Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by DanceEast

  Many thanks for your interest into particular issues and aspects of dance. This offers dance a unique opportunity to provide you with an overview of the rich and diverse mosiac that is very vibrant in the UK today—both indigenous and imported. I welcome this opportunity to share some personal insights with you.

  As the director of DanceEast, the National Dance Agency for the East of England, I would like to provide you with information that offers an overview of the impact of our work—which ranges for community dance classes to international think tanks—and also its uniqueness operating in rural communities and the challenges therein face.


  Arts Council England in its current and past structure has been a driving force in supporting dance—without it, we wouldn't have DanceEast and the National Dance Agency network.

  It is critical to keep in mind that 80% of dancers and companies live and work in London. The National Dance Agency network has ensured that the pioneers outside of London have been recognised. Today, 12 years on, dance is thriving in the regions, but it remains a London-centric art form. We can't change this. London is one of the world's great metropolises. But, what we need to do is share the wealth of talent and experience around the country. DanceEast, for one, is planning to move a London based dance company (Henri Oguike Dance Company) to Ipswich as part of the development of our new DanceHouse. And not just any old company, but one that is gaining great critical and public acclaim and that is accessible and produces consistently good quality work. One of the dangers of "regionalism" is that we are so easily susceptible to compromising and we can't let that happen! Audiences know when they are witnessing good quality work and greatness and we can't cheat them—whether in the classroom or in the theatre—everyone deserves the best.

  The Arts Council, in its new guise has empowered the regions, and this is a good thing, but it must maintain standards of excellence and there must remain a central overview and checks and balances to ensure that the fine-balance with regional spread does not compromise quality—be it in London or in remote rural communities. Peer assessment and rigorous evaluation must be ongoing and the portfolio of regularly funded clients scrutinized to ensure that they are relevant for the art form and audiences today, achieving their objectives and delivering quality work. There must also be a strategy for supporting dance artists and companies through careers dedicated to the art form in partnership with universities and other institutions to ensure smooth and supportive transitions and career development.

  Arts Council Funding is without doubt a seal of approval and a vote of confidence. In the case of DanceEast, it is critical to generating funding from other sources. In the case of our current capital fund raising appeal, the funding from the Arts Lottery Capital programme has been instrumental in unlocking funds from local authorities as well as trusts and foundations and this continues on to individuals and businesses.


  In return, dance gives back to its constituents on a number of levels and as a national dance agency, I think DanceEast can confidently say that the returns impact far beyond art and yet the art of dance is at the heart of everything we do. Dance embraces all of the arts and provides a unique creative experience for all who interact with it, whether in social, educational, entertainment or health related contexts—what an amazing art form! And, its diversity offers a range of pathways into the art form. One minute DanceEast is presenting Hip Hop performances on the hour at the Suffolk Show to local farmers, and the next hosting a Rural Retreat for 25 ballet directors from around the globe with Charles Handy.


  As a national dance agency, DanceEast is a conjurer and juggler. As the former, our job is not to duplicate but rather to make a difference and create programmes that are new, thought provoking, challenging, attractive and provide leadership. As the latter, we meet local, regional and national objectives. We have a role to play in delivering activities that otherwise wouldn't be available to our communities. In Ipswich, this means 250 individuals and in the rural districts 300 each week actively, physically participating in dance sessions. They come to us, but there are also those individuals for whom dance is a bit alien and we have an even bigger role to play in reaching out, quite sensitively, to them and breaking down preconceived barriers—from working with "looked after" children in foster care in Ipswich and Lowestoft to weekly visits to the children's wards at Ipswich and Colchester hospitals. They are tiny steps, but the impact can change a life. Not making dancers, but giving individuals a sense of their creative potential that is carried through to all areas of their lives.


  Rural often means isolation, transport issues, social deprivation. Here in East Anglia, we are only too aware that there are many visible and invisible barriers to participation in the arts. As a means of addressing this, DanceEast launched an annual Village Hall Touring programme. Trying to find dance product of the highest calibre to tour to small village halls over a three-week period has been a struggle, but we've recently completed our fourth tour with over 1,000 people attending 16 performances and over 2,000 young people participating in workshops in their local schools. For many, it is a first live performance in the safe and familiar environment of their local village hall. And, our goal is to ensure it is a positive one that will either leave good memories, and even better, entice them to travel a little bit further to a theatre. Quality in such circumstances is imperative because a negative experience can turn someone off for life.


  DanceEast has tried to focus on work for young people on this rural tour, but this is a huge challenge as there simply isn't the British product available in this style—unlike our Scandinavian and Spanish neighbours who have invested in work for young audiences and produced world class product for local and international consumption. Village Hall Touring is a cornerstone of what we, as a rural National Dance Agency, deliver, but we can only achieve success with appropriate product.


  Where we fall behind in UK dance is as international producers and promoters. We simply don't have the funds to co-produce international work, to host international residencies and to really make a difference in the international arena. Yes, the Arts Council is funding large-scale international work to tour to the UK, but this remains exclusive to a small network of venues and we in the East of England have no access to this product. Internationalism needs to be shared on all scales.

  With all the successes, this is the one bit of the puzzle that needs recognition and support. And, it works both ways in terms of export and import, not only of world-class dance performances, but also teachers, mentors, educationalists and choreographers.

  Internationally, DanceEast has a strong track record because in recent years we have developed Rural Retreats—International think tanks looking at the future of ballet and we recently hosted British Dance Edition in Cambridge—the biennial platform of British dance attended by promoters from around the globe—nearly 500 this year. We also have Arts Council funding to present Snape Dances, which brings two international dance companies to Snape each year. This is brilliant support but our audiences need more work on the small and middle scale more regularly.


  What we offer is a pyramid of dance training for young people—whether tiny tots taking their first steps, or ballet scholars supplementing their regular classes with our world class teachers—there is something for everyone. And, when they don't come to us, we go to them. Each year, with Suffolk County Council's advisory teacher for Dance we develop a production with over 100 young people from Suffolk schools who have never danced before. One project, Boys in Babergh, continues, with 40 unlikely candidates now dancing each week and developing all male-dance groups in rural Suffolk!


  There are of course those who want to dance, have a passion for dance and, most importantly, have a talent for dance. We have a role to play in supporting and nurturing this talent. In the end, only a few will succeed as dancers, in whatever genre—and so it should be—it is a difficult, challenging and short career and we need to ensure that those that do show the talent are supported financially and artistically. Too often, young students come to us asking for grants and that simply isn't our role. We need to ensure that we don't spread resources too thinly and that training institutions for dancers and choreographers offer the very best training and provide access to the talented few.


  We must also further develop other avenues of training into dance for those that won't be on stage and ensure that this isn't perceived as second best but as equally important. At present, far too many dance graduates never work in the profession. Salaries in dance are low, hours are long and there is no clear career path. If we are to maintain our standards and remain competitive alongside the other creative industries and business then we must ensure that salaries are competitive and commensurate with experience and knowledge.


  We need a stronger infrastructure. When a dance artist in rural East Anglia is ill, we don't want to cancel the class, but replace that tutor with another one—right now, the class is cancelled. But in order to attract these individuals to our regions, we need to ensure that we have the financial resources and infrastructures to provide them with a livelihood that makes it worth their while to relocate. And, we don't want the 2nd division in the regions, we want the best.

  We also need a stronger voice—we need visibility—not only on stage but in print and the media—we need to be on everyone's agenda not just as something pretty in pink, but as an art form that challenges, affects and inspires creativity, health, fitness and well being. And this can only happen by giving us the space and appropriate level of funds to deliver, because we have the talent and the know-how.

  Everybody loves to dance, but too often we have been perceived as a frill. It is now time to take stock of the success stories, celebrate them and allow the art form to flourish rightly along side the other creative industries because, I think, with the proper resources, we'll surprise, delight, challenge and never disappoint.

  No one can call us elitist. Elite yes! Why not? We want to ensure that our aspirant students, choreographers, dancers and dance companies are as world class as our elite athletes and that they can be celebrated around the globe.

3 May 2004

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