Forget Billy Elliot, meet the boys (and girls) from Brazil

Douglas Blane visits South Lanarkshire to see how dance can mean cultural, mental and physical expression.

What is Capoeira? It's a dance, a martial art, a way of life, an expression of cultural identity. It's what those elegant exponents are doing with their rooftop cartwheels on BBC1. It began in Brazil but is practised nowadays far beyond its spiritual home - in North America, Europe, Israel and Japan. And East Kilbride.

At Hunter High, one of four centres hosting South Lanarkshire's Forward Move summer school, youngsters from P7 to S2 have been practising dance routines in Capoeira, break-dance, contemporary and hip-hop styles, as demonstrated by Scottish Youth Dance tutors.

Youngsters taking a few minutes away from rehearsals insist they are not nervous. This might be understandable in the cases of Robyn ("I've had dance lessons since I was three") and Alana: "I've done Highland dancing since I was seven."

But for Christopher and Kerr, both persuaded to volunteer for their first dance lessons by the prospect of break-dancing, some anxiety might be expected.

Perhaps they cleared the scariest hurdle simply by turning up: "I was worried it might be only me, Kerr and 20 girls," says Christopher. "And it was," admits Kerr, ruefully. Any embarrassment was dispelled, however, when the sessions began and everyone became more interested in making the right moves, staying in time with the music, and not kicking their partner's head during the Capoeira leg-sweep.

It is not easy getting boys involved in such a project, says Scottish Youth Dance's Carolyn Lappin: "They still associate dancing with girls and ballet. But the image is slowly changing, because they see a lot of men doing modern dance on TV. And of course our director is Andy Howitt, the man who turns famous goals - like Archie Gemmill's for Scotland - into dances. That association with football grabs the boys' attention."

Scottish Youth Dance started out in 1988 as a summer-school provider, but now offers activities throughout the year, ranging from taster sessions for infants to in-service courses for teachers, and two-week performance projects. Its aims are to help youngsters learn and grow, express their individuality and realise their potential.

The dancers are not the only ones making imaginative leaps. In planning the pilot project, South Lanarkshire decided to combine careers guidance with dancing - like concealing medicine in a sugar cube. This explains Careers Scotland's presence as a partner in the project, now that the New Opportunities Fund has allowed courses to be offered to pupils at all the authority's schools over the next three years.

"The course lasts four days, one of which is run by Careers Scotland," says Christiana Margiotti, the project manager. "It uses role-play to develop the confidence needed to talk to prospective employers. The whole project in fact is about building skills and confidence, giving kids a feeling of achievement, developing creativity and teamwork."

These aims are shared with another project managed by Ms Margiotti - the literacy summer school. So the second imaginative leap was to target the efforts of its P7 participants towards the same show the dancers were preparing. The latter will now be followed on stage by literacy students performing self-penned songs.

"It was a bit tricky finding the right words and getting them to rhyme," says young Mark, "but we all worked on it together. We did alliteration too - that's when words sound like each other."

"Like Cool Club, for instance," says Alana, pointing to the words on her T-shirt. "We wrote the songs, the T-shirts, a diary every day, and all the invitations to the show. It was great fun."

By this time the performance is just minutes away, so surely some of the youngsters are nervous? "No, not at all," they insist. The participants in both projects, at an age when expressive ability is often impaired by shyness, are not the least overawed. They are looking forward to it - they know what to do and they know they can do it.

The show itself is worth waiting for. The Capoeira routine justifies its build-up with a grace and beauty that stays in the mind. And the exuberant final routine, to the accompaniment of Elvis's A Little Less Conversation, has the audience on its feet clapping enthusiastically well before the end.

Then it is the turn of the singers, each of whom first introduces a colleague in whatever style appeals - humorous, factual, poetic. For some reason, a recurrent theme is food. The children have strong dislikes, and perhaps a verse in Psycho Teacher - a song in their highly entertaining act - explains why: "I swear I'm getting thinnerCos he puts me off my dinnerI've got a psycho teacher after me."

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