The UK development organisation and membership
body for community and participatory dance
Animated Edition - Winter 2005
Raw skills
Rosie Lehan reports on the success of Raw Skills an initiative for young men initiated by IRIE! dance theatre
IRIE! dance theatre has had a working relationship with City & Islington College for over 12 years. The basis of this relationship has involved workshops, performances, residencies and initiatives that have been hugely successful in providing access to professional dance training and performance experience for students of dance.

These successful achievements include: a franchise agreement to provide an FE certificate in African & Caribbean dance from 1998 - 2001; connectingvibes* dance company 2000 - present, a partnership project between the Performing Arts Department and IRIE!, providing performance opportunities for dancers at an early stage of their career, and Raw Skills.

Raw Skills was created with the support of Creative Partnerships London East to promote work with young men in dance as well as to nurture the success of connectingvibes* who at one stage consisted of all male dancers. The Group was formed in October 2003 and initially led by a team of male tutors; Kwesi Johnson from Kompany Malaki, Denzil Barnes and Nasae Evanson from connectingvibes*, supported by myself as senior lecturer at City & Islington College and the Artistic Director of IRIE! dance theatre, Beverley Glean.

Leaflets were distributed to Islington Schools as the aim was to make local links with young men and provide progression routes should they wish to study dance at City and Islington College. The artists involved with Raw Skills brought a range of different skills to the project including Capoeira, Street, Contemporary and a fusion of African and Caribbean dance forms. The intention was to find a movement vocabulary that the young men enjoyed and then through creative sessions, encourage them to go further and learn many different styles. Denzil Barnes a graduate of City and Islington College and De Montfort University now leads the group. He is a former dancer with IRIE! dance theatre and has a range of styles to impart, as exemplified by the two pieces that he has created for the group, 'Shadowed Storm' and 'Soul Spectrum'.

Denzil has developed from the initial stages of the project, when he benefited from the experience of working with the established choreographer Kwesi Johnson. Throughout the process Beverley Glean has mentored Denzil in terms of direction, enabling Denzil to lead the group independently. Raw Skills has become firmly entrenched in the life of City and Islington College becoming part of the programme of work supported by Creative Partnerships including Candid Theatre Company and See and Eye Music Production Company. Denzil provides a positive role model for the young men with his abilities as a dancer and choreographer. He constantly encouraging them to go beyond their preconceptions of dance and produce challenging work.

During their first year Raw Skills took part in a documentary film created by Inge Blackman for Creative Partnerships previewed at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in July 2004, have performed regularly with connectingvibes* at the Camden Road Theatre, at City & Islington College and will also be featured in a DVD for Youth Dance England.

The young men came to Raw Skills with no formal training in dance, some had experienced street dance but mainly through out of School clubs or Youth Centres. None of them had been involved with regular classes or performance projects. Raw Skills has given them experience in a range of dance skills and an understanding of how to prepare for performance events. One year on and the members have settled down to a range of full time courses at City and Islington College. They have progressed from GNVQ Foundation and the BTEC first Diploma to National Diploma Courses in dance, drama and Music. One has chosen to study AS level subjects including dance at a sixth form centre. They have become much more focused in their approach and as a recent interview indicated, they enjoy the mixture of dance forms. Performance work has pushed them to achieve a high standard of work as perceived by their invitation to appear in Birmingham at the ICC Centre for the Association of Colleges Annual Gala Dinner in November '04. They have been surprised by the favourable reaction of audiences, which has spurred them on to give up Saturdays, and holidays to rehearse.

One dancer, Marley Seville, is currently dancing with Raw Skills and connectingvibes*. When Raw Skills started he had just approached City and Islington College to enquire about dance courses, having given up a course in accountancy. He joined the BTEC National Dance Course at City and Islington commuting every week from Reading for his course and rehearsals. He wants to pursue dance as a career and is currently set to audition for vocational Schools such as Laban and selected Universities. His progress has been rapid due to his commitment and the progressive support of Raw Skills and connectingvibes*.

Raw Skills currently has eight members but are soon to expand as they create new performance work for 2005. They will work on the film element for a new production by connectingvibes* entitled CVFC- Guidance Notes for the Beautiful Game. Connectingvibes* as a Company for young dancers, provides a natural progression route for members of Raw Skills as they become interested in pursuing dance further. Performing with connectingvibes* members are provided with clear role models as they are able to see practical examples of focus and progression. Founded by Creative Partnerships, Raw Skills has established its identity as an encouraging vehicle for young men to pursue dance creatively. The Company is now able to go from strength to strength supported by the infrastructure provided by IRIE! dance theatre, connectingvibes* and City & Islington College.

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Animated: Winter 2005