Teenagers' taste of fame

1st October 2004 at 01:00
It's showtime for the Duke of Edinburgh's inner-city dancers.

Adi Bloom sat in on rehearsals.

It was like a scene from the popular Eighties TV series Fame. Choreographer Hakeem Onibudo, a bandanna round his head and one T-shirt sleeve artfully ripped off, paces up and down.

"If this is just a part-time thing, then what I say isn't important," he says. "But if this is what you want to do with your lives, then you're going to have to pay attention."

Listening are 38 teenagers from across London, selected to stage Reaching Out, a one-off performance at the capital's Barbican theatre, co-ordinated by the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme.

In return for one month of intense weekend rehearsals, the youngsters receive expenses-paid training from dance professionals, and the chance to perform in front of an audience of 1,900.

Their work will count towards the bronze award.

The aim is to target inner-city pupils who might not otherwise have had access to dance classes.

Karen Jones, artistic director, said: "If you target them young enough, they're capable of dancing professionally, instead of just hanging out and window-shopping." The finale is a choreographed routine, in which a bullied teenager succumbs to inner torment, before triumphing against the odds.

Contrasting sequences incorporate street dance, contemporary ballet and t'ai chi, along with the kind of ensemble routines you see in lavish musicals.

The short rehearsal time meant that pre-existing skills were required of performers, and more than 200 queued to audition.

At 16, Farakhan Coote, from Highbury sixth form, in Islington, north London, has already danced at the Sadler's Wells theatre in north London.

"I don't dance just anywhere," he said. "This is another stepping stone on the road to fame. If it was a show at a youth centre, I'd have said, why am I coming here at 10am on a Sunday? But, for the Barbican, I'll be there."

Almost 138,000 young people were involved nationally in the Duke of Edinburgh award last year and the number from ethnic- minority backgrounds rose by 144 per cent to 29,257.

The number of participants from financially disadvantaged backgrounds, or outside mainstream learning, rose by 26 per cent to 6,483.

But for many of the dancers the award is almost irrelevant.

Maddy Morgan, 17, from Camden school for girls, in north London said: "I know there's a camping bit. But we're London people. We don't walk in the woods. There's no mobile-phone coverage. I'm too busy focusing on the dancing."

Back in the studio, Ms Jones is honing one of the dance sequences. "There were a couple of you who were smiling during the contemporary piece," she tells the dancers. "Lose that."

Reaching Out will be performed at the Barbican on October 5. Duke of Edinburgh award information: 020 7928 8004

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