Three students in leotards casually back-flip along the foyer of the Riverside Studios, in Hammersmith. They're warming up for BT's second Festival of Dance, featuring 10 groups of young dancers from London and the South East chosen from a staggering 89. This non-competitive heat will produce a UK showcase at Queen Elizabeth Hall on June 1.
Onstage, an intent group of 14 to 18-year-olds from Bearfoot School for Performing Arts, Harrow, perform Shades of Truth, a brilliant foray into fluctuating group dynamics recalling early, contemporary dance companies. Its sole male member, 16-year-old Nick Hall is not fased and hopes for a career in dance.
Community dance group Instep's On the Edge, conceived for 14 to 17s during a Hythe summer school and set to a Laurie Anderson poem elegantly meditates on walking and falling.
"We're used to dancing in front of people we know. Now we're out in the wide world," say 17-year-old Karin Jhoollun and Dominique Wedge, of Coulsdon High School's Domestic Affairs, inspired by Booker Prize winner Ben Okri's story, Dangerous Love.
In Balham, Chestnut Grove School's vibrant Lindy Hoppers have produced Fusion, a heady collision between Charleston and flim-flam versus modern swing and hip-hop. The group's extra-mural rehearsal schedule has resulted in over 100 performances (two on Blue Peter) and a wildly twisting break dance event. "It's a great way to escape the stress of A-levels," says 17-year-old Nicole Roberts. "It boosts self-confidence," adds 12-year-old Chau Churls.
Running the gamut from ballet to freestyle jazz, dance from Helena Romana Senior School's A Time To Grieve, explores feelings of the loss of a young life, while Carshalton High School's Breaking the Chains of Society, is a daring, gymnastic semaphore on conformity versus confrontation.
Accompanied on violin and piano composed by a 14-year-old, students from Cranleigh imitate flamingoes from Lake Nakuru in Africa, floating in filmy leotards like young Isadorables. Fired by the craze for Irish dance, Hillingdon Theatre Dance Centre's Jazz on the Riverdance provides thrills and spills, boys leaping with sticks.
In the most moving event, Hackney Community College's BTec Performing Arts students Extreme Force depict diminutive Lorraine Mullen abandoning her wheelchair, supported by partner Letizia Mele in Zero Gravity.
In spite the national curriculum relegating dance to a branch of PE, this celebratory event bursting with spirit proves that youth dance is alive and well. All finalist groups receive a Pounds 250 BT Festival dance grant to help fund a new project.
BT Festival, Swansea, April 13; UK showcase QEH June 1 (0181 870 9624)