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Plan to put spring back into dance

Wales is affectionately known as the land of song - not surprising, when it boasts the vocal talents of Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones and Charlotte Church.

However, naming a national dancing superstar is not so easy. Former champion hurdler Colin Jackson did his best in the BBC2 programme Strictly Come Dancing, coming runner-up.

Now a major report reveals a lack of opportunities in Welsh schools is to blame for the dearth of top dancers. And, despite Colin Jackson's efforts, many pupils, particularly boys, see dance as "uncool".

Written by Rosemary Butler, chair of the Welsh Assembly's culture, Welsh language and sport committee, the report concludes there is a "circle of diminishing return" in dance at the grassroots.

It recommends that Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning, and skills, should establish a national body for dance in education, which would also oversee more dance provision on teacher-training courses.

Dance can be taken at GCSE as part of the physical education curriculum.

However, it is "discretionary" at key stages 3 and 4 as it competes with more popular sports for timetable space.

The report's authors conclude that there is a significant amount of "unsatisfied demand" across Wales, holding back the development of new talent.

Meanwhile, the scope for boys to enjoy dance is still limited, with many considering it "uncool".

TES Cymru told last year (May 27, 2005) how a revival of Welsh folk dance by enthusiasts was not taking off because the style, typified by clogs and crinoline skirts, was seen as having an "image problem".

But dance is a firm favourite at Bryn Hafren school for girls, in Barry, which offers the subject at A-level. Mary Davis, its long-standing head of dance, said: "It has always been an important part of our curriculum due to high demand and our success.

"However, I realise that this is not always the case in other schools."

Alan Pugh, Assembly culture minister, announced an extra pound;125 million to help increase dance opportunities following publication of the report last week. A national dance strategy for Wales - including schools - is also in the making.

Evidence for the review came from a wide range of dance practitioners across Wales, including the Welsh Folk Dance Society, India Dance Wales and Independent Ballet Wales.

* nicola.porter@tes.co.uk

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