Kings of spin take to the floor

Having trouble persuading the boys to dance? Chris Fautley visits a school that has the knack

Judo, cricket, boxing, football, rugby, hockey. Which single, subject - beneficial to all of these - might boys choose to take for GCSE?

At Ringmer Community College in East Sussex the answer is dance. Here boys, including school and club sports players and some who have had county trials, account for 12 out of 57 Year 11 dance students. This compares pretty favourably with the national average of one boy for every 19 girls in dance. Why might Ringmer be so different?

A strong tradition of dance helps. Additionally, it has been removed from the PE curriculum and is taught separately: one hour every other week for Years 7 and 8; a 10-week block of three hours a fortnight for Year 9; thereafter, a GCSE option.

So how do you reach out to boys in what is perceived to be a "girlie" subject? Jan Taylor, head of dance, says the very first Year 7 lesson must make an impact. "We do 'Secret Agents'. It's a quite fast-moving, exciting sequence that they learn individually and with a partner. It starts them off with little leaps and jumps," she says.

Another theme Mrs Taylor has developed is Risk Sports, strong in tumbling, twisting and turning: "Boys like that." She also organises an annual dance show, Dance in Action, which includes boys performing GCSE work. The presence of so many competent sportsmen among them delivers the message that dance is cool; effectively they become role models.

"I believe that dance is essential to all physical education. It's building their strength, their flexibility, their agility, their balance, their co-ordination. That can only improve their sports out on the field, and so I try to make that link as well from the beginning," Mrs Taylor says. She adds that it sets boys thinking: "I'm going to be a better footballer; I'm building up muscles here; I'm getting more flexible."

Steve Johnson, college principal, believes boys find dance worthwhile. "It's energetic. It's masculine - at least some of it is. They know they will be performing and many of our boys, like boys all over, like to show off. They like to be competitive in the nicest possible way," he says.

So, is it athleticism that makes it challenging? "It's the fact they need to be fit," he says. "They need to take risks. They like to push the boundaries in dance and they get an immediate feedback on how they have done. Either they keep standing or they fall over."

Watching Year 10 and 11 boys in action, it is immediately apparent that stereotypical images have no place here. It was no metaphor when Steve Johnson said I would see "lads throwing each other about". The physical side is of unanimous appeal; they all find it complements their sports.

"It helps with your agility and fitness," Jacob Everitt, a cricket, football and hockey-playing Year 11 student says. Even so, he confesses to finding some of it quite hard.

His colleague, Brett Johnson (football, rugby, boxing, cricket), also finds it challenging: "the suppleness, body movement, lots of stretching moves."

He compares dance with bo deaadxing footwork.

The course is 80 per cent practical and includes a piece of the students'

own composition. It nearly always incorporates favourite sports. Brett Johnson has devised a rugby dance. Many rugby movements are very similar to dance, he says.

Jacob Everitt's composition will focus on martial arts. "It's a pretty physical dance with lots of lifts. It's all sorts of upper body and kicks. When people say dance they always seem to think it's feminine, but it's not," he says.

Some get a degree of stick from friends, but not Ben Brown, a Year 10 student. His friends are taking dance too. A rugby player at club level, he has found it helps in movement, especially dodging. And his message to those who think it's a "girlie" thing? "Try doing it. It's really hard."

Acting as role models inspires others to follow in the lads' footsteps - and the fact that Mrs Taylor is a very special teacher, as the boys enthusiastically point out.

She says: "They mention that some of the movements are a bit girlie, but what I try to say to them is, 'Interpret it in your own way.' You've got to channel the energy."

All this demonstrates that dance does not inevitably mean ballet. "We don't do that here. We look at a different style of dance," says Mrs Taylor.

Teachers, she suggests, should not be afraid to have a go with the boys. "They've got loads of ideas. They've got lots to offer. Also, they've got strength. They enjoy the physical aspect of being able to lift the girls and the girls like boys that dance." Ah. Girls. I had mentioned them to the lads. "There's some good looking ladies out there," said one.

"Part of dance's appeal?" I ask. "Yes!" they chorus.

Students at Ringmer follow the AQA dance course


* Approach a school footballer. Explain you wish to celebrate football by means of dance in an end-of-term concert or final assembly. Suggest that as footballers, he and his team-mates are just the people to do this. Work out some choreography with them. Practice after school, "having a bit of a laugh, falling over, maybe not taking it too seriously".

* Make them understand that ultimately they will be performing: "I believe that would be a challenge that some of the lads would want to rise to."

* Ensure that Year 7, 8 and 9 boys are in the audience. Video the performance. Use it as a promotional piece. Draw boys in from there. Use it to launch a longer-term campaign

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