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Animated Edition - Autumn 2004
TEN@Random
In January 2004 Random Dance launched TEN@Random, a three-year Dance and Information Technology project aiming to access young people in London secondary schools to high quality dance experiences. Rachel McCartney, Education Co-ordinator at Random Dance tells us how

The first year's funding for TEN@Random has come from the Department for Education and Skills (DFES) through the London Dance Challenge, a project that aims to provide, in the words of Stephen Twigg, Minister for London Schools, "Opportunities for young people to try something new, and to have their achievements inside and outside recognised" and in doing so contributing towards The London Student Pledge - London Challenge of "raising standards and aspirations in London schools".

I myself had grown up in inner-London and been educated in Islington and in Camden before I went on to train in dance at a professional level. The quality of dance provision I experienced in formal education was down to potluck and to what teachers were in position at that moment in time: and this still seems to be the case in the majority of the schools we are working in at the moment. My dance experience was covered in years 7, 8 and 9 through PE where we learnt how to perform somersaults and to create posed freezes - glamorised gymnastics in a nut shell - followed by a short stint by an inspiring and keen dance teacher before being taught GCSE dance by a teacher who seemed unaware of the challenges of such a course.

At the age of 15 I was lucky enough to get involved with the youth dance company at The Place. YOUTH!, now known as SHIFT, was undoubtedly a transforming experience for me. I worked for three years under the direction of Wayne McGregor and with a number of other visiting choreographers. Despite my lack of strong dance technique, my commitment and dedication to the group was rewarded and what I experienced was a positive, accessible and inclusive dance experience.

Being involved in Random education projects as a young person was an informative experience that I have in turn been able to channel back into TEN@RANDOM, and my own first hand experience of dance in London secondary schools and in youth dance activity proved to be an invaluable insight: I know what I enjoyed, what encouraged me and what was negative. It was these early and varied dancing experiences - both good and bad - that made a huge contribution towards me being able to create a clear realistic vision for the project.

For TEN@Random to operate within the Company's unique style, we used an animation software programme called 'Poser' through which the young people learn how to create their own animations on laptop computers in the dance space that are then used as a stimulus for choreography.

The Company works with ten London Secondary schools each term, with up to 30 young people at Key Stage 3 either during school time or after hours for a period of eight weeks. In the ninth week, all ten schools meet in a theatre to share their work with each other and with an invited audience of friends and family. Performance venues have included Stratford Circus, Lilian Baylis and the December performance is to be held at The Robin Howard Theatre, The Place.

Accessibility and inclusion is what drives the project and with that in mind the project works to fit in with each individual school's needs. The project runs at no cost to the school and as a result, the majority of the schools we have worked in have very little or no dance provision, are schools where dance is delivered through PE and where young people have little experience of dance. It is with the schools where dance provision is minimal and that lack the finance to work with outside agencies that the project is really able to make an impact on the schools, pupils, staff, the role of dance and IT in the curriculum, at home and in the local community.

Applications to take part in the project were taken on a first come first served basis. Our first three terms have concentrated on work in the London boroughs of Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Camden, Islington, Waltham Forest, Barnet, Brent and Enfield. These boroughs were picked specifically by the DFES, taking into account social and economic depravation. All secondary schools in these boroughs were targeted and as a result we ended up with approximately one/two schools per borough, for each phase.

This project was a new venture for Random Dance, as the company of dancers had previously delivered all education work. However, on this scale the work was too intense for the company's schedule and so Random employed a pool of freelance facilitators to deliver the project. Once chosen they were trained on the animation programme, Poser, and participated in practical sessions taught by the company. For a lot of schools it was a new experience and, as expected, it has been a challenging project, we have taught in freezing gyms in Hackney, had to duck from diving pigeons stuck in the gym relieving themselves on us in Walthamstow, danced around the leftovers of lunch in Archway and been flirted at outrageously in an all boys school in Willesden!

On the exterior, the schools have generally seemed daunting places, with a high proportion of these areas known for social and economic deprivation, high crime, low employment, with many people from ethnic minority communities that speak English as a second language. On my visits to schools prior to the project starting I was escorted by security guards, and trawled through intimidating estates; it was good to know that we were accessing the young people we set out to work with, but it was disconcerting to begin with and it reminded me of the environments I had been so glad to leave behind as I left school in the mid-nineties. The shells of these schools are disheartening but the communities that thrive inside them are inspirational. Would these schools, staff and young people grab the opportunity and run with it or would lack of provision in the first place alienate them from such a project?

In the Easter-summer 2004 term I delivered the project with a colleague at the Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Technology College in the London borough of Islington. The school is situated off Archway roundabout with a sprawling housing estate running all the way around it, with tunnels, doorways and crevices hidden around every corner. It was their drama teacher who applied for the project, as dance there is minimal, and we worked with a group of year 7 and 8's after school. They were committed and passionate but had very little experience of dance; their expectations were that we would be teaching them to dance to Britney Spear's 'Toxic'. Their bodies would 'grind' and 'body ripple' like dancers on an MTV pop video but yet ask them to improvise a ripple that travels around the body and in a different context and they were stuck. This was the case for the majority of the young people we worked with. It was different for them to dance in this new way, it was disconcerting and, to quote a Year 8 pupil, "weird".

The all girls group at Mount Carmel struggled, mainly with the physicality of moving in such a way, with body image, embarrassment and lack of confidence. The school was incredibly challenging in terms of the diversity of the young people and the lack of resources. However, like the majority of the more challenging schools Mount Carmel was incredibly supportive, from the head teacher through to the drama teacher who was there every week in her tracksuit bottoms raring to go despite her lack of experience. The young people were excited about the project as well as mystified, they had never used another medium in an attempt to create dance, and they picked up new IT skills as well as the dance skills required. They got carried away making their animations that they then had to turn into real life dance, we asked questions like 'How do we make this animation come to life and how do we make the impossible possible?' Through constructing adventurous animations they were pushing the boundaries of both their bodies and their dance making capabilities.

Gradually, confidence was built. We tried to help the young people feel proud of their bodies and what they could achieve with them. In many of the schools we worked in there were high numbers of young people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds who had particular issues relating to their bodies and to their religions and cultures, and we struggled to get parental permission for the performance for many of the young people involved in the project. Many didn't speak English as their first language so in some extreme instances we even struggled with communication. Some young people had issues with their bodies: it was hard to engage them with as many had put up barriers about what they thought they could and couldn't do. We tried to challenge this, sometimes we lost but more often we won... "I learnt to be confident and to dance in front of people and to feel proud doing that" Year 8 blue pupil, Haggerston School, Hackney.

We have just come to the end of the second term of the project and have worked in twenty schools and with 800 young people. Funding for the project from the DFES was due to drop to 30% of the total costs for the remaining two years, but with little success in fundraising, and with nobody wanting to fund a government initiative or something that has already started the DFES have secured us with 100% funding till January 2005. If funding can be secured the end result will be that Random have worked in a minimum of eighty secondary schools with over 2,400 young people. I am confident that through this project we are making a real impact. We hope to follow up the project with a Random Youth company and I continue to work with the schools and teachers to support them in their journey to establish dance in their schools... "For a PE teacher who has to include dance in my teaching, it has been a total inspiration and a relief - thank you" PE Teacher, The Edgware School, Barnet.

We found that in schools choosing to run their sessions during school time the project generally worked better: we worked with larger groups, we had better support and the project was better recognised and appreciated by the schools themselves. This support is key to the work being sustained; as a result of our project, members of the school staff recognise and appreciate the value of dance in their school. With these members of the education profession we can look forward to a dancing future.

TEN@Random is still a small fish in a big sea but with good support, networking and continued monitoring, as well as the project continuing to work its way across London, we firmly believe that we can make a realistic contribution towards developing a bigger and more diverse dancing community, one that - along with the other youth dance activity taking place across London - is working to have dance valued and appreciated in our schools and to create more accessible opportunities for young people to become involved in dance at school.

The next performances of work created through Ten@Random are at The Robin Howard Dance Theatre, The Place on 2 and 3 December 2004 - for more information about this, TEN@Random and Random's education programme contact Rachel McCartney, Education Co-ordinator on 020 7278 6015 or email rachel@randomdance.org

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Animated: Autumn 2004