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Artists Open Doors
Ken Bartlett, Director of the Foundation for Community Dance, looked at the history of the Community Arts Movement.
I think it is important to go back to the origins of the Community Arts movement in the UK so that we can see where it and community dance began to seem different and take different paths and why Community Dance is what it is today.

In the late 1960s and 1970s State funding of the arts, much less than it is now, was largely distributed to the traditional arts establishments and the politics of the time which included the impact of the civil rights movement and the feminist and gay rights movements led artists to see the need for two key things - a wider distribution of state funds so that more people had access to the arts and a recognition that there were different voices in society whose cultures and cultural products deserved greater recognition, funding. and support So in a sense the project of community arts was a political one with the arts attached.

On reflection, even though I was a great supporter at the time because of what I saw as an appropriate balancing or cultural funding and I saw the animation in the eyes, bodies, minds and communities of the people participating. There was a great deal missing from the community arts project as it developed:
· It developed a theoretical frame that was more about politics and people, rather than people and art.
· It’s funding and the people it reached and its methodology were based on a project based approach so that it became very hit and run as an experience for the participants rather than sustained engagement and developed opportunities
· It was strategic only in the sense that it responded to particular political issues, national, regional and the very local
· Its relationship with the mainstream arts providers was not particularly developed, therefore there were few partnerships to maximise impacts and audience development · As it developed organisations for delivery, these organisations chose not to build relationships with the local infrastructure of amateur and voluntary arts, therefore a longer term impact supported by existing community groups and activity became impossible
· When it was attacked by the mainstream providers for producing poor art it chose not to argue for alternative aesthetics and a richer palette but to place the participants in the roles of curator or editor and make the art themselves. 

So we can look at places like Sandwell in the West Midlands that had a financially well supported Community Arts Team, Jubilee Arts, for nearly 30 years and I have to say when I look at the impacts relating to arts development I’d be hard pressed to find any. There is no local caucus of artist living in the borough, attracted to work there. There is no higher application for courses in the arts in Further and Higher Education than anywhere else in the country, there are no additional youth or community theatre or dance or music groups, there has been no passing on of local leadership in the arts from professional to the community. The amateur sector is no stronger and there are no more places for people to engage in arts activity than there were 30 years ago · There are of course individuals who have been touched by the experience and gone on to develop their interest in the arts.
 
It seems to me that community dance has taken a different trajectory. Dance artists recognised that there had to be new ways of making work and reaching out to engage more people in dance. Dance artists who recognised the fact that most of the population were being excluded for economic, social, cultural and educational reasons from access to the approved canon of state supported arts activity and artists who identified with the civil rights movements of black people, women, gay people and disabled people. Artists in fact who wanted to see a different world in which there was increased respect for individuals, minority groups and cultural differences whether they were based on class, gender, race, sexuality, age or disability or economic and educational status.

Artists who wanted to demystify the art of dance. To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht to make the extraordinary accessible and to provide opportunities for ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. These Community Dance artists, however, were still wedded to the art form, its history, its present and its future. Artists who saw what happened when ordinary people with untrained bodies submitted to the form and struggled to make meaning through the medium of dance. Artists who had been influenced by USA artists working out of the Judson Church in New York like Steve Paxton and Tricia Brown, artists asking ‘I wonder what would happen if’ and ‘I wonder what dance could be made if I put these people together with untrained bodies or differently trained bodies'. People like Liz Lerman in the States or Rosemary Lee in the UK whose artistic journey whoever they have worked with has always been placing the art, art making and the people dancing at the centre of their work but never forgetting that what they were about was operating as artists not as teachers, therapists, social workers nor politicians (although they have some of the skills of these professionals).
 
Nonetheless, I think that community dance practitioners have long argued that there are significant instrumental benefits to people participating in community dance: improved academic and physical achievement; emotional, physical and social well being for individuals and communities; improvements in general and specific health conditions (for example obesity and cardio vascular performance). I would argue that these benefits are an important corollary of engaging in dance, but they are dependent on a deep and quality engagement in the art making process of dance:
· Striving for excellence in the process
· Doing the best we can
· Celebrating what we can do, rather than pointing up what we can’t do
· Paying attention to the quality of the dancing
· Having a say in what the dance is about and how it is made
· Having a voice about who the audience is and the context in how the dance is seen and experienced
· Reflecting seriously and critically about how successful or otherwise the dance was in achieving its vision and aims, not just basking in the afterglow of warm wishes by relatives and friends

And I think community dance at its best does these things, as a sector it has successfully developed as part of the infrastructure of the dance ecology in the UK. Our national ballet companies partner up with community dance expertise with amazing public success as in the Ballet Hoo project undertaken by Birmingham Royal Ballet. Most of our middle scale and smaller scale companies take their performances to venues all across the country performing in village halls and on city streets as well as more obvious venues and diversify their audiences by running workshops and residencies in partnership with these venues thereby connecting with a community dance infrastructure and appetite not seen in mainstream theatre, music and visual arts in quite the same way. Siobhan Davies Dance Company are developing deep relationships with the community immediately adjacent to their stunning new centre in South London. We have a network of dance organisations at regional, sub-regional and local levels committed to widening access and increasing participation in the art of dance with all sections of the community. We have a wide range of organisations working on a voluntary and commercial basis to introduce people to all kinds of dance and dancing and dance across all the cultural traditions we now are heir to. We have an increasingly solid youth dance movement, which will hopefully give these young artists a lifelong relationship with dance. We are a world leader in the UK for our work in making the UK a dancing nation where men of my generation no longer say with impunity ‘I’m not a dancer’.