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Animated Edition - Summer 2007
Youth Dance England Conference 2007 - Connecting young people with dance: the impact we make
Linda Jasper, Director of Youth Dance England, reflects on the recent conference and sets out her key ambitions for the future
The conference brought together a wide range of people who work to support young people's engagement with dance. The purpose of the conference was to assess the state of the sector, the context in which we are working and discuss the future directions we can take.

The input of young delegates highlighted the great impact that dance has on young people's lives and the need for further investment in dance provision to enable more young people to access and progress their interest in dance.


Hearing young people's voices: keeping it real

Channels for young people's views to become central to policy and practice need more attention. Young people's networks in some regions have now been set up, young people give advice on shaping the National Youth Dance Festival and young delegates attended and contributed to Conference 2007. Without their voices we do not know how far our work is achieving its aims and we are missing out on effective communication with our key agents. In dance practice the young person's voice is often not seen or heard. How do we move young people into creating their own work that communicates something of their own situation? Not replicating current dance theatre practice - although it's important for young people to see and learn from it - but encouraging them to experiment with their own choreography as well as dancing and performing.

Continued investment in youth dance infrastructure
An ambition for youth dance is that the effects of the reduction in funding to Arts Council England (ACE) and Local Authorities will not hamper the new work supporting youth dance development. It would appear ironic that just as the first major investment in youth dance has been made by ACE and the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), reflecting their policies on children and young people and participation, this work might not be able to be sustained. At present funding is via Youth Dance England (YDE) to nine dance/arts organisations to develop youth dance in their regions. These are all Regularly Funded Organisations (RFOs) and without continued support they will have to make hard decisions as to how and to what level they can continue to support youth dance. If the investment made by ACE and DCMS is to be realised, regional organisations should not be put in a position where they have to choose between delivering youth dance or other dance programmes.

Communicating our successes
We should be moving to the position where there is a communication plan implemented for each youth dance project to ensure that messages about the impact of the project on young people are communicated to, as appropriate, press, politicians, opinion formers, funders etc. There is so much excellent work going on we need to shout about it and make its value explicit. Conference delegates were issued with an Impact Study Tool Kit that will be made available on YDE's web site to assist in planning communication strategies.

Think big
In order to make a difference to young people, especially those who are 'hard to reach', we should expect projects to take a long time to plan, evolve and deliver. If we do want to address inequality through dance we must think long term, be prepared to influence and work with a number of partners. The Ballet Hoo project (See Animated Winter 2007), which was one of the case studies presented at the conference, particularly exemplified this approach.

Balancing the focus on dance in schools
Increased government funding for schools, especially through the specialist school system, to increase provision through the extended curriculum and extended day - is impacting on how dance is delivered. The panel presentations revealed the current focus on investment in dance through schools - especially through the Physical Education School Sport Club Links (PESSCL) strategy. Understandably government policy targets schools to ensure all young people can have access to provision and information. This on the one hand is a democratic approach that should allow young people to access dance without the need for parental support, money or transport; but it does not provide all the answers. A significant number of young people do not attend school, or if they do they might not wish to stay at school in their leisure time. Many schools do not offer specialist dance teaching and cannot guarantee to provide dance within an overloaded and increasingly generic Physical Education (PE) curriculum.

The benefits of participating in out-of-school activity encourages individuals to develop through experiencing wider social and cultural networks and contexts. The broader dance provision offered through arts, dance, leisure, and sports organisations - allows for an exposure to various dance forms, progression routes and different patterns of involvement. For example: performing groups, vacation courses, dance company residencies. Funding targeted at schools needs to be balanced with support for the youth and community, dance/arts and youth offending sectors.

Working more closely with the sports sector
The place of dance in the PE curriculum means we have a relationship with the sports sector both in and outside of school. How do we continue to navigate the sports sector? Through funding allocated to YDE from the PESSCL budget the regional infrastructure is resourced to deliver Dance Links - which aims to create more links between schools and out of school dance providers (that is dance artists/teachers/leaders etc), Dance Links has brought the youth dance sector into a much closer relationship with the specialist sports schools. Many Partnership Development Managers (PDMs) want to work more closely with dance providers but often find it difficult to comprehend and communicate with our sector.

Innovative posts are being set up with partnership funding between PDMs, Sport England and regional organisations to create dance coach posts or wider community dance worker posts. There has been more emphasis on creating these posts as the sports sector is challenged to meet physical activity targets particularly with girls and young women: dance remains a very attractive medium for this group. To support the sport sector to access high quality dance practitioners is extremely important if we are going to increase dance provision for young people. We will not change the place of dance in the National Curriculum but we do need to continue to make it easier for non-specialists to access dance practitioners to work in and outside of schools.

Developing our work force
The demand for youth dance practitioners exceeds the available supply. We know the people who teach and lead youth dance tend to be at the early stages of their careers and, in the main, freelance. They work not only in youth dance contexts, but also in schools and in wider community contexts. The expectations of employers and parents/guardians of practitioners when working with children and young people has grown dramatically in the last few years and many practitioners have not received training to equip them to work in these contexts. Accreditation of dance practitioners to work in informal contexts (not in schools) is needed to train them and offer a reliable way for employers to identify people able to work with particular groups of young people. YDE is working with LABAN, Council for Dance Education and Training (CDET), Foundation for Community Dance (FCD), National Dance Teachers Association (NDTA) and other dance organisations to research an accredited training scheme for dance practitioners to work with children and young people. Starting at the source - the young people themselves need to know about the careers available to them before they embark on a particular course in Higher Education or at a conservatoire. Starting at this stage will assist us all in attracting and preparing practitioners for working in the youth dance sector.

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Animated: Summer 2007