the helm of Made in BC as Executive Director and can be reached at joyce@madeinbc.org

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Animated: Winter 2008