Keeping in step with the rest

27th February 2009 at 00:00
More than a bit of the X Factor is shown by Gordonstoun pupils when they take dance workshops out to the local schools

Gordonstoun school in Moray is taking a leading role in dance education, under the auspices of its performing arts department.

Not only does the thriving dance department run GCSE and AS level qualifications in dance (the school operates the English curriculum), but Sarah DaBell, the head of dance, also oversees Gordonstoun Youth Dance company and takes her pupils into local primary and secondary schools.

The facilities at the school include a dedicated dance studio and the Ogstoun Theatre, a well-equipped performance space opened in 2005. From modest beginnings running classes for second-year students, Ms DaBell and her colleague Laura Stockley have developed the curriculum to the point where they now offer compulsory dance courses for all P7 and S1-2 pupils.

Third-years can opt to do GCSE dance (Standard grade equivalent), and AS dance (Higher equivalent) in fifth year. The school has 16 pupils working towards GCSE and 13 on the AS course. Participation is also provided for pupils concentrating on formal academic requirements in other areas.

Sarah DaBell was a peripatetic teacher and dance animateur before coming to Gordonstoun in 1994 when her husband took up a teaching post. She is strongly motivated to take the school's dance activities to the wider community.

"The school has an ethos of educating the whole person, and every Wednesday afternoon is devoted to service to the local community in many different ways. The community dance company is part of that," she explained at a workshop session at the school by X Factor Dance Company. "We go into schools and do workshops with a performance at the end. It's about sharing what we do but taking it a step further, and giving our students a chance to go into the community."

They are running a collaborative project with Lossiemouth High, and have worked with Hythe Hill and St Geraldine's primaries in Lossiemouth, Greenwards Primary in Elgin, and the integrated special unit at Elgin High.

"We find they are very receptive. Moray did have a dance worker, but that post disappeared a couple of years ago. I wish we could do more in the community, but we are so busy as it is," said Ms DaBell

X Factor Dance Company first visited Gordonstoun two years ago. The workshops, conducted by two American dancers from their current touring show, Query, focused on two groups of senior pupils, and explored different approaches to material, setting tasks, working with partners, and improvisation.

These were followed by a performance of Query, which deals with aspects of sexuality and gender, in the Ogstoun Theatre the following evening. Having seen the production at Eden Court Theatre in Inverness the previous week, Ms DaBell chose the more senior pupils, not because of the subject matter, but because it might be too sophisticated for the younger ones.

"I had a long discussion with Alan Greig, the artistic director of X Factor, about what would be suitable for our students," she said. "I felt it might go over the heads of the younger ones a bit, but the more senior group might pick up some ideas they can use in their work.

"We take a more conventional approach in our teaching, but it is good for them to be exposed to different styles and ideas as well."

Master of dance

Alan Greig has been running his X Factor Dance Company for almost 20 years and is committed to education. His own schooling ended with two O levels in the late 1970s, but he is now working towards a Masters degree in dance and theatre practices at Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, accredited to John Moores University, where his practical experience was accepted in lieu of academic qualifications.

His work with the company feeds directly into his degree course, which in part explains their touring collaboration with dancer and choreographer Gerald Casel's New York-based company. The show features seven dancers from both companies, and they are sharing the load of workshops with Mr Greig.

"We try to offer as many educational opportunities as we can to tie in with the performances," he says. "It increases and educates our audience. They are more tuned in to the work and know the dancers through working with them, and it creates a different atmosphere when they come to the show.

"We have different approaches. At Gordonstoun, it is a general workshop for two student groups. Last week, in Inverness, I spent a full day with a group of six youngsters, and we created a short curtain-raiser for our performance at Eden Court. One of my dancers did a similar thing in Bathgate with a bigger group over two days, and we're working with students at several colleges."

When not touring, Mr Greig carries out education work in a variety of settings from beginners and special needs groups to professional dancers. "To only work with professionals is limiting. The challenge of working with the community and people who have never done dance is interesting."

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