Leap across the dance chasm

Norma Cohen

Norma Cohen on moves to encourage schools to develop dance policies which forge links with professionals.

Sometimes I call it the ACAS conciliation model. Two people aren't talking to each other and you try to bring them together, or you're a catalyst bringing in money and resources." Christopher Thomson, director of education and community programmes at The Place in London, reflects on DANTE (Dance Artists Networking with Teachers and Educators), a London Arts Board initiative to bring dance artists and teachers together by pooling ideas and taking part in joint training sessions.

The abolition of the Inner London Education Authority and most specialist dance advisory posts, coupled with a squeeze on school budgets, created a chasm between teachers, unaware of the benefits outside skills could bring to the curriculum, and artists, inhibited by new education jargon.

Aiming to sustain the future of dance within London schools, DANTE set up five pilot projects, intended as models for training in dance education, from which other projects could develop.

"We couldn't risk starting in boroughs where advisory support for the arts has gone, where there's no dance agency or even space," says Thomson. "You need management support and the conviction that the arts can influence other areas of the curriculum."

With money from the Arts Council's New Education Fund, the largest project was at Chisenhale Dance Space in Tower Hamlets, capitalising on Chisenhale's work with local schools and the borough's commitment to arts education.

Taking exploration as their theme, students from Globe Primary School worked with the dance artist Amanda Evans and the video-maker Richard Coldman to produce a stunningly sophisticated pop video to a mix of rhythmic Indian bol counting and infectious jazz piano.

At Swanlea Secondary School, young Bengali women and one man produced an exhilarating video montage of traditional, modern and bhangra dance.

Alternately collapsing and whirling like dervishes, they were inspired by choreographer Laura Guarnera's combination of flamenco and north African dance and Danal Guy's zest for contemporary work. Despite restrictions posed by timetables and religious holidays, the group rehearsed avidly after school and at weekends and have now formed their own dance group.

There were teething problems, but these have been overcome and plans are being made for follow-up dancelanguage development projects in 11 other borough schools.

Other DANTE initiatives include a residency with in-service training by Ludus Dance Company to establish dance at two schools. This residency, made possible by Greenwich Dance Agency, inspired in students "an intense passion for dance and enrichment of GCSE expressive arts work", says Thomson.

Cross-borough dance-art links are being developed in Lambeth and Southwark with the help of Morley College and Southwark Arts Forum.

In another area, Croydon and Sutton, with an established Youth Dance forum but little schools expertise, requested dance in education Inset for PE teachers and their adviser, as well as the chance to host dance companies.

Additionally, the acclaimed dance teacher Rosemary Butcher will run a course this autumn for teachers in the area which will include resource packs with session material for a term's work.

DANTE aims to continue with whole school in-service training, concentrating particularly on primary schools. It wants to produce a curriculum model for the creative integration of dance which can be published nationally. "Policy making is an essential prerequisite to raising the status of dance in the curriculum, securing its place in schools' three-year development plans," says Thomson.

"We're encouraging schools to write a dance policy that embraces professional artists. In the longer term, DANTE is about bringing two different cultures of dance and education together to facilitate a skills and information exchange. It'll probably take three years for these ideas to bear fruit, and then we can stand back and respect those carrying on," he says.

o DANTE is running a pilot dance policy development course at Morley College from September 21. Telephone DANTE on 0171 388 8956 TES september 15 1995

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