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Dance, whoever you may be

Eight multi-coloured parachutes are thrown up into the air of the games hall at the Lochgelly Centre in Fife, to the strain of "My Beautiful Balloon", and the room is filled with screams of delight as more than 100 children dive beneath them. This is a workshop for pupils with special needs and part of the annual Fife Schools Creative Dance Festival, which got under way at the end of February.

The second part of the festival, for primary and secondary school pupils, starts on Monday. Before Easter, 4,500 children from nine secondary and 64 primary schools in Fife will perform for each other at the Lochgelly Centre Theatre and give three nights of public performances featuring 60 pieces.

For the first time, these festivals have been organised by Fife's visiting teacher service, a group of 57 full-time, peripatetic teachers in the expressive arts (music, art and design, drama and physical education), who work alongside primary school teachers.

Maureen Liddell is its support services manager. Her husband, Eddie, started the festivals in 1979, when he was organiser of physical education in Fife.

"Creative dance wasn't given a high profile in schools then," she says. "It was very much games, games, games. He felt there was more to physical education than games, that children had to be got together to share experiences and there had to be an outlet for some creativity within movement."

She is delighted to continue his legacy. "Part and parcel of the visiting teacher service is to encourage and develop these festivals," she explains, "not for the sake of the festival but for the children: developing, perfecting and performing their ideas. It is the socialisation, the integration, the coming together and experiencing something they cannot otherwise."

"The Scottish Executive is now realising that if a child cannot be creative, the child is not opening its mind to learning in all sorts of different ways," adds Mr Liddell. "Through creativity you can then move on to creating in the technical world and the world of work."

The workshops also benefit the children's personal development. Secondary pupils are encouraged to develop their communication skills by acting as helpers in sessions for special needs children. "It is an important part of mainstream pupil development," says Mrs Liddell. "It comes under the social education programme and, for older ones, under citizenship."

John Lees, a physical education teacher who has been involved with the festival for seven years, sees benefits for teachers too. "They'll see somebody dancing to their music in a different way and can go back to school and try it out. We all need new input.

"When I first started I had no experience of creative dance. I now get music and build up a performance from start to finish. Then they've got a dance and ideas about different techniques they can use to make another dance."

This festival, Mrs Liddell will be making sure every primary school child in Fife is taught the steps to the Queen's Jubilee Jig, so that they can all dance it on May 11.

James Allen The Fife Schools Creative Dance Festival runs from March 18-27 at the Lochgelly Centre Theatre. Contact Maureen Liddell, tel 01592 414695

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