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Animated Edition - Spring 2007
These City Streets
David Martin General Manager of Community Arts North West describes a three year programme of dance and music that has built a better understanding of cultural difference and mutual respect amongst young people in Manchester
In December 2006, 320 young people participated or performed in These City Streets - a multi-media, combined art-form urban music theatre production developed by Community Arts North West (CAN). The production was a fusion of street dance and African dance with original music, drama and digital images, exploring the experience of unaccompanied young migrants to Britain's urban environment and played to packed houses as part of the Exodus On-stage Refugee Theatre Season in theatres across Manchester.

These City Streets was the culmination of the first year of a three-year Urban Music Theatre Project, supported by the Big Lottery Fund and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. The project encouraged young people from both indigenous and refugee and asylum-seeker backgrounds to work together and learn from each other, providing a forum to promote mutual understanding and respect. The project links into and is supported by Exodus - the Greater Manchester Refugee Arts Partnership, which is led and coordinated by CAN.

A policy of positive action was pursued to encourage participation of young people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities and a significant proportion of those people who attended came from members of new migrant communities. 60% of participants identified themselves as members of BME communities and 21% were from refugee or asylum-seeker backgrounds. Participants were asked what they liked and what they had learned working on These City Streets. In a random sample, interviewed by an independent evaluator, 97% believed that they had developed new skills, and 83% believed that their self-esteem and confidence had improved.

"Dance has given me confidence - I can now see creativity as a career - now I can do something with my skills... if you do things with conviction and have fun, you can explore things and people will want to see and listen" Nikki, aged 21

(I enjoyed)... "doing street dance, like the routines we made. Sometimes I have been the group leader, taking over from the dance tutor. I've learned how to get better at dancing, I've had my confidence boosted" Josh, aged 16

Workers from the Youth Service, an important partner in the programme, also witnessed the impact of the project, noting the beneficial consequences of young people meeting from different backgrounds, improved self-confidence, communication skills and general behaviour.
From the outset dance was thought of as an important medium in the final performance. Director Chris Sudworth said:

"We were not interested in producing a separate showcase for each of the five art-forms in the project, but a coherent, theatrical whole, where different parts of the story were told using different media. We knew from previous work that both African dance and street dance were very popular with young people, and could produce a dynamic and vibrant component to the show that would be a powerful tool in telling a story and driving on the narrative."

The choice of these particular dance forms was no accident. It was influenced by the wants and needs of the participants of previous projects undertaken by CAN as part of its youth arts programme. CAN had previously identified and supported Afrocats - an independent participatory dance project consisting of young women from both a British Caribbean background and from new migrant African cultures. The group, run by Magdalen Bartlett, specialises in contemporary African and Caribbean dance and responds directly to the need of its members to explore and sustain traditional cultures. Previous projects run by CAN had also identified great enthusiasm for Hip Hop and Street dance.

In 2004, CAN coordinated Now We Talkin' - a project that engaged over 300 young people from across Greater Manchester leading to presentations in Hip Hop, Street, African and contemporary dance against a backdrop of R&B, bhangra, garage music, visual arts and live video mixing.

Now We Talkin' gave young people from culturally-diverse backgrounds the opportunity to develop work they considered meaningful and relevant. It was also an opportunity for CAN to develop a methodology that promoted new ways for young people to collaborate and work together. The project was developed through several distinct phases:
  • A period of consultation and planning with youth groups, artists and partners to establish the broad framework of the project
  • The launch event where 200 young people could sample the range of activities offered on the project. The feedback and evaluation of this day by the young people and artists provided valuable guidance for the direction of the rest of the programme
  • A series of workshops across a range of art forms, leading to collaborations between participants across art forms and public performance
  • And finally, an extensive evaluation of the wants and needs of both participants and artists.
Information gleaned from the first two phases influenced the development of dance within this project. African dance, facilitated through Afrocats and a Hip Hop Summer School, were both highly popular workshop programmes that were developed from the overwhelming interest expressed by participants in the initial stages.

The enthusiasm for dance was extraordinary amongst the young people who created and nurtured it, and consequently expressed ownership of it. In the final event Hip Hop theatre, dance and music 'talked' to African dance on-stage in an atmosphere of energy and vibrancy, but what was more exciting was the alternative event that took place backstage. Here groups and individuals burst into a spontaneous dance challenge combustion where Hip Hop/Robotic/Break beat/African and Caribbean dance moves all competed - perhaps a little nerve-wracking for workshop leaders, but inspirational nevertheless.

As well as collaborating together in a fusion of dance styles in the Now We Talkin' finale, both groups developed further work within Greater Manchester. Afrocats went on to deliver an independent Arts Council-funded full-length theatre production Where is Home? that explored issues of migration and deportation through dance and drama. The Hip Hop Crew renamed themselves the International Crew and performed at many festivals and events across the City.

Both Afrocats and the International Crew were actively involved in animating the JAM, the showcase for In the Mix - a project that provided music-making opportunities for young people across Greater Manchester run by CAN in 2005. Evaluation of this work by both participants and artists identified a strong desire from participants to continue to develop their work. Furthermore all parties valued the opportunity for cross-cultural and cross art-form collaboration, which had been considered both rewarding and enriching in both Now We Talkin' and In the Mix. These factors were highly significant in the subsequent development of the Urban Music Theatre Project, which used and developed the methodology of taster sessions, consultation, workshops, performance and iterative evaluation in the production of These City Streets.

Feedback from these projects shows that the young people involved are keen to participate, develop self-esteem and confidence, and build an understanding of cultural differences and a respect for each other. At CAN, we are excited about the potential for development of the Urban Music Theatre Project and of its participants during the next two season's activities.

Community Arts North West is an arts development organisation that works in partnership with communities, voluntary sector agencies and a dedicated team of freelance artists and associates to develop and produce cultural programmes of work by people who are excluded or on the fringes of mainstream society. Formed in 1978, the company has worked extensively in participatory arts from its base in Manchester, and is committed to supporting diverse communities to develop high-quality, meaningful arts projects. For more information visit

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Animated: Spring 2007