The 40 young people from East Lothian and Edinburgh who came together last week at Musselburgh's Brunton Theatre for five days of workshops as part of Scottish Youth Dance's summer tour found themselves in the midst of an artistic - and social - potpourri.
From schools in deprived and affluent areas, and with diverse interests in
ballet, disco and drama, everyone was on a level plain as they were introduced to breakdance, the Brazilian martial
art of capoeira and creative or "cool"
After warm-ups in the various styles, the young people divided into two classes in which their tutor gave them a "starter kit" of a few minutes of set choreography which, in pairs or small groups, they extended into their own piece.
In one class, disco dance enthusiast 13-year-old Louise McKay of Holy Rood Secondary, Edinburgh found her expertise challenged by the eclectic range of movements - and by a choreographic task which tutor Cheryl MacChesney told her had to "connect with others". But agile, quick-minded - and a natural leader - it was not long before she had sparked her group into the glimmerings of an imaginative idea.
In the other class, tutor Mick Lindo told 15-year-old ballet exponent Gemma Niven of Boroughmuir High School to develop a sequence to include arm movements with the thrust of martial art and a body posture reflecting the dare-devil shoulder spinning of breakdance. Her
ballet classes were, in comparison, very rigid, she said - "and you don't get to make new things up". Another discovery was the way, with partner Sarah McGuire from Prestonpans High
School, she had "to learn to trust who
you are with".
Scottish Youth Dance has dropped the word "festival", part of its title for the past 10 years. It is also trying out a new format, replacing one large-scale residential event with workshops led by some, or all, of a team of five tutors (including musician Quee MacArthur) in six venues around the country.
The workshops are all tailored for
local needs and local public funders. In Aberdeen, for example, an SYD team worked with young people from an area of deprivation towards a performance in the Sculpture Park of Tyrebagger Forest.
This week artistic director Andy Howitt is in Benbecula working with youngsters alongside a local musician and visual artist. Next week, the whole team is to straddle venues in four North Lanarkshire towns.
In each venue the prime aim willbe to bring out the best in whoever chose to join in. "It's not about us - it's about them - the young people," says Howitt.
The touring format allows Scottish Youth Dance to "make a mark wherever it goes" and "rebuild a network" in contemporary dance which has been weakened in recent years, he says, by the inconsistencies of national and local funding. The lack of a coherent and comprehensive dance curriculum in Scottish schools does not help.
In the immediate term, however, Howitt has to ensure, by the end of the week of workshops, that there is a public performance. It is a challenge to which he is 100 per cent committed. "It's got to be brilliant every time. For some of these young people, it's the only experience of dance they will have."
Scottish Youth Dance tours to Campbeltown, August 2-6 and Inverness, August 9-13. Contact SYD, tel: 0131 556 8844