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Animated Edition - Summer 2004
Welsh through the medium of dance
Overcoming exclusion from community dance for welsh speakers, Jen Angharad reveals the importance of Welsh language dance provision in Wales
For the purpose of this article, 'bilingual' refers to Welsh/English.

A brief cultural history
Welsh, the indigenous language of Wales has, in partnership with the geographical landscape, shaped Welsh culture into what it is today.

Being 'Welsh' does not necessarily mean to speak the Welsh language. There are thousands of people living in Wales who are Welsh and do not speak Welsh. Wales is a culturally diverse country and there are many languages, all of which deserve to be recognised and celebrated. However there are still indigenous Welsh speaking communities who say they feel 'invisible'.

Throughout history the Welsh language has come under threat. The most infamous example was the 'Welsh Knot'. This was introduced into schools across Wales where pupils caught speaking Welsh, were made to wear the 'Welsh Knot' around the neck. This was a symbol that gave permission for teachers and fellow pupils to subject the child to bullying and ridicule. This weakened the use of the language considerably as many people started to believe that English was the superior language, the key to good career prospects and success. Welsh became perceived as a second-class language and therefore, a second-class culture.

There is still a long way to go before we achieve equal opportunities in all aspects of Welsh culture but over the last 30 years recognition of the Welsh language identity has grown. Wales now has The Welsh Assembly Government developing policies to promote the use of the Welsh language within a bilingual Wales. There is an increasing number of Welsh language and bilingual schools and the ability to speak Welsh can enhance career prospects.

Dance ecology in Wales
The Dance Ecology in Wales embraces and nurtures cultural diversity. However it is important for our heritage and our future to provide equal opportunities through the medium of the indigenous language of Wales.

Wales has an exciting and developing dance culture, which includes the traditional 'Dawnsio Gwerin' or Folk Dance, a network of community dance organisations, independent dance practitioners and choreographers and a national contemporary dance company.

Education is key to the life and culture of a language. Today university students continue to lobby the Welsh Assembly Government because of insufficient provision of Welsh language university courses.

Education and training opportunities in dance range from GCSE to vocational training courses available across Wales. The Welsh Joint Education Committee run a National Youth Dance Wales programme. Community Dance Wales offers a Leader's in Dance course that can be studied through the medium of Welsh or English and most recently, the University of Wales, Cardiff have just introduced a new dance degree.

This dance degree is in its infancy, prior to its existence, there was strong feeling within the dance community that the lack of professional dance training was a serious gap in the dance ecology of Wales. Now the gap is being filled, though at present, it is an English language provision.

Cool culture
Within some communities in Wales, Welsh language school pupils can be heard speaking English outside of the classroom, because peer pressure can dictate that Welsh is not 'cool'.

It is this 'cool' culture that brings into focus the importance of accessibility to Welsh language and bilingual extra curricular activities, for children and young people. Welsh language dance activities provide young people with a safe space within which to learn new skills, socialise and have fun without having to feel embarrassed about the language they speak. They can learn in a language that is more comfortable and allows for improved learning, and they can identify with peers within a linguistic culture; feel a sense of belonging.

Bilingual dance activities have the potential to nurture understanding. An appreciation of language and communication can develop and a bilingual culture can evolve, a shared vocabulary, with dance at its centre.

Powys Dance: A bilingual strategy
Powys County is a long county reaching north to south and bordering with England. Scattered across the county, there are Welsh language, as well as bilingual communities.

Powys Dance has, for some years been aware that there is a percentage of the Powys community, for whom dance activity in their preferred or most comfortable language was not accessible. It was possible to incorporate a bilingual element into some projects by employing freelance Welsh speaking dance practitioners.

In 2001 Powys Dance employed a full-time bilingual dance practitioner and the decision was made that this post would focus on the co-ordination and provision of Welsh language and bilingual dance development. Over the last three years Powys Dance has been developing a bilingual strategy that serves Welsh language communities and also supports the English language programme.

What does having a Bilingual Strategy mean for Powys Dance and the communities of Powys?
  • Programmes for Early Years can be delivered in Welsh/bilingual settings. Where children are not yet fluent in Welsh, workshops can be led bilingually in a way that helps and encourages the development of both movement and language vocabulary
  • First language Welsh speakers can experience dance activity in the language they understand most comfortably
  • Teachers can receive in-service training without having to translate information and experience before feeding back to other school staff
  • Welsh and English speaking children and young people can mix in a bilingual setting, sharing an interest and experience in dance while breaking down language barriers
  • Dance in schools can be delivered across the curriculum, linking to particular themes, developing not only movement experience and vocabulary but also experiential learning of an academic topic, which is communicated in the same language that is used in the classroom. Less academic pupils can absorb the experience and gain an understanding of the topic, without having to decipher meaning and terminology from one language into another.
Welsh language training through movement
I feel that the experiential integration of movement and language vocabulary is a fundamental partnership in the development of communication. I have, for many years, been exploring how the texture and quality of the Welsh language can influence movement.

This exploration has led to the development of an experiential Welsh language training for dance practitioners, interested in learning basic dance vocabulary, that can be incorporated into dance sessions as an introduction to bilingual practice.

In May 2004, Powys Dance was employed by Community Dance Wales to deliver Welsh language training for dance practitioners. The format for the one-day training is outlined below.

Yr Wyddor - the alphabet
The training began by exploring the sounds of the Welsh alphabet - 'Yr Wyddor'. Time was taken to familiarise with the quality and texture of sounds, playing with where and how the body is placed and moves through space while producing the sound i.e. sitting, rolling, lying in prone and supine positions, standing, walking, rolling through the spine etc. This developed an awareness of where sound can resonate in the mouth, head and body. It is this awareness that encourages the flow of movement from one posture through to another.

A series of directed exercises followed, with repetition of words and exercises allowing for simultaneous absorption of word with familiarisation of exercise. Association of word with movement developed. Emphasis was placed on body parts.

The next step was to look at vocabulary associated with action, direction, levels and speed. Having already explored the sounds that create the words, we explored through various improvisational exercises and observation tasks, the word simultaneous to the action.

Bilingual practice
By mid afternoon the group were familiar and comfortable with the practised sounds and vocabulary.

The final exercise of the day, with a partner, was to devise and lead the rest of the group through a 10 minute bilingual warm-up.

This was a very exciting and interesting day for me, both as a dance practitioner and a Welsh speaker. At the start of the day, participants produced sounds quietly but as the training progressed the sounds became louder! I took this to indicate that the participants felt more confident and were enjoying the experience of exploring Welsh sounds through movement.

Overall, the result was very positive, with individuals discovering and absorbing an incredible amount of targeted and incidental vocabulary in one day. Pronunciation was impressive and confidence high. The day was appropriate for a Welsh-speaking practitioner who fed back that she had also discovered new movement and dance vocabulary.

The training ended with a new and inspired interest in using the Welsh language to deliver dance.

By providing practical Welsh language training for dance practitioners across Wales, Powys Dance is contributing to the development of accessibility of dance, for bilingual and Welsh speaking communities.

Jen Angharad is Dance Development Practitioner and Welsh Language Coordinator for Powys Dance. For more information contact Powys Dance on 01597 824 370 or email:

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Animated: Summer 2004