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Would it matter if our children stopped dancing?

by Antony Waller, Sarah Waller and Simon Birch, Dance Republic 2
On behalf of the Cornwall Dance Partnership

Over the last six months Dance Republic 2 has been working hard to bring together a working partnership of organisations committed to supporting the development of creative dance in Cornwall’s schools. The initial effort has a primary school focus, but in the longer term we plan to widen our programme to encompass all schools. It began in the spring of 2012 when so many teachers and independent dancers were observing that the profile and presence of dance in our primary schools was under such immediate threat in a climate when resources across the board seemed to be vastly reduced. We were in conversation with Falmouth University at the time (this was before we invented Dance Republic 2). Ric Allsopp, Head of Dance at Falmouth, suggested we run what they call a “sandpit event”, a kind of conference–cum-enquiry in which various subjects are put under scrutiny. We asked Marie McCluskey MBE, Siobhan Davies KBE and Professor Mick Waters to give keynote addresses. It was called “Would it matter if our children stopped dancing?” and around 60 delegates attended from schools and dance industry. And the gist of the outcome was … well yes, it would matter, and we better get our collective act together and do something about it. At that exact time, we had heard that dance had actually been entirely removed from the National Curriculum, so the outlook was pretty bleak. We know now, of course that it’s firmly back in the curriculum and not optional, which is a major positive step for dance in schools.

At the time, Sarah and I had pulled together a project partnership to deliver a fairly simple one-year programme of dance in primary schools, rather imaginatively entitled “Dance 2013” which brought together KEAP (Kernow Education Arts Partnership), National Trust, Falmouth University, The Works and a bunch of independent dance specialists. This programme was supported by Pavilion Dance South West in the first year of their co-investment programme. We made some fantastic dance events in the National Trust properties of Trelissick and Cotehele over the summer of 2013, involving around 30 schools. We had set up Dance Republic 2 by then and embarked on our first big project, a landscape dance festival called SALT 2013, so we incorporated the outdoor primary school dance events into the SALT 2013 programme. And the weather was staggeringly hot, so it all went rather well, if a bit sweaty.

As 2013 progressed, the PE Premium for primary schools across the UK was announced. A nice individual at the DfE (you know you are!) made some recommendations, ie “get things going, pronto”. So at that point we went off to talk to a man called Tim Marrion at the Cornwall Sports Partnership who suggested that there need to be a joined-up offer for dance in schools, a simple way that schools could get advice and routes to what they needed. Our observation was that there is a great deal of skill and ability in the independent dance sector that could be incredibly useful to schools wanting to develop dance and all we had to do was connect it up.

We set about proposing that a number of key organisations work together to create a shared offer for dance in schools and pooled their resources to maximise the benefit to schools and simplify the routes of communication. Our practical problem was that we as a brand-new company had very little in the way of resources, so it made a huge difference when Zannah at PDSW agreed to invest a modest but critical amount of money to pay for our time, as freelances to develop the partnership. If they hadn’t been able to do this, we could not have afforded the time to do this. The partnership brings together KEAP, Dance Republic 2, Falmouth University Dance Department, Cornwall Sports Partnership, Hall for Cornwall and RIO. Each partner brings something specific and useful to the table and collectively we create an offer to schools. So far 51 schools have signed up.

The Cornwall Dance Partnership is very much in its infancy — we have just delivered the first dedicated performance platform for primary school dance at Hall for Cornwall in January 2014. DR2 has just got a small Arts Council award to support the summer programme of activities and the partnership has attracted investment from RIO’s Challenge Fund. Throughout the spring and summer we are delivering a range of CPD workshops, events and activities as part of the first “menu” of work that schools can buy into. It’s not at all been an easy process — even with such support from all the partner organisations, working out how to deliver programmes together, how to pay for the development time, and how to work out who does what is complex and at times frustrating. But over the next two years, around 3,000 pupils in Cornwall’s schools, maybe more, will be involved in dance activities that they would otherwise not have done. And independent dance professionals are employed to work with highly motivated and skilled teachers to deliver it.

That’s an outcome of the PDSW co-investment programme, so strategic investment in ideas clearly works. Thanks to everyone at PDSW for all your support.

Photo: “Fairy Tales and Scary Tales”, the first performance platform in Cornwall entirely dedicated  to primary schools dance, Hall for Cornwall Truro, January 2014. Photo by Steve Tanner.

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