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Animated Edition - Autumn 2006
Taking ourselves seriously - at last
Diane Amans, Director, Freedom in Dance
I've been eagerly awaiting this Professional Framework for Community Dance for a number of reasons and, after reading this draft strategy, I'm optimistic that it will move our profession in the direction it needs to go. It may not change what we do but it should lead to a shared understanding about why we do it and agreement about our values and standards. The Framework offers me support in my varied roles - as promoter, trainer and employer.

In my work as a freelance community dance professional I am involved in promoting participatory dance work to a wide range of service providers. Some of these are non-dance sector organisations with their own codes of practice and quality assurance systems. These are usually articulated in written documents which are easily communicated to interested parties within and beyond their own sector. I have long felt the lack of something similar to help me as I broker partnerships and encourage managers to incorporate dance into their action plans.

When I'm 'selling' community dance and describing what partners might expect from a dance practitioner I am uncomfortably aware that the good practice I describe may not reflect values that are shared by other people. I can only speak from my own experience and can only vouch for the dance practitioners whose work I have seen. There is no externally determined set of criteria against which community dance activities are judged and I know that some community dance artists would not want this. But, whilst narrow, prescriptive inspection systems would be in no-one's interest, the community dance profession would benefit from a system of quality assurance which supports, celebrates and disseminates good practice.

The proposed framework, with its Practitioner Membership Scheme and Professional Standards could do just that. I like the idea of being a member of a group which shares the same values and can articulate those values. What appeals to me even more is the process we will have to go through to develop and implement this Framework. It won't be easy - we'll probably argue and people will get upset. But in the end we'll have a code of professional conduct that will help us make sure we are taken seriously by members of other professions. This isn't just about how other people see us, though - it's about how we see ourselves and our own professional development.

As an independent consultant in participatory dance work I travel around the country delivering training and mentoring in a wide range of contexts. I am struck by the very different values that organisations and individuals appear to place on continuing professional development (CPD). Whilst I really appreciate the diversity and flexibility that exists in community dance practice I would welcome a shared language and benchmarks for quality standards that are nationally recognised. The proposed core documents offer a frame of reference which would be very useful in my work. I think it would raise the level of debate when we consider questions such as:
  • What do we mean by good practice?
  • Is my practice good practice? How do I know?
  • To what extent are my values shared by other practitioners?
These are really important questions. They are just as important to me now as they were 25 years ago and I seek out opportunities to discuss them. The membership scheme will require us to evidence our 'ongoing personal and professional development'. My evidence will include a record of some of these discussions together with more formal CPD activities. I have heard the occasional objection to this - some community dance practitioners fear over-monitoring and regulation. On the other hand I work closely with people from other sectors where a culture of 'engagement in CPD and demonstrable commitment to professional standards' is the norm. 'It's just normal practice', said my physiotherapist friend, 'just like cleaning your teeth. You just do it'.

She was referring to the practice of keeping a record of CPD activity - courses attended, mentoring sessions, articles she'd read and notes on anything else that gave her food for thought. 'I think it gives you confidence and sense of professionalism', she said. 'It also gives you a sense of security. If you're working with other people you know that they work to the same standards that you do'.

This is what the Professional Framework for Community Dance can do to support those of us who work in participatory dance practice. I think we're in a win-win situation here. Even those members who don't agree with the Framework and choose not to join the membership scheme will have a focus for their discussing their practice; something to disagree with. It is already acting as a catalyst for debate and that is very healthy.


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Animated: Autumn 2006