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Animated Edition - Summer 2007
Progression routes for young people in traditional and contemporary African dance
Akosua Boakye-Nimo, Head of Performing Arts at Kensington and Chelsea College, sets out some of the challenges faced in developing clear and positive progression routes in African People's dance for young people
Over the last four years the national curriculum has been revised to sufficiently recognise, accommodate and include the language of dance for Key Stage (KS) 1 and KS2. On the other hand this compulsory provision of dance was not applied to KS3/4. (Key Stage 3 covers young people from the ages of 11 to 14, key Stage 4 from 14 to 16). Since September 2004 it is no longer a statutory requirement for KS3/4 pupils to study dance. For those key stages dance is offered as an option, however two hours of physical activity a week is recommended.

For those in key stage KS3/4 who chose to study dance, the National Curriculum is broadly comparable with the National Qualifications Framework. Pathways provide young people opportunities to study western dance forms at various accredited levels, enabling them to gain qualifications and progress through GCSE and A' level syllabuses, BTEC frameworks and other qualification routes.

Britain is rich with cultural diversity and heritage and this is reflected in various industries including fashion and music but not equally dance. In a highly competitive industry, some of the world's most renowned dance training centres including, Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE) offer students a wide range of accredited vocational courses teaching dance techniques such a ballet, Jazz and contemporary dance through a range of progression routes. African People's Dance (APD) does not feature in these for a variety of reasons: funding for development, accessibility, and skills shortage.

In the past, the focus of APD had been directed towards dance/theatre productions rather than FE/HE education sectors. However, for well over ten years, educational initiatives have been explored with the aim of developing accredited courses for the delivery of APD in Britain. Various projects have received short term funding, but it is clear that what is needed are courses which provide progression routes that will help develop and maintain standards of professionalism and education. Lack of support for the former has created an enormous gap in the advancement, training and education of dancers for African dance. It has contributed to many practitioners not possessing the necessary qualifications to deliver APD through accredited courses. It has also led to choreographers and companies experiencing difficulties in finding highly skilled dancers to keep their companies performing.

This situation has created a vicious circle that has left APD in an undervalued position considering the decades APD has existed and contributed to the British dance culture. This needs to change. With many of the APD companies of the 1980's no longer in existence, what is the future of APD for young people in Britain?

For APD to survive into the next generation of young people in Britain the following changes needs to be implemented:
  • Recognition of APD as integral to the means of expressing their heritage, culture and sense of community and continuity in Britain
  • Stable funding and support to allow coherent development of APD forms in mainstream dance education for the sharing and transfer of knowledge
  • Support for written documentation that set out and articulate the context and practice of APD forms. Resource materials that are readily obtainable and allow the subject to be studied and developed
  • Long-term support and commitment for the development and delivery of educational initiatives for APD forms in FE/HE and other dance education providers
  • Adequate opportunities and support for individuals, artists and companies of APD to research, develop and verify continuity of individual styles and choreographic dance works through healthy long term projects and collaborations.
Currently the UK's mainstream dance education centres do not offer students any form of African dance on any of their courses. In some centres, despite various barriers, the collaborative efforts and support of individual teachers with practitioners of APD led to the African dance featuring on a short term basis through their BTEC syllabus. In the majority of dance centres sessions are delivered through evening classes or one off taster workshops acting as an awareness raiser. In all these cases APD is offered as a non-accredited course. This is because its validity as an accredited subject is not presently recognised, supported or promoted. This lack of provision does not give young people the equality in opportunity to broaden their scope of dance and study APD to a professional level. This then presents a major problem as African dance choreographers and companies in Britain cannot always find dancers that are highly trained in the language and expression of African dance. In other cases, dancers lose employment opportunities because of lack of experiences in APD.

Amidst this lack of support from mainstream dance institutions for vocational progression routes in APD, young people continue to access training where ever possible. Many attend open evening and or weekend classes, taster workshops taught by practitioners from outside the UK and summer schools in various African countries, America and here in the UK. This pathway of training does not provide continuity, progression and most importantly an opportunity for young people to gain professional expertise and qualifications. When I began my dance training over 16 years ago there was not a great deal of importance placed on African dance. I was unable to find a mainstream dance school that delivered APD supported by accreditation, or taught APD alongside ballet, Jazz or contemporary dance within an accredited course. Despite the years that have passed old barriers still exist. The current system needs to change for the sake of the many young people that want to study, progress and develop professional careers in APD. If the next generation of young African dance choreographers, companies, dancers, musicians and writers are to exist then a study and understanding of APD has to be supported through the development of culturally diverse courses in mainstream dance centres.

Over the last fifteen years or more African dance advocates and professional practitioners have been seeking change. They recognize the need for cultural diversity and change in the current dance training programmes offered to young people. Routes of progression are needed for APD to give young dancers the opportunity to develop diverse skills. The reality of the former will further widen participation and allow young dancers in Britain to study APD alongside western dance techniques. In practice the skills of young British dancers will be diverse enough for them to be employed in companies and shows producing works of African dance origins rather than employing most of their dancers from outside the country. This can only become a reality and be achieved with the existence of an APD educational training programme that supports young dancers to acquire and develop the knowledge, skills and understanding for the art form.

Independent research projects are looking into progression routes and opportunities for the study of APD. They include Peter Badejo's work at the University of Surrey in research, analysis, and documentation of Bata dance technique in the UK and Nigeria. IRIE! continue to work in partnerships to raise the profile and build a future for young people in APD. With the Association of Dance from African Diaspora (ADAD) IRIE! are working towards the development of an Archive programme covering the practice of APD in the UK. With Birkbeck College, University of London, they are working towards the development of a Foundation degree in African & Caribbean dance studies. IRIE! and City and Islington College are working towards the development of Professional experience platforms for dance students. The London Borough of Lewisham, where IRIE! are based, are also working in partnership with them on the development of APD within Education and Community Outreach programmes.

September 2007 at Kensington and Chelsea College (KCC) will bring the introduction and delivery of African dance through BTEC Performance units for young people that includes African dance alongside contemporary, ballet and Jazz dance within a foundation framework. Until specific dance programmes that cater for APD are supported alternative, progressive routes for development will have to be found.

The range of dance techniques taught in our mainstream dance institutions are dominated by western dance forms and do not address equality in opportunity for APD, nor do they reflect the multicultural society we are a part of in Britain. The current situation as it stands has no progression routes for young people to access and study APD in mainstream education. If this persists it will have an inexcusable impact on the future of APD in Britain. We need to give young people the opportunity to study and be inspired to move in diverse ways that include APD. This can only exist through long-term research, development and delivery of APD through progressive dance education routes, partnerships with dance institutions and financial facilitation of the art form.

Greater investment in African dance can help implement change and build support systems, establish new partnerships and funding to build long-term progression routes for young people. Access to APD in mainstream dance education through the provision of vocational courses will add value and give further recognition to the art form. It will challenge young people to further diversify creatively and to explore new and different forms of expression. The incorporation of APD will enhance people's knowledge and understanding of the social and cultural aspects of African culture through dance. This is an integral part of community life and cultural heritage. Youth dance may find this a likely avenue to pursue in the support and promotion of opportunities for young people in African dance forms.


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Animated: Summer 2007