Kula Shaker are not only one of the most successful of new British bands, their exotic, Asian-influenced songs are also being used to help teach Asian folk dance, along with more traditional music, on Radio 3's Dance Workshop.
Asian bands such as FunDaMental, the Safri Boys and Apache Indian are also currently enjoying a popularity surge among British youngsters and there are just as many Asian dance groups ready to inspire and excite. These are all poised at an exciting moment in the development of Asian dance, well able to give it popular cross-cultural appeal and provide the all-important role models for young people.
Some Asian folk dances can look bewildering fast and terribly complicated but Dance Workshop's "Asian Folk Dance" is aimed at complete beginners. The novice label does include teachers and a refreshing "enjoy yourselves" attitude is encouraged. It is also just as well to remember that many British Asian youngsters have never tried these dances either.
The chosen dances in the series demand a degree of discipline and self control but also offer moments to release creative energy and try out ideas. They will help build an awareness of pattern, precision, shape and rhythm and are sure to put smiles on faces right across the board. Children will relish the physical vigour which is linked with an emphasis on graceful and delicate movements of the hands and feet.
The mysterious sequences of each dance are broken down to simple movements and then built up. The pace moves on quickly from demonstration to performance but always with the need for control and precise execution.
Asian dance is one dance form where beginners can easily be discouraged by what they see: the speed and intricacy does tend to dazzle. So much depends on the manner of introduction and the attitude of the instructor. Top marks to the commentary on Dance Workshop, which is fluent, clear, supportive and filled with helpful imagery: "Let's move those arms like windscreen wipers!" The accompanying teachers' guide is helpful with teaching points and resources but strangely does not mention Unniti, the Bradford-based South Asian dance development agency (tel: 01274 770076). This organisation is particularly strong on observation and evaluation of children's dancing. Teachers will have no difficulty refining their children's work and suggesting new movements.
Dance Workshop is aimed to appeal to the 9 to 12 age range, but used selectively it will have wider appeal. The music, which is very get up and go, could certainly enliven the staff party or even a training day.
Cassette pound;2; teachers' guide pound;2.75 (pound;2 postage per order) from BBC Education Publishing, PO Box 234, Wetherby, West Yorkshire LS23 7EU