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Animated Edition - Spring 2008
Standards... Safonau... Quality... Ansawdd... Excellence... Rhagoriaeth... Transformation... Trawsffurfiad...
Jên Angharad, Director of Community Dance Wales, looks at quality in the context of community dance in Wales
Understanding the terms 'quality', 'excellence' and 'transformation' (Welsh and English) in community dance in Wales is becoming evermore essential, because evidence of improving standards is increasingly required as a condition of financial support.

The different characteristics of community dance, depending on the local culture, landscape, language, dance provider, and intention behind the activity, along with levels of experience and ability of the participants need to be considered when trying to determine an exact understanding of this terminology in practice. This can be a seemingly complex undertaking even for the more experienced community dance professionals, who recognise and believe passionately in the artistic and holistic benefits of their practice.
Why is it, in a profession which cradles an art form that is concerned with creativity, quality of movement, discipline, reflection, evaluation, improvement and aspiration that the questions being asked are... what do you mean by quality... what do we mean by quality... what do they mean by quality... is what I think I know I mean by quality, the same... and what exactly is meant by excellence?

In practice, the experienced dance artist/practitioner recognises excellence when witnessing it in any one moment. Momentary bubbles of change that can occur during a dance session when participants become totally engaged in the dance experience. This can become apparent when for example, in an instant, an individual connects with movement beginning in their centre, a shy individual begins to communicate ideas with the rest of the group or inspiration appears through the expressions of a group that has just solved a problem in an exciting and imaginative way. The experienced and skilled dance artist/practitioner is able to harness these moments and encourage individuals to grow in their enthusiasm for what is new. The skilled dance artist/practitioner can challenge the participant who shows promise, alongside working to encourage confidence in the individual who is struggling with their creativity, technical ability or communication skills.

These same professionals can bear witness to 'transformation' when for example a reluctant individual asks "...can we do it again?"  The McMaster report as cited by Sue Hoyle states "Excellence in culture occurs when an experience affects and changes an individual"(1) What could be a more fitting example of such excellence than when a classroom teacher highlights the influence that dance has had on an individual's development as... "He's so much more confident in the classroom since being involved in dance, I've seen his confidence grow in front of his peers because he's realised that dance is something he's good at. Now he puts his hand up and contributes to classroom discussion. He wouldn't have done that before!"

Community dance professionals in Wales regularly reflect and evaluate practice, in order to improve. This includes enhancing artistic understanding and development, alongside the skills needed to appropriately include every individual whatever their ability in the creative process. This necessarily involves nurturing cognitive and physical understanding of the creative process, encouraging potential and ensuring that the dance experience is enjoyed.

Quality and excellence in community dance in Wales isn't a one size fits all aspiration of professional standard, technical ability and performance, each local culture/community has developed a unique identity that has grown from within its own community and history.

The average community dance class takes place for one hour, once a week, participants fitting this hour into a weeklong tapestry of commitments. In a professional capacity, providers strive to provide participants with a professional experience and place professional expectations on eclectic community dance performances. On the whole, community dance in Wales is recognised for its quality and professionalism. However, community dance professionals remain concerned that unless immersed in the complete experience, the outside eye may not accurately measure quality in community dance, particularly without knowledge and understanding. A single performance or one dance session out of a series of ten will not necessarily provide a benchmark with which to measure development. To create a benchmark from having viewed a community dance performance within a different landscape is equally immeasurable as cultural circumstances and individual situations may vary greatly.

Evaluation forms, comments books and attendance, are tried and tested means of recording whether participants are engaging in enjoyable dance activity and are valuable tools in maintaining and developing standards. Access to Continual Professional Development through training and mentoring programmes is a means to ensuring the development of professional skills. By recognising the skilful, experienced providers that deliver dance across Wales, utilising their valuable experience to support and nurture those who are less experienced, we can continue to build on an exciting and professionally led Community Dance Practice in Wales.

Certainly the issue of quality and excellence and what is meant by these terms will continue as an ongoing debate, stimulating the need for research from a variety of perspectives, however, maybe we need only reflect on the practice of community dance with knowledge and understanding, to realise the true meaning of the terminology.

contact jenangharad@communitydancewales.com

Reference
(1) Judging the quality of the arts. Hoyle S. ArtsProfessional. Issue 163, P.9. 2008

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Animated: Spring 2008