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Animated Edition - Summer 2007
Trust dance - a partnership between Dance4 and Newark Emmaus Trust
Steph Crawford, Youth Dance Co-ordinator for the East Midlands, describes working with homeless young people
In 2004 we began a three-year partnership with Nottinghamshire local authorities. One of these, Newark and Sherwood Dance Development, initiated a wealth of dance provision in the district for all ages and abilities.

One of the most successful projects to have emerged during this time was with a local service, Newark Emmaus Trust. The Trust is a local independent registered charity that aims to support local young single homeless people. When Denton Williams, Youth Support Co-ordinator, approached us he was looking for support in generating new channels for developing the young people he worked with. Together we looked at how we might uncover creative abilities and learn transferable skills for future, independent living.

Many of the Trust tenants - they provide temporary supervised accommodation - have complicated backgrounds ranging from physical, social, mental, sexual and emotional abuse. Without identification and follow up care by professionals, this can lead to lack of motivation, poor life skills and at times homelessness. We had not ventured into working with such an unpredictable group before and it was clearly going to be a challenge, one that needed managing carefully and sensitively whilst maintaining our artistic ethos. It was crucial that the creative team had relevant experience and skills to manage this group and project effectively.

Since the partnership began there have been three ten-week projects - Crossing Boarders, Making Moves; Trust Dance and Arrivals - co-ordinated and facilitated by the Dance4 team and associated freelance artists, each using different styles and approaches and all with DVD resources to conclude the work. The ethos however has always remained the same; that everybody can and does dance. Like many in our sector, we know that through the act of doing, creating and performing a number of essential human benefits follow; creativity and focused expression, self worth and personal development, improved social skills or responsibilities, raised self-esteem and health. This usually results in a greater sense of belonging and achievement. Denton Williams says, "Dance is engaging and relevant to young people. It provides a rich context for creativity, discipline and commitment. Everyone feels valued and feels a huge sense of pride in their achievements."

Crossing Borders, Making Moves; The Journey was our first project in which we collaborated with Folk Media to combine dance and film. Working as a team both in front and behind the camera the participants devised various short sections of choreography specifically for film. The young people's journey was just as important to capture as the dance itself. Using a documentary style for the film allowed us to incorporate examples of their challenges, achievements and how they felt about doing the project. "The project allowed time for young people's confidence to grow and using the cameras to capture the process has given them a sense of achievement that will last past the end of the project" said Denton Williams.

The most recent project, Trust Dance, was intended to develop a choreographed dance piece, but this time without film. Freelance dance artist Emma Sims worked with other artists from various dance forms to inspire and engage the young people. Here she explains some of the surprises and challenges she faced...

"Initially the project was based around myself facilitating through contemporary and creative approaches and two other visiting artists working through Breakdance and Capoeira. It quickly became apparent that this was a detrimental approach to building rapport with the group. Weekly evaluation of the participant's attitudes helped me recognise the group needed consistency and familiarity as building relationships was a personal issue faced by many of the young people. Reassessing the mix of artists enabled me to engage them and start to form an important rapport.

Engaging the group into dance activity was difficult. When a task was unsuccessful I considered why through self-evaluation and came to the conclusion that expectations were too high. So I simplified the activities and developed work around fun, introducing the use of water bombs into movement activities and working with roller chairs. This catalyzed development of individual movement vocabulary allowing the group to identify each individual's strengths and capability without comparing themselves to one another. This then led onto successful group and contact work.

A wonderful conclusion to the journey was seeing each individual develop confidence, self-esteem and self-belief. This group of young people set challenges for themselves to overcome during this project and some made incredible progress during the project. It was an inspiring and enjoyable project to be part of."

The young people themselves are often resistant to engage at first because it's dance. The term dance, before it is experienced, can provoke both fear of the unknown and anticipation or presumption of dance forms. We found this resistance was sometimes founded on their lack of choice to be present. Residents of the Emmaus Trust have to sign contracts stating their agreement to fully attend (but not necessarily participate in) a programme designed for them by the Trust, in order to be housed. Generally though, throughout the course of any one project everyone would join in and by the end could identify various ways in which they had all benefited.

There have been some real triumphs for Newark Emmaus Trust with young people going on to lead successful independent lives with fulfilling careers. We feel privileged to have been invited to play a part in such a rewarding project. This was particularly so when one young woman involved in our first project decided that she would train to become a Care Worker.

We are hopeful that other services see the transformative power and potential impact dance can have on young lives.

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Animated: Summer 2007