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Dance your troubles away

The Scottish School of Contemporary Dance can help pupils deal with issues from self-harming to anorexia, writes Emma Seith.Mel's favourite colour is pink. She loves to go shopping for clothes but the clothes she likes look better on her friends. It makes her depressed and she has stopped eating.

Lizzie's favourite colour is red. She feels lonely. She cuts herself.

Tracy's favourite colour is baby blue. Life isn't great at the moment. Tracy has fallen for someone in her class - problem is it's another girl.

Louise is happy. She's going to see Take That in concert and life is sweet.

These are some of the characters portrayed by dancers from the Scottish School of Contemporary Dance, The Space, for an audience of S2 pupils at St John's High in Dundee. The performance, How We Feel, aimed to help 12 and 13-year-olds deal with the problems they face - self-doubt, loneliness, divorce - and the feelings these issues throw up, by reminding them everyone goes through tough times and help is out there, should they need it.

St John's was the first stop on the dancers' four-week tour of Dundee and Angus, which has taken in 17 schools and been attended by roughly 2,000 pupils. The tour was organised by NHS Tayside and funded by the local education departments.

After the performance, workshops were held. Pupils were encouraged by the dancers - students studying for their HND in contemporary dance - to choose an emotion and express it, using a part of their body. Dance teacher Nicola Herd used the example of angry feet to get them started and a room full of pupils embarked on a frenzy of stomping and kicking.

"The teachers are always amazed that the youngsters take part," said Peter Royston, dance director at The Space. "We're just careful never to mention the word dance and they usually get into it."

After the workshops, pupils had the chance to put questions anonymously to a panel of experts - a guidance teacher, a sexual health nurse and a health visitor. "If you're depressed, will it affect your body later on in life?" someone had written on their slip of paper. "How do you support someone who's depressed?" another asked.

Questions tended to cover a wide range of topics: weight, peer pressure and bullying, said Kerry Dalgetty, youth development worker with NHS Tayside. "This initiative is about encouraging them to talk about how they feel and also to raise awareness of the support services available," she said. "We recognise that many young people have difficult issues that they have to deal with and dance is an excellent way of engaging with them and looking at mental health and well-being. "

The pupils were prepared for the dancers' visit in PSE. Before the session they explored their feelings, writing an anonymous diary-style entry. And after the dancers left, there was a lesson on seeking and giving help and advice.

Entering their teens can be a difficult time for many young people, said Ursula Doherty, principal teacher of guidance at St John's High. "S2 is the time when adolescence is beginning and the change from childhood to adulthood is taking place. It's a major transition period which is very difficult for some children. That's why it's good to have this drama to help them see these feelings are universal, all of this is normal and there's always someone there to help."

The pupils were positive about the session, although one boy found some of the action on the dance floor somewhat puzzling. "How are we supposed to know what it means when they go like this?" he asked, waving his arms wildly.

Marnie, however, was a convert. "I didn't like the sound of it, but I found it was interesting," she said.

Steven agreed the session was useful: "It was helpful because everything they said happens in real life - that's the kind of thing everybody is going through."

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