As a small child I lived for my weekly ballet and tap class, as I grew older this weekly class turned into a daily routine, something I lived and breathed for. I could never imagine my childhood or myself without dance, it has shaped me as a person. Worryingly, we are faced with serious cuts to arts in education and whilst my parents supported my extra-curricular activities, many parents simply cannot afford to send their children to costly private dance schools.
For many young children, their first experience of performing on stage is in their infant nativity play or a school talent show. This provides a creative outlet to be involved in both on stage and backstage aspects of performance and proves highly educational in showing just how many options there are in a career in the arts industry. Whilst only one Prime Minister to date holds a BSC degree, there is still an emphasis to cut performing and creative arts from education in favour of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. The chance to perform builds confidence, nurtures creativity and allows children to learn in an active way as opposed to simply sitting at a desk. Whilst I never struggled with written work, for many children, the chance to learn without the necessity of desks and whiteboards led to a huge growth in confidence and personal pride and provided a break away from the rigidity of the classroom environment. Even if the arts are something that a child does not pursue in to later life, the memories of performing on stage, and presenting your achievement, the product of all of your hard work is something to be treasured immensely.
As you can see, the importance of performing arts in schools is something I am incredibly passionate about, and this is something I have taken with me into my part-time job as a tutor, in a hugely deprived area of Hoxton. Many of the children arrive at the centre without their bus fare never mind money to pay for private dance lessons. So, in half term I decided to hold a fun dance session to attempt to provide at least a taste of the experience I had in my childhood. Whilst I knew ballet and tap would not appeal to these children, and even if it had resources such as tap shoes were not available. Instead, I had to think outside the box. I chose to teach a class based on the post-modern choreographer Merce Cunningham and his technique ͚Dance by Chance͛.
If you͛’ve heard of Merce Cunningham and his infamous motto ͚dance for dance sake͛, you͛re probably thinking, surely that͛s a bit advanced for eight to ten year olds? In fact, my lesson went down a treat! The room was split in to two groups, and each group given a dice to which a movement was allocated. One – a turn, two – a leap, three – a balance, and so forth. The children set to work rolling their dice and choreographing their own work, not only were these children dancing and exercising but they were learning how to structure a creative process, how to work as a team and they were also, without knowing it, beginning to understand a prolific part of post-modern culture, where structure or meaning was not the ultimate goal. The children understood that their dance need’n͛t conform to definition of what ͚dance͛ is. It created a ͚safe-space͛ for the children to perform, try new things and explore without the pressure of competing with an assigned target or goal of what their effort should produce.
Whilst Cunningham would be turning in his grave at my meaningful use of his random chance method, dance for dance sake doesn’t have to mean: do it for the sake of it. Do it for the exact opposite, dance to keep dancing, to keep learning and to keep pushing. At the end of the session, the children beamed, exhausted, they had put their all in to their performances on the battered stage of Hoxton community centre. Each child proud beyond belief at what they themselves had managed to create.
So Dance, for dance sake! Keep arts in education, keep children engaged, happy to learn, creative and intuitive. Provide each child with the chance to dance.