Another side to the story

22nd June 2007 at 01:00
A gym and dance festival is encouraging boys to 'play the big man' and have fun, as Crispin Andrews discovers

A lone child steps out into the limelight. Nobody can see him yet - it is almost pitch black. Suddenly the space around this "gang leader" is illuminated and he begins to dance.

It's West Side Story, the Leonard Bernstein musical, but the difference is that the performer is 10 years old. He is one of the Year 5 and 6 pupils from Ashmead Combined School, in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, who are performing the show as part of a gym and dance festival by local schools.

Philippa Bates, the school's primary link teacher, choreographed the routine as a way of getting boys interested in dance.

"West Side Story is about conflict, with its gang rivalries and macho posturing, so everyone gets to look cool and feel tough," she says. "The children are learning movement skills such as unison canon and flight, getting into dance, but at the same time getting to show off and play the big man."

ENCOURAGE YOUNGSTERS TO TAKE UP DANCE

* Involve pupils in choosing the type of dance and theme.

* Show positive images of men and women dancing that challenge traditional stereotypes.

* Stress the health and fitness value of dance.

* Allow children to express their personalities and creativity within the movement routines.

* Use children's interests to motivate them, eg, a dance based around various sporting techniques, a well-known television show or popular music.

* Young dance leaders can be great role models and involving them in choreography means children can practise their skills and routines in smaller groups.

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