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Dance that is fun and fit for all;Arts;Dance

A move to make dance exciting and accessible has proved a step in the right direction for a group of Scottish schools, reports Judy Mackie

Running in the corridors may be frowned upon in school. But boogieing during breaktime may become a normal part of life in many Aberdeen schools - and the teachers are more likely to join in than object.

It's all down to a unique initiative to bring creative dance into the classroom, involving Aberdeen's first dance artist in residence.

Natasha Guinnessy, whose post is also the first of its kind to be funded by the Scottish Arts Council National Lottery Fund, has begun what promises to be a lively year's work with Northfield Academy, its feeder primaries (Smithfield, Muirfield, Bramblebrae, Middlefield, Westerton, Quarryhill and Holy Family), and Marchburn and Byron Park nursery schools.

The Stirling-born dancer has a full timetable that involves teaching around five classes throughout the day at the various schools, as well as running two after-school clubs a week, one for the under-12s and the other for secondary pupils. Through her classes, clubs and special in-service workshops and workpacks, she will share her skills with the class teachers.

Natasha Guinnessy, who has trained in ballet and contemporary dance, holds a BA in dance and education, and has worked as a freelance dance consultant in London, is delighted to be back in Scotland. "I'm looking forward to helping Aberdeen develop dance in schools," she says. "My main aim is to make sure it's fun and accessible for all."

Aberdeen City Council's arts education co-ordinator, Jacqueline McKay, who was responsible for setting up the post, says Natasha's work will bring other benefits. "When we looked at the options, in terms of what we should be asking for in our bid for Lottery funding, number one on the schools' list was dance. Creative, contemporary dance helps build self-esteem, encourages teamwork and aids the children's aesthetic development."

But for the youngsters, fun is the number one spin-off, as 30 P4-7 pupils of Smithfield Primary ably demonstrated during the under-12s after-school club launch in mid-January.

For this event, Ms Guinnessy introduced two visiting performers from the nationally-acclaimed RJC Dance Company. Dave (Leo) Hamilton and Mandy Davis put the children through their paces with a lively warm-up and some reggae routines. At the front were seven small boys whose efforts to twist their bodies into unaccustomed positions prompted spontaneous applause from their amazed teachers.

Headteacher Audrey Walker was not too surprised at the boys' enthusiasm. "As some boys still tend to think of dance as 'cissy', I decided a sales pitch was needed. So during assembly I talked about the fitness element, and how some footballers use dance to build their stamina. The RJC posters, featuring the male performers dressed in cool gear, have also helped."

Following similar announcements in the other schools, there was an immediate rush to sign up for the after-school clubs among boys and girls of all ages.

Introducing dance into the five-to-14 curriculum is proving relatively uncomplicated, as it is a natural progression from a wide range of topics beyond PE and expressive arts. Audrey Walker explains her school's implementation: "We have shared with Natasha our environmental studies plans for the first five weeks she will spend teaching our nursery-P7 pupils, and she intends picking up on the themes and relating them to her classes. For example, P6-7, who will be studying airports and flying, will learn about balance and aero-dynamics in the dance classes.

"Her work will also enhance what we do on talking and listening, art and creative writing, as well as helping children express themselves through movement."

The schools are already planning to take creative dance into the wider community, with performances for families, friends and local senior citizens' groups, as well as mini dance festivals during the summer. They are also looking forward to more visits from touring dance acts throughout the year, supported by the Lottery funding.

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