The UK development organisation and membership
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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Tomorrow's world
Animated, Spring 1998. DansConnect is an exciting 18 month project which will enable Swindon Dance to reach out to a whole new generation of young people. Marie McCluskey talks about the potential impact of this groundbreaking enterprise
Already underway DansConnect is a comprehensive audience development programme based around a performance company. Starting with the premise based on recent experience of Swindon Dance that there is little if any performance work available for the ten to 14 age group, especially in areas where there are not good performing spaces, the project will aim to produce a touring piece that will be relevant to youth culture now. No mean feat as this culture is one that is constantly shifting and changing and fed by media hype and extremely vulnerable to con-stant shifts.

In order to 'feel the pulse' of latest young opinions from January 1999 a massive audience research survey has been undertaken by Marketing the Arts in Oxford. This is taking the form of focus group meetings with young people, teachers, youth leaders in schools and youth centres to ascertain their opinions and attitudes towards dance and dancers. The information gained from this survey will then be fed back to Swindon Dance and the artistic team of the DansConnect project, and will hopefully inform the creation of the touring piece. This of course raises a massive and age old dilemma, should the 'art' be led or fashioned by public opinion? Taking on board the words of Walt Whitman: "It takes great audiences to make great artists."(1) I think it would be foolhardy not to consider more seriously these young opinions if we want an audience for dance tomorrow.

After the research period the project will move into production mode from July onwards when the artistic team of four to five dancers headed by an Artistic Director and Administrator join the dance community in Swindon. Over the next two to three months a 40 minute performance piece will be created which will be both issue based and relevant to today's youth culture. The Arts for Everyone funding has provided the luxury of commission funds for choreography, design, and music - something that no young company at this stage of life would normally have. From October a second phase of research will take place when the Company embarks on a 'pilot' tour during which they will meet their audience after the show and thereby gain valuable feedback on the work. This will be followed by a three month tour of the Southern region of the fully researched and piloted performance accompanied by educational work. Areas which have not previously had access to professional touring work will be expressly targeted.

The final phase of the project will be concerned with audience development and will involve the DansConnect company in choreo-graphic projects with the young people culminating in regional youth dance performances. Finally, many of the youngsters who have taken part in the scheme will attend performances by companies which will hopefully challenge their expectations of dance and which they would perhaps otherwise have not seen. One of the success factors of the whole project will be, if we have managed to shift their tastes on, from the access point provided by the 'Company' to a broader appreciation of dance.

The project has several other important stands which hopefully will benefit the dance community at large. One is the training and development of the dance team involved who over the period will work with our dance development workers, guest teachers and artists, to sharpen their skills in teaching and choreographing in youth and educational con-texts. These skills are often acquired in a random and uncharted way. The aim is to ensure that the dancers have the input they need to do this job well and to enable them to get future work. Therefore, daily class at a professional level will form part of the training mix. So often when running these short term projects, the dancers who have contributed so much, actually have little time for personal development as they become caught up in 'production line'. Hopefully, our dancers will leave feeling they have gained a great deal of knowledge and insight into dance in today's youth culture and of their future audience.

So what are the implications of this massive development for Swindon Dance? Like everyone who has won the Lottery, our first feelings at hearing the news were mixed with exhilara-tion and sheer panic...

Oh my God we've got to do it now! We have got the money to finally 'do' something well. The overwhelming panic is caused because this project is all additional to our daily, already overloaded schedules, so the trick has been to see where DansConnect overlaps and what it can dovetail into without replicating current ongoing activities. The long-term benefits will I am sure out weigh any initial hurdles as the project will take Swindon Dance into a whole new era and relationship with these young people. DansConnect will enable us to reach out, to capture and captivate the many young people waiting to share in the adventure of dance, and to weave a whole new young layer into the region's dancenet.

Marie McCluskey, Artistic Director, Swindon Dance. Contact +44 (0)1793 463210.

1 Kotler, P., Standing Room Only.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001