Dance - it's great exercise

4th November 2005 at 00:00
Girls just want to have fun and boys want to look cool. So forget PE - a dance initiative is proving an effective way to improve fitness, Miranda Fettes reports

The class of 12-and 13-year-olds looks a little flushed. "This wet stuff on your brow and on the back of your neck is called sweat," says active schools co-ordinator Gail Cousins. "It means you're working hard.

Well done."

The S2 pupils at Currie High, in Edinburgh, have just been put through their paces by dance teacher Peter Maniam of YDance (Scottish Youth Dance). He is one of 12 tutors delivering the company's new programme of workshops to every local authority in Scotland.

The Dance in Schools Initiative has been launched this autumn as part of the Scottish Executive's campaign to tackle child obesity. A pilot ran in Midlothian and Inverclyde earlier this year, with funding from the Executive's health improvement strategy division. Now the dance workshops are being extended to primary and secondary pupils across Scotland over the next three years.

Edinburgh is one of the first authorities to run the series of five workshops over five weeks, with 23 schools participating in the initiative.

We are not talking pas de bas or the Dashing White Sergeant; we're talking street dance and hip hop, with an element of contemporary dance thrown in.

It's going down a storm.

"When I heard we were going to be doing dancing, I thought it would be rubbish, but he's sound," says Andrew McMillan, an S2 pupil at Currie High.

His classmate Emma Forrest is equally enthused. "I thought it would be quite boring, but it's been fun," she says.

With a baseball cap, baggy trousers and subtle swagger, Mr Maniam, 23, has the right manner, walk and talk to secure the class's approval.

For the boys, he is a role model who is old enough to look up to but young enough to relate to them and understand youth culture.

Teenage girls, meanwhile, are notoriously unenthused about physical exercise. Dance is seen as an effective way to capture their interest and improve their fitness levels.

"The material we do is designed to be as accessible for boys as for girls,"

says Mr Maniam. "For teenage girls, dance is something they enjoy. On the flip side of that is, a lot of boys don't normally dance. We're targeting two groups: girls that don't do PE and boys that don't dance."

After a warm-up, Mr Maniam picks up on the dance routine he began with the class the week before, backed by a funky compilation soundtrack. Steps and arm movements combine with floor moves and then a held pose to complete the routine.

"You've all got that really tight but I'm looking for more of a swagger, more attitude," says Mr Maniam. "Kick back, drop down, push around and up, hands down, slide back, spin around and hold it."

Mrs Cousins says the class has made excellent progress since last week.

"I was quite pleased when Peter came in last week that he was a man," she says. "He came in with a baseball cap on and he's been talking about attitude, so some of the boys have brought in baseball caps this week.

(They're normally banned in school.) They're all responding to him.

"I'm glad he's doing it, because I could never teach this."

YDance's executive director, Carolyn Lappin, says: "The emphasis is very much on physical activity and it's in response to all the issues surrounding obesity. Teenage girls are a big concern because they drop out of PE, but they enjoy dance. Feedback has been very positive."

South Lanarkshire and Midlothian schools will be next to experience the dance workshops (before Christmas), followed by schools in Glasgow, Perth and Kinross, West Lothian and Dumfries and Galloway during the spring term and Orkney, Highland, Stirling and another authority in the summer term.

Next session, Fife, East Dunbartonshire, Dundee and Borders pupils will be getting five weeks of street dance tuition.

The initiative also aims to train teachers to take dance classes.

YDance's education director, Katy McKeown, believes the time has come for dance to take its place alongside other arts and sports in the curriculum.

"I hope that these workshops will be a catalyst for Scottish kids to adopt a more active approach to exercise," she says.

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