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Not bad for those who 'haven't got a creative bone in their bodies'
Date posted: 08 February 2018
The People Dancing Summer School 2018 (23-28 July) at De Montfort University, Leicester will cover a broad range of dance styles for different dance participants. To launch a series of People Dancing blogs leading up to Summer School, Jo Rhodes - who will lead a session on Youth Dance - draws on her dance experience to show the power of dance to move young peopleā€¦
Jo Rhodes at People Dancing Summer School 2016
On a course years ago, I was tasked (alongside other participants) with choosing a role model in my career - someone who had taught me about 'leadership' - to prepare a three-minute speech. Having listened to people talk about Chief Executives and Directors, I wasn't sure how my less hierarchical notion of 'leadership' might be received. I talked about young people and what they had taught me.

My background in youth dance was in Cheshire where, mostly, people around me wanted to dance… I hadn't really encountered those who were reluctant to dance or had preconceptions of it putting up barriers. It came as a shock once I graduated and started to work in diverse contexts - from gifted and talented young people, to targeted health interventions where anti-social behaviour and teenage pregnancy rates were local issues. I don't think I ever felt 'qualified' enough to practice in these contexts, yet it gave me experiential learning and skills, like intuition, for which no amount of training could have equipped me. What I encountered in each of the settings has shaped my values, beliefs and motivations around my practice. I'm thinking of things like:
  • Seeing my group disappear when I was directed to take the paper register by hand to the office. The young people returned (eventually) but said they were sussing me out, just as I was doing with them. Their subsequent lessons took place in the social room, sometimes over a game of pool, which became integral to their performance piece.
  • Meeting a class teacher who told me that the group I was about to meet 'haven't got a creative bone in their bodies'. I was upset that those young people had been underestimated but also by the thought the teacher maybe didn't have enough experience of creative processes to be able to facilitate them herself
  • Being laughed at by other staff for suggesting a boy should be put on the gifted and talented register. He was being tested for behavioural difficulties and was regularly in isolation… that boy went on to a professional career in the performing arts. 
The potential benefits of dance are vast and, for me, the four case studies below show why:

Person A
'A' had issues regarding body image and was under report for truancy from physical lessons such as PE and drama. During a dance project, 'A' developed a real love of the creative process, co-choreographing a performance piece for the class to be performed at a local venue. The school later told me that 'A' regularly spends lunchtimes teaching dance to younger students and that the only trace of past behaviour was that 'A' still keeps a coat on until they're about to perform. 

Person B
'B' had relocated to an area following the death of a parent. Feedback following the dance project was that 'B' 'positively oozes confidence' and had integrated with peer groups, immediately forming strong social bonds. 

Person C
'C' was an elective mute who hadn't spoken to a teacher in over a year. I would never have known who 'C' was had I not been told afterwards. 'C' fully engaged in dance and was very vocal in feeding back, sharing ideas.

Person D
From an abusive background, 'D' was disengaged and regularly excluded from school but had the potential to change the group dynamic with a blink of an eye. 'D's journey was incredible, so much so that 'D' unwittingly managed to secure further funding for the school when articulating to a member of the audience (who happened to be a council worker) why the project had been so important.

Everybody has their own experiences but what can make them transform our practice is giving ourselves the time, structure and attention to reflect and explore our own learning.

I was once removed from a media photograph of 'high achieving' students on A Level results day. Apparently, dance was not deemed a 'credible' subject. It may never be valued in the same way as literacy or maths are in education, but it can foster many more life skills - problem solving, decision making, empathy, social skills, confidence, resilience, communication, determination, respect, emotional intelligence… I'm sure you can add a few more of your own.

Jo Rhodes
Independent dance artist


For the full programme for People Dancing Summer School 2018 and to apply for courses, visit www.communitydance.org.uk/summerschool


Banner photo shows: Big Dance Pledge 2016 with dance students at the University of Roehampton. Photo by Richard Parr.
Portrait photo shows: Jo Rhodes at People Dancing Summer School 2016. Photo by Rachel Cherry.