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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
The breeding ground of regular marvels
Animated, Spring 1997. Ruth Trueman looks at Community Dance and its expanding profile in Higher Education
I usually ask students why they want to do a community dance course in the first session that they take. The answers range from needing ten credits (honest but not very inspiring) to a life long ambition to be a community dance worker (inspiring and occasionally true). Most students realise that, if they are to work in any aspect of the dance world, they will have to engage in at least one aspect of community dance. I even have a bet with them that this is true. They can return after five years to claim their £5 if I am wrong.

It seems that the profile of community dance in higher education is bigger than ever before and still growing. I also believe that the training for a professional dance career has to include aspects of community dance.

Many of the students have had first hand experience as members of youth groups or as pupils who have experienced companies visiting their school. Some see this experience as so important that they owe it to their communities to do at least some community work. They want to 'pay back' their experience to the next generation.

Some of the students are pragmatic enough to realise that the jobs available at Rambert Dance Company and Richard Alston and Dancers are limited. They also recognise that the salary for up and coming choreographers may he rather bleak at first (and may never get better). The jobs that they see in Monday's Guardian are for Arts Development Officers, Dance Company Education /Marketing Officers or Community Dance Workers so they know that this is a field that can earn them a living still doing dance.

Even if they did become a dancer for a major company, they know they would be better equipped if they had community dance skills. They can see that all the well funded companies are 'encouraged' by funding bodies to develop outreach programmes which the company members should he involved in. A quick flick through the Arts Council Dance Pack (1996) would illustrate this.

Partly because of this, the chasm between the 'big dream' of being a dancer, top flight choreographer or a community dance worker has shrunk. The students notice that Wayne McGregor started as an animateur and does community dance days at Ballroom Blitz as well as doing high profile choreography. They see a leaflet advertising Emilyn Claid's choreography for Ludus and another leaflet including information on her piece for CandoCo. There are named degrees in Community Dance at John Moores University, Liverpool, hopefully at Middlesex soon and there is the pioneering diploma at the Laban Centre. There are community dance routes or modules at Roehampton Institute, London, University of Surrey, Bretton Hall and many others. The proliferation of these courses indicate student demand for education and training in community dance. They are also, in part, a response to the problems that community dance workers have encountered when not trained adequately.

Many higher education modules centre on the philosophy, history and current practise of community dance and these areas inevitably expose the checklist of skills needed. The training report by Community Dance & Mime Foundation (now the Foundation for Community Dance) in 1994 did not point to deficiencies in dance training, but rather administration skills, management skills, time management, fund raising, counselling and all the skills that surround and support the dance work. Some of these skills are developed within higher education obliquely as transferable skills (eg. time management, communication skills) and some are addressed within the various modules directly.

The modules also function as an introduction to the resources that students will need out in the field such as written material (eg. animated, Regular Marvels by Matarasso, F, FCD, 1994) and community dance related organisations such as the Foundation for Community Dance, Regional Arts Boards, Dance UK.

Tara Chick's experience is an example of how students can 'make things happen' as part of their investigation into the community dance field. Tara was a third year student studying community dance at Middlesex and was trying to find the 'dance person' within a particular local authority in order to do her placement with her/him. Having searched various buildings and made dozens of phone calls she finally confronted a senior official who confessed that no such person existed. She continued to quiz him about the dance provision in the area and by the end of the interview he had offered her a part time post as dance project worker. She finished her degree and got a job immediately as an animateur due to the experience she had gained in this post.

Studying community dance raises the profile of the field of work along side the theatre based work usually studied. Middlesex, for example, is known for the quality of its practical work with an emphasis on performance and choreography. The fact that there are two 0.5 lecturing posts in Community Dance here is indicative of the shift community dance has made into the mainstream.

Whilst not all the current courses fully train students to become a community dance worker, the modules introduce students to the range of possibilities and the key concepts involved in the work. The best courses provide an opportunity for the students to gain some hands on experience of the 'regular marvels' performed in community environments which hopefully whet their appetite for more involvement in community dance.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001