DANCE STYLE: Dancing Feat; A New Agency Is Being Set Up to Help Youngsters Learn Dance. Lisa Salmon Looks at How Would-Be Billy Elliots Will Benefit

The Birmingham Post (England), April 16, 2003 | Go to article overview

DANCE STYLE: Dancing Feat; A New Agency Is Being Set Up to Help Youngsters Learn Dance. Lisa Salmon Looks at How Would-Be Billy Elliots Will Benefit


Byline: Lisa Salmon

After the film Billy Elliot - in which the young, miner's son chose ballet classes instead of boxing - dance is increasingly recognised as an option for both boys and girls.

But although it is undoubtedly part of the nation's psyche, dancing has perhaps not been taken as seriously as it should have been.

It has certainly not received the funding other art forms enjoy - until now.

The Government has just announced that almost pounds 3 million has been secured to give the UK's most talented youngsters better access to music and dance opportunities over the next few years.

Education Secretary Charles Clarke has pledged up to pounds 100,000 a year to support national youth dance organisations, in partnership with Arts Council England (ACE).

Another pounds 400,000 a year is going to youth music organisations.

The idea behind the dance funding, says Clarke, is to enable the organisations to 'focus on delivering world-class opportunities for all, in a range of dance genres'.

Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport - the department which funds ACE - says: 'The arts can be empowering, their ability to help people realise their potential is unique.

'This is why we are now setting up a new agency for dance, to help more young people fulfil their potential.'

It's all very well to trumpet investment, but what will it actually mean to those involved in dance - or, perhaps more importantly, to those who want to become involved in it? ACE spokesman David McNeil says the cash will initially be used to fund 'an umbrella body to bring together best practice'.

This is the first step, but it is hoped that after the new youth dance agency is up and running the investment will lead to more dance classes and better teaching for young people.

'The money won't come to young people immediately,' says McNeil, 'so there won't be more dance classes in the next year or so.

'But it will go into the quality of dance teaching and dance provision, and we hope it will lead on to more access and opportunities for young people to learn dance and have better teachers. Dance is an art form on the up.'

And it is getting more popular with boys, says McNeil: 'Billy Elliot did create an increase in boys taking up dancing, and there is a lot of good practice going on to get more of them involved.

'The new agency will give kids more access to professional artists, which will give them a better framework if they want to take dance up as their vocation.'

And the type of dance that will benefit isn't just the traditional ballet and tap, says McNeil, but also contemporary forms like jazz and street dance.

'It will be across the board,' he says. 'We can't get too precious - a lot of young people come into dance from enjoying dancing to popular music, and we're not nervous about encompassing that side of things at all.'

Nevertheless, the would-be Margot Fonteyns and budding Billy Elliots will benefit from the cash as much as anyone. …

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