New steps for Dundee

Dundee College's successful Lottery bid means a bright future for contemporary dance in Scotland, says Kay Smith

Rachel and Gary, two students starting out on Dundee College's National Certificate course in contemporary dance performance, were stunned. They had just heard that, thanks to a Pounds 2.3 million Lottery grant, there was a chance to progress from their one-year course to more advanced training.

Until now, anyone wishing to pursue dance studies in greater depth had to go south. Rachel, aged 21, who has taken part in community dance projects since she was at primary school, had already started shopping around for courses across the border. Now she says, "I'll stay in Scotland; it's a much better option."

Gary, aged 20, has barely drawn breath since taking the plunge of leaving his full-time job at Tesco's and his home in Port Glasgow. He says, "It's a bit of a shock to realise that I could stay longer than a year." He is already checking out his new career prospects.

The dance and arts community in Scotland has thought long and hard about establishing a national contemporary dance school. A consultation exercise by the Scottish Arts Council in the early Nineties produced the obvious answer that one was needed if the drain of talent down south was to be halted. But coming up with the wherewithal was another matter.

Dundee College was, however, in a strong position. Not only did it already run its own dance course and have an infrastructure to support student learning, but it also had sufficient clout to get partnership funding (a further Pounds 2.3 million) from Scottish Enterprise Tayside and the European Regional Development Fund.

A contemporary dance school was just one part of its proposal for Lottery funding to build a Contemporary Dance and Theatre Centre. As well as accommodation for three years' worth of full-time dance training, for theatre arts and technical production courses and community classes, there will be a performance space specially designed for dance.

The centre will be at Dundee College's Glamis Road site. Its core will be a three-sided performance space with seating for 200 people. Flanking this will be three glass-fronted dance studios. Other accommodation will include a conference suite and a gym.

If all goes to plan, the centre will open in 2000. The full-time dance teaching programme will give the centre a national focus. The performance space, to be used by touring companies - along with the community programme - will add regional interest.

"We had to be extremely strong in all areas - and through market research showed that there was an established need for the centre," says Sheila Allan, team leader of the college's National Certificate course in theatre arts. She was instrumental in setting up the dance course.

Now the dance course's only full-time tutor, Peter Royston, is drawing up a curriculum for a new two-year course which will be awarded a Scottish Qualifications Authority Higher National Diploma.

The first year will be phased in from autumn 1998, at the foundation course's existing rented accommodation at Northern College. Royston wishes to consult the rest of his profession, but is already clear about one thing. He wants high standards. Rachel and Gary - if they do decide to stay on in Dundee - will have to compete in auditions with students from Knightswood Dance School in Glasgow, who have already had five years of ballet training. He also wants to build up the reputation of the school.

"We want people to come to our training for what it is, not just because they live in Scotland," he says. Ballet technique, which is Royston's speciality, will continue to be a must for developing strength and poise. But decisions have to be taken about which style of contemporary dance technique will be taught.

Whatever is decided, Royston wants the college to achieve a national reputation "for an enlightened attitude to choreography and new movement underpinned by strong technique".

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