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Animated Edition - Summer 2006
To keep or not to keep the word community in community dance
Alysoun Tomkins, Programme Leader at Laban, argues for making community dance better before we replace it with anything else
Recent debates have included consideration of the continuing relevance of the title Community Dance. Is the concept of 'community' still appropriate today and does it describe adequately the context in which dance is delivered? To inform this discussion it is essential to revisit the origins of the word and to acknowledge that the word has many different meanings and connotations. However, it might also be interesting to speculate on the fact that the raising of the issue itself could perhaps indicate a shift in the thinking, or a reconfiguration, of the boundaries of community dance.

Definitions:
The origin of the word community comes from the Latin munus, which means the gift, and cum, which means together, among each other. Community literally means to give among each other. Community could be defined as a group of people who share gifts which they provide to all. (http://www.seek2know.net/word.html)

The Oxford Dictionary definition includes such meanings as: joint ownership; fellowship; people living in same locality; people sharing the same interest, experience, religion or profession.

In sociological theory the most recent understanding of the word community is that it, 'indicate(s) a sense of identity or belonging that may or may not be tied into a geographical location.' (Abercrombie, N. 2000 p65) (1)

Thus by definition each one of us may identify with and belong to many different communities.

Politically the word 'community' has been used to support different ideological agendas. During the Thatcher years (1979-90) when individualism and private enterprise were promoted, there was no room for the concept of communities except as an indication of origin, such as the Muslim community. With the change of government, New Labour asserted more communitarian values; indeed appointed David Milliband as Minister for Communities. Moreover, excerpts from the Labour Party manifesto reinforce the value they put on community:

'Labour is investing in our local communities...to create sustainable communities...building new communities...investing in our most deprived communities...Cleaner, safer communities.' (http://www.labour.org.uk/3176)

These proclamations clearly indicate the value invested in community and an ethic where, '...individuals are bound together by common values that foster communal bonds.' (McLean 1996. p 91) (2)

In this political climate it would seem unwise to lose the term community as it is likely to attract more funding of arts activities promoting community development.

Historic legacy of 'community'
In post-war Britain the word 'community' was incorporated into titles of organisations used to support people with challenges facing them after WW2. The word gave people a sense of identity with others, attempted to integrate people and helped to replace lost family and neighbourhood networks. Community Education was established in the 1950s and Community Arts developed out of that movement.

Community arts: An English term, coined…for the activities of groups of …artists attempting to work largely with and for local authorities, schools, remedial institutions, and other communal bodies rather than for the art market. Among media commonly used are mime, costume, movement, games, live and recorded music,… (Bullock. p148-149) (3)

Evolving out of community arts in the 1970s, came Community Dance. It was influenced by Laban’s educational dance pedagogy, the arrival of contemporary dance techniques from the USA and adopted the Community Arts philosophy and five principles of:

• social concern
• the development of individual or group creativity
• partnership
• participation
• consultation

Thus the word ‘community’ and, by default, ‘community dance’ has a legacy and a philosophy which describes its purpose and ethos and which requires honouring and respecting.

It may be useful to consider why debate around the term has arisen. Firstly, the issue may be concerned with the quality of the work at the point of delivery. As Mari Martin pointed out in the last issue of Animated, ‘The interest in and demand for dance is here but we simply don’t have enough skilled dance practitioners who can deliver the work to the highest standards.’ (Animated, Spring 2006, p15) (4). If so, it is not the word that needs to be changed. Instead it might be more pertinent to consider ways of raising standards, particularly in the context of setting benchmarks. The development of mentoring schemes, professional development programmes and availability of examples of good practice, are required to support dance artists working in community contexts to progress their work and raise standards.

Secondly, the issue may be whether community dance should review its purpose.

Initiatives such as Centres for Advanced Training or Gifted and Talented may be shifting the community dance movement towards different values. ‘The work being done on finding and supporting “exceptional talent” is posing many interesting and potentially tricky questions.’ (Chris Thomson, Animated, Spring 2006, p8) (5) Is community dance within the Youth sector about developing those with a potential for dance training? Or, with widening participation, is community dance about providing dance activity for those previously denied access to it? If community dance values elitism or excellence, (putting aside the difficulty of measuring that) at the expense of the majority of people who enjoy other benefits of dance activity, then the word community is no longer relevant. If, though, one honors the legacy, ethos and philosophy that the word community evokes then community is still relevant.

Consider what one might replace it with. ‘Participatory Dance’? ‘People Dancing’? As I write this article I can observe people dancing and participating in dance activity in a studio at Laban, but they are not partaking in community dance. Titles such as ‘Participatory Dance’ and ‘People Dancing’ are non-specific. The word community defines an area of dance activity which was developed in the UK and which is now recognised and emulated globally. The word community when placed next to the word dance provides an umbrella heading for the range of dance activity led by professional dance artists working with non-professional dancers.

In conclusion, community dance has developed as a coherent strategy, a discipline, a way of working with a unique set of perspectives which makes it identifiable. If there is a shift in the aims and purpose of community dance which may generate a need to rename this area of dance, or if there is a concern that community dance practice can be bettered, then these are the discussions which need to be had before consideration is given to removing or replacing the word community.


Alysoun Tomkins is Programme Leader at Laban and can be contacted on a.tomkins@laban.org


Bibliography
1. Abercrombie, N; Hill, S. Turner, Bryn’s. 2000 4th Ed. Penguin Dictionary of Sociology. Pub. Penguin
2. McLean, I. 1996. Concise Dictionary of Politics. Pub. Oxford.
3. Bullock, A. Stallybrass, O. Trombley, S. 1977 2nd Ed. The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought. Pub. Fontana Press
4. Martin. M. 2006 Animated Spring
5. Thomson. C. 2006 Animated Spring


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Animated: Summer 2006