Being a tap dancer is much harder than English or maths. You need to be good. It isn't easy, especially if you're a boy. People might want to laugh, but so what!" says a 13-year-old boy about a series of tap dance classes held at his school.
The area of Hartcliffe in Bristol may be known for social problems and street violence, but chemistry teacher Vic Ecclestone disregarded the cynics and started the Boys' Dance Company at Hartcliffe School in 1993. By 1998, against the national trend, boys outperformed the girls at GCSE.
But can educators claim that teaching dance, or other performance arts, will improve pupil performance in national tests? A Year 6 pupil, Nick, says: "I think it's quite fun. When I done my spellings I was stressed and singing and dancing makes me unstressed."
In 1997 Vic Ecclestone was given a sabbatical by Bristol LEA to extend this work to all schools in the area. Multi A, the resulting arts charity, has now commissioned a three-year research project on the effects of teaching singing and dance to 3,000 pupils a week. Preliminary findings indicate that children's attendance is better on dance days and the majority do improve their levels of concentration, co-operation and collaboration; many show improved social behaviour.
Over three years, 26 out of 27 schools showed improved test results, with 18 improving above the city average. Dance is a demanding physical activity as well as a dominant mode of expression, cultural and personal: people dance in clubs, schools, theatres, art galleries, outdoors, on television and on the internet. As Ifetayo, a Year 5 pupil from Bristol, says: "When it's tme for dance I get excited and want to do really well. " Recently, as part of Multi A's strategy to get more children, especially boys, involved in dance, it organised English National Ballet workshops on Swan Lake, explaining key features of the story and aspects of ballet dancing, culminating in the chance to create dances. Two hundred pupils went to a matinee performance at the Bristol Hippodrome. One Year 10 boy says: "When I dance I feel that what I do is important. The dancers listened to us. They respected us and involved us."
Phil Garner is a researcher for Multi A and a former primary headteacherFor Multi A, tel: 0117 914 7745
* Establish dance activities as part of the school curriculum.
* Use professional tutors where possible.
* Include male role models.
* Select activities to appeal to both sexes, such as contemporary, street, jazz-funk and tap.
* Encourage teachers to join in.
* Include all children.
* Give plenty of opportunity to perform.
* Celebrate and reward successes and achievements.
* Take pupils to professional performances.
* Make dance an important part of your school development plan Useful websites:
www.schoolshows.demon.co.uk for dance, drama and shows www.culture.gov.uk. for government initiatives to promote culture and creativity www.educationextra.org.uk. for after-school and extra- curricular activities: www.rsa.org.uk is the Royal Society for the Arts' site. www.youthmusic.org.uk is the National Foundation for Youth Music's site. www.stagecoach.co.uk - a performing arts company specialising in children's activities.