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There is no prescribed route into a career in participatory dance where dance artists may be working with different population groups in differing community contexts. Some artists will have taken a degree course and may have taken part in performance work; others may have constructed their own unique pathway involving a foundation in graded dance exams, volunteering, mentoring and continuing professional development. Have a look at the National Occupational Standards for Dance Leadership (NOS) to see the range of skills and knowledge that participatory dance artists working in community contexts are likely to need.

Higher Education

Higher Education courses lead to a degree, diploma or certificate validated or awarded by a university or training institution. Universities typically offer first degrees e.g. Batchelor of Arts with Honours (BA Hons). Some universities offer BTEC Higher National Diplomas (HNDs), which are generally equivalent to the first year/two years of a degree. Some independent higher education institutions and vocational dance training schools award degrees, but also offer Diplomas of Higher Education (Dip HE) or Certificates of Higher Education (Cert HE).

Dance in higher education

If you want dance training to study dance in community contexts, it is most likely that you will study at a university, as vocational schools tend to cater for those students wishing to pursue a career as a performer, choreographer or dance teacher in the professional dance performance, commercial, and private sectors.

Most university dance courses will involve the study of dance in community contexts in some form or another. Even where a course does not specify dance in community contexts as a feature, a great deal of what you study will provide a useful contextual and skills base for working in dance in community contexts, and many dance programmes include independent or negotiated study units that can be tailored to individual interests, such as participatory dance.

There is no formalised or prescribed route to a career in participatory dance, and many artists currently working in community contexts have not necessarily had access to specialised education at undergraduate level. Like them, you may choose to undertake a generic dance degree (or other types of formal education) and pursue more specialised training through professional organisations or postgraduate courses at a later stage.

However, if you do wish to specialise at this stage of your education, or you are a practising professional wishing to return to formal education and gain a higher education qualification to support your Continuing Professional Development (CPD), this information sheet will help you to identify those institutions where you can study dance in community contexts as part of an undergraduate programme.

What might I gain from studying participatory dance at university?

By studying dance at a university you will be part of an education framework that enables you to achieve a nationally recognised qualification. This can be beneficial as a measure of achievement for yourself, as a foundation for your future professional development, and can be valuable in easing your route to paid employment. Many, if not most, employers in the community dance sector (and most certainly in other non-arts sectors) will recognise - or be reassured by - attainment of a first degree.

By embarking on a course where community dance is offered as an area of study it means that you will have already begun to APPLY and FOCUS your dance skills to the area of work within which your career goals lie. Furthermore, such is the range of skills and attributes required to work in this field that you will carry with you a highly desirable range of competence and understanding that will be beneficial to whatever area of dance you wish to pursue in the future.

What kind of things will I study on a full-time dance course?

All courses differ, but there are commonalities in undergraduate dance study based on the core skills, knowledge and understanding deemed appropriate to a higher education in dance. Whilst each course will have its own particular identity or specialism, they are all likely to include practical and/or theoretical study in many, if not all, of the following areas: dance technique, choreography, performance, anatomy/dance science/somatics, dance history, critical and contextual studies, dance teaching, dance in education/community settings, dance management, work based learning/project work, research/independent study, professional/business/career planning.

A degree course that has a focus on dance in participatory or community context is likely to place greater emphasis on those areas of study connected to dance teaching, working with different groups of people, project planning, work based learning and historical and contextual studies relating to community dance i.e. its purpose, place and identity.

How will I find a course that specialises in dance in community contexts?

It is important to research thoroughly via individual university websites and course literature, the Universities Central Admissions Service (UCAS) is probably the best place to begin. Once you have an overview of what is available, it pays to follow up with enquiries direct to the individual institutions and, where possible, visits to the university and discussions with course staff and existing students. It is important to do everything you can to ensure that, as far as possible, you will be getting the dance education that you want and that best suits your current and longer term needs.

How old do I have to be to sign up for a full-time dance course?

The age at which you start full-time dance education is largely dependent on the area of dance that you want to pursue as a career.

Visit the Council for Dance Education and Training's (CDET) website at for detailed information.

Where can I find the right dance course for me?

Full-time dance education takes place in a wide range of organisations, both in the UK and abroad.

If you're looking for a career in performance then the best place to read about the options available to you is the Council for Dance Education and Training's (CDET) website, at

If you're interested in becoming a participatory dance artist and want to take a course in higher education looking at individual university websites and course literature and using the Universities Central Admissions Service (UCAS) is probably the best place to begin.

How much will full-time dance education cost?

The cost of a full-time course is entirely dependent on which course and which institution you choose. You'll need to ask each course provider directly for the fees relating to the courses provided.

How do I finance my higher education?

How much you pay for your higher education course depends on your eligibility and the eligibility of the course for HE funding.

Accredited courses attract government funding to limit the fees that students pay; if you follow a standard university degree course, you are therefore eligible for mandatory HE awards which cover the greater part of tuition fees. You have to make a contribution (top up) to this fee and you can apply for a student loan for living expenses and help towards your fee contribution. How much you pay in tuition fees and your eligibility for student loans varies and is assessed against your own/your parents’/your spouse’s income. There are also various other grants, benefits and learning allowances for which you may be eligible depending on your circumstances.

For non-accredited courses offered by institutions and vocational training schools in the private sector, there is a scheme called The Dance and Drama Awards. This is a scholarship scheme funded by the Department for Education.

Once I find the course that I want, how do I apply?

Applications to universities in the UK are managed through UCAS. If you want to apply for a particular course, contact UCAS and request an application form.

It is advisable to apply for more than one course, in case you are not accepted onto your first choice. Your completed application is forwarded to the relevant university/ies where academic tutors within the subject area will decide whether or not they think you are a suitable applicant for their course. If you are successful at this first ‘short listing’ stage, you will usually be asked to attend an interview and/or practical audition.

If you are applying for a part-time course, or a course in one of the full-time vocational dance institutions or conservatoires then you'll need to apply directly to the institution of your choice. Check out the information about how to make an application on the website of the institution that you've chosen.

Useful contacts

The Council for Dance Education and Training (CDET)
Provides information, advice and guidance on education and professional development for dancers, with a particular focus on the private vocational sector.
Address: Old Brewer's Yard, 17-19 Neal Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9UY
Tel: 0207 240 5703

Dance and Drama Awards
A scholarship scheme funded by the DfES, the Dance and Drama Awards fund a number of places at schools in the private sector.

Department for Employment and Learning (Northern Ireland)
Offers financial information for students entering higher education.
Student Finance Branch, Room 407, Adelaide House, 39-49 Adelaide Street, Belfast, BT2 8FD
028 9025 7777

Department for Education
Find out which student loans, grants, bursaries and other help you could qualify for, and apply online for student loans and grants. Includes full information on repaying student loans.

Education and Library Boards (ELB) (Northern Ireland)

Students apply for financial assistance through one of five local ELBs. More information can be found via the online resource.

The Education Grants Advisory Service (EGAS)
EGAS provides information and advice on funding for post-16 education including loans, grants, benefits, access funds, hardship funds, bursaries and charitable trusts
Address: 501-505 Kingsland Road, Dalston, London, E8 4AU
Tel: 020 7254 6251

Learn Direct
A free help line and website giving impartial information about education and learning opportunities.
Tel: 0800 100 900

The National Union of Students (NUS)
Produces NUS welfare information pack including information on grants, awards and alternative financial assistance.
Address: 2nd Floor, Centro 3, Mandela Street, London, NW1 0DU
Tel: 020 221 8221
Textphone: 020 7380 6649

Student Awards Agency for Scotland
The university grant application service for Scotland.
Address: Gyleview House, 3 Redheughs Rigg, Edinburgh, EH12 9HH
Tel: 0845 111 1711
Email: Send an email via their website here:

The Student Loans Company
The Student Loans Company (SLC) organises the payment, maintenance and collection of government student loans which are designed to help students meet their living costs while at university or college.
Address: 100 Bothwell Street, Glasgow, G2 7JD
Tel: 0800 40 50 10

University Central Admissions Service (UCAS)
UCAS is the central organisation that processes applications for undergraduate courses at UK universities and colleges. It offers a searchable website of current courses and institutions.
Address: PO Box 28, Cheltenham, GL52 3LZ
Tel: 0870 112 2211

Personal pathway

If you decide to create your own learning pathway you’ll need to be self-disciplined and able to identify your own learning needs and preferred learning styles. You may want to start by looking at the National Occupational Standards for Dance Leadership (NOS) to get a sense of the range of skills and knowledge you’ll need to be an effective practitioner. You may choose to take short courses to gain new skills or knowledge or explore learning through a range of other mechanisms:

Mentoring is a process whereby an experienced dance artist provides support to an emerging artist or one new to the participatory arts sector. The support offered can take many different forms, such as viewing dance sessions or session plans and providing constructive feedback; talking about their experience in the context of the learners’ current needs or questions; providing the opportunity for shadowing or session observation: introducing the new practitioner to contacts or support networks. Mentoring programmes are usually formal one-to-one opportunities which may be one off or are more likely to operate for a specific amount of time agreed by the mentor and mentee. The mentor is likely to need payment for the time they commit to the mentoring process.

One way to gain experience in the delivery of dance sessions in community contexts is to volunteer in a session that’s taking place in a community context. Sometimes the volunteering will be specifically dance related (eg demonstrating or assisting participants to take part). In other circumstances it may be assisting other aspects of delivery, such as assisting with marketing or social media or setting up the dance space. If you seek out a dance volunteering opportunity ensure that:

  • You’re clear about what you want to gain from the opportunity
  • The artist you’re working with has appropriate insurance cover for your contribution
  • The artist is able to provide you the sort of opportunity that will meet your needs
  • You have the skills and knowledge to fulfil your role effectively. This may be after initial training or information has been provided by the lead artist
  • You’re clear about the financial implications of your volunteering, for example, will the artist be able to cover your travel costs to and from sessions?
  • Will the artist be willing to provide you with a reference at the end of your volunteering period?

Volunteering usually takes place for a set period of time that is pre-agreed between the artist and volunteer.

Joining a network is a great way to meet other dance artists and share examples of good practice. Networks may cover a geographic locality (eg South Gloucestershire), or they may focus on specific population groups or teaching contexts (eg dancing with older people; dance in hospitals). Networks may be formal or informal, but they’re a good way to make contact with other people with similar professional interests and provide practitioners with the opportunity to explore new knowledge or new ways of working. Often networks are free to join or come as a membership benefit. People Dancing support a number of networks and you may also want to find out if the dance agency in your local area provides networking opportunities.
Session observation
Observing another artists dance session is a good way of prompting reflection about your own practice. Many artists will be happy to invite you to one of their dance sessions if you explain how it fits in to your broader learning journey. You may want to identify specific themes before you arrive at the session to make your observation more pertinent to your learning (for example, how does the artist open or close the session? What resources work well with participants? How has creative exploration been introduced to the participants in the session?) Before you attend the session you should establish with the leading artist whether or not they would like to receive feedback from you about the session. If you’re asked to provide feedback about the session read up on the best way to do this in order to maintain positive relationships. In all circumstances the session content, structure and approach, as well as your personal observations and views should remain confidential between you and the artist.
Continuing professional development (CPD)
All artists at every stage in their career should be participating in continuing professional development opportunities (CPD) in order to ensure that their practice remains relevant and up to date. CPD can take place in many forms, including online or face-to-face courses, volunteering, being mentored, session observation, reading relevant literature, discussions with other practitioners or even discussions with friends. Just as with your initial training it’s important to be clear about what you want to learn and how you prefer to learn. CPD opportunities can be found through professional associations like People Dancing, One Dance UK, as well as regional dance agencies, dance companies and non-dance organisations.
Where can I look to find work or a project placement for dance in a community context?

If you’re on a formal course (such as a further education or degree programme) ask your tutor for help and advice. They'll know the sort of project work that you're interested in and the types of organisations, companies and individuals that might support you on a project. Talk with other students - particularly students who are in their second or third years of study. They may have had good (or bad!) placements and may be able to offer advice on what's available locally.

If you’ve created your own learning pathway make contact with your local or regional dance support agency or look on their website to identify participatory projects or activities that are taking place in your area. Ask your local or regional dance agency about local networking events too as they provide good opportunities to make contact with other local practitioners and raise the profile of your own work or aspirations.

If you know that you're interested in a particular area of work (e.g. working with Early Years groups or older people) and you know of a company, institution or individual that is well-known for this area of activity, then drop them an email or a letter to ask if they might be willing and able to accommodate work-placement students. Remember to leave lots of time between making your approach and the dates of your placement. Give them as much relevant information as you can; how long you need a placement for, what skills you'd be able to offer them while on placement and what you'd like to be involved in.

Don't try to do all of this in a phone call - write to them with the information and provide them with contact details. They're very busy people and it may take them some time to get back to you.

Do your homework first. Check out institution or company websites to see whether they do work in the area that you're interested in.
Read Animated magazine, to find out which practitioners are working in your areas of interest.

Are there other options available?

Outside of the formal education sector, various dance agencies, companies and organisations within the professional sector offer training courses and professional development opportunities. Check out individual organisations’ websites for further information.

Most professional courses are part-time, and some are occasional or ‘one-off’ short courses, allowing you to build an individual training/professional development portfolio according to your needs and circumstances.

The number of blended learning and online learning opportunities are increasing, and often provide a good way of gaining useful contextual information, as well as providing the opportunity to learn in your own time and at your own pace.

People Dancing usually hold an annual summer school and also offer a range of online learning programmes and networking opportunities.


Further information

Where can I find background information about the community dance movement?

There’s masses of information about the many different aspects of community dance on the People Dancing website - use the search facility in our Knowledge Bank, or look through back issues of Animated magazine.

How long does it take to become a participatory dance artist?

Most people working in the participatory dance sector have undertaken a full-time, three-year course before they start work.

In most cases this will have been a degree course, taken at university. Others may have taken a higher education qualification, such as a diploma or Higher National Diploma (HND) / Higher National Certificate (HNC), while others may have undertaken a post-graduate, one-year course in community dance.

However, it's important to remember that all of these options form a dance practitioner's initial education. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is an essential part of a dance artist's life.

What are my job prospects on finishing my dance education?

Dance is the fastest growing art form, with over 13% of the population now attending dance performances (Arts Council England). With approximately 10.5 million viewers the BBC’s 'Strictly Come Dancing' is just one example of the way that dance’s popularity is having an impact on every home in Britain today. With this increase in popularity has come an increase in demand for participatory activity with dance practitioners working in a widening range of genres and contexts.

There’s always stiff competition for jobs, however community dance offers a very broad range of career options: you may choose to become a self-employed practitioner, setting up dance activities in a variety of contexts within your local community; you may seek employment within an institution (such as a school or health-care setting) or with a dance company; or you may find yourself with a portfolio career – with some employment, some self-employment and some short-term or long-term contracts.

Where can I find out information about specific groups I may want to work with in the future?

There are a number of ways to find information about sector-specific groups that work across the participatory dance sector.

  1. Look at the Developing Participation section of the People Dancing website; Deaf and disabled people, Dance and Older People etc, and take a look at our Practice Networks listings
  2. Read Animated magazine. This is an excellent way of identifying new trends across the sector and will help you to work out which companies, institutions or individuals are working in the areas that you’re interested in
  3. Building on the information you gained from Animated or from People Dancing's website, do a general web-search.
Where’s the best place to look for jobs in the dance sector?

Sign up here to receive People Dancing's free regular jobs e-newsletter, which lists jobs that are currently available within the dance sector. These are also listed on the Jobs and careers page of the website.

It’s also worth registering your interest with your local regional dance agency or dance development agency as many of these have email alert lists that can highlight local jobs. You can find their contact details here.

How do I find out more about being self-employed or going freelance?

Have a look in our Resources and Knowledge Bank, you’ll find fact sheets and supporting resources to help you get to grips with things like contracts and finance.

The website also offers information about setting up as a sole trader.

Can People Dancing provide a reading / resource list that will support my learning?

As each course or area of interest  is different we are unable to provide a general reading list to support students’ learning. However the People Dancing website contains a host of information about different aspects of dance practice that you will encounter whilst on your course.

It’s worth checking out the Resources and Knowledge Bank as this contains a search facility that links to a wide range of resources.