On Wednesday 15 October 2014, we hosted an event at East Leeds FM, in Seacroft, to lay out our plans for the future of Yorkshire Dance Youth. Thanks to generous funding from the Igen Trust, we can develop and expand what we currently offer young people in East Leeds, aged 14-19 - a highly creative and artistic experience of making and touring dance, working with professional artists in a purpose built dance space at our studios on Quarry Hill.
Sarah Lyon, our Youth & Community Dance Co-ordinator, and Charlie, one of the members of Yorkshire Dance Youth, welcomed an audience of councillors, representatives of fostering services, teachers and head teachers, learning partnerships members, other arts organisations – and young people, their friends, families and members of their communities.
They outlined what’s coming next for Yorkshire Dance Youth, showed the new film about the company (above) and introduced the company themselves, who gave a short performance.
Hannah Robertshaw, our Youth & Community Dance Director, gave a speech explaining why she believes it’s so important that communities experience this kind of work.
Dance is a powerful thing. At its best, youth dance can be transformative for young people. It can offer a positive, healthy activity which builds confidence, encourages team work and develops communication skills. It is also highly creative – giving young people a way to express their thoughts and feelings through movement rather than words. Through dance, young people can explore their relationship with themselves, each other and their communities.
Being part of a youth dance group can give a young person a sense of identity and belonging. They are offered a safe environment to be expressive and develop their own physical and creative skills. Yorkshire Dance is not unique in witnessing the power that being part of a youth group can have on a young person. We are not unique in seeing how a young person can turn their lives around through dance. We are not unique in seeing how dance can help a young person become more employable. We are not unique in seeing some of our young people go on to study dance at further and higher education. We are part of a dance ecology in a city which really prioritises giving young people a chance to dance.
Our commitment to Yorkshire Dance Youth is to offer a highly creative and artistic experience of making and touring dance, working with professional artists in a purpose-built dance space at our studios on Quarry Hill.
We will offer young people a chance to access a weekly provision which develops their practical skills and artistry and combines this with opportunities to take the work back into their local communities. By offering the Arts Award qualification, we will also support young people to gain recognition for their involvement and develop their ability to be reflective.
Many years ago, I set up a youth dance group in the North West. It ran in an inner city high school gym on a Thursday evening. It was a cold, damp space and it attracted a diverse range of young people – many of whom were completely new to dance. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was well attended by girls, many of whom brought boyfriends along who would hang about outside in the cold. As a young enthusiastic dance teacher, I decided to try to rope the lads in. After all, better to be inside and dancing than outside having a fag.
One particular lad, Ian, seemed to really enjoy the session. I’d seen him on his skateboard and already recognised that he had clear physical confidence – he could flip, balance and turn on his board and tried daring tricks which would often result in him falling to the floor. His ability to adapt these skills into dance was clear and soon he was coming regularly to the dance session.
Ian kept dancing, and by the time he left school, he’d decided to study dance. He went on to the Laban centre in London and to train at PARTS in Belgium and he is now working as a professional dancer, currently touring in a new piece by critically acclaimed company, DV8. Dance changed Ian’s life.
You could argue that someone like Ian is an exception, but I’ve seen many young people like Ian go on to do extraordinary things. Some find professional careers in dance and some go on to do other things. The important thing is how dance helped shaped the people they are, and how being part of a youth dance group opened a door that they otherwise may not have walked through.
We’re now going to share a short film with you titled Dancing with Your Neighbours. We made the film on location in Seacroft in March, working with young people from Yorkshire Dance Youth and individuals in their local communities. We wanted to take dance out on to the streets of Seacroft and directly into the neighbourhoods of some of the young people in the group.
We were interested in exploring people’s individual stories – when they danced, why they dance or why they don’t. We wanted to propose a series of conversations that enabled dance to be taken right into the heart of a community – through the front door and into people’s kitchens and living rooms. The film is edited by Space2 and was presented at the Juncture Festival at Yorkshire Dance in March.