Sunday, 18 July 2010

A Day Dancing With Brighton’s Community; One Not Easily Forgotten

Tuesday 6th July 2010: Brighton and Hove

As a young journalist volunteering as part of Big Dance South East I was invited to witness the free workshops taking place across Brighton and Hove between 1 – 10 July in the run up to the main dance event on 10 July. These workshops; free to the community, funded through the government and lead by professionals in the dance world are an opportunity for those who would otherwise miss out on the joy and exhilaration that dance can provide. My role was to investigate the nature of the workshops and the impact they had on various sectors of Brighton’s population; what influence does dance have on the community? To my delight, the answer was resoundingly positive; excitement and encouragement was at full flow in the areas touched by South East Dance. It was only a shame more people could not have been reached.

The first part of my day was spent in the company of the over 80’s residing in Muriel House Residential Home in West Hove. To my surprise I entered to a full house, as not only were the occupants of Muriel House present but Sandlers House Residential Home from across the road had eagerly joined the group, as well as one individual who had travelled from across town on a bus to take part. I had been told that the group had been given a choice of workshops including ballroom and sequence dancing, but the dance of choice for this vibrant bunch was line-dancing. An energetic and engaging routine ensured laughter filled the room, and whilst there were only around 7 out of the 30 people dancing, the keen supporters lining the outskirts of the dance arena made for a social and warm gathering; a strong atmosphere of community and togetherness if only for that short hour. It cannot be voiced strongly enough how important sessions such as these are in getting the residents out of their individual flats and together in fun activity. The group are lucky to have Nina as their scheme manager; her colourful character reflected in her purple dress and her jolly laugh bouncing off the walls was enough to keep anyone smiling. It was she who had organised this event with Big Dance South East and whilst this was one of the few workshops currently available to the group, with the reaction we received from the participants there is promise that these wonderful members of our older generation will carry on dancing; River dance is next, or so I’m told.

I was then taken on to a far younger group of people aged 8-11 who were to learn Street Dance with Anneli Smith in the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bevendean, Brighton. The small group of 6 girls was made up of three youth groups from across the Bevendean area, although the participants knew each other from school. The girls were shy in talking to me but confident in their dancing as they took on the steps with focus and dedication producing an outstanding level of dance by the end of just one hour. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was astonished at the talent the group possessed. Although there were a couple of participants clearly less keen on the routine and more interested in kart wheeling across the space, the majority reported that they would love to do a similar class again, particularly as not many had been offered such opportunities in the arts before. It was refreshing to see children genuinely interested in something for a full hour. For Anneli to keep their attention for so long was an impressive feat; one not easily achieved, but well worthwhile.

My final stop was with the teenagers of Brighton Youth Centre for a ‘Glee’ workshop with Hayley Coppard. Here we had a group of 7 girls aged 11-16 strutting their stuff to Lady Ga Ga’s ‘Bad Romance’ in the style of ‘Glee’ i.e. Musical Theatre. Originally a hip hop dancer, Hayley used her own technique of hip hop blended with a musical theatre approach to give the girls an amusing and energetic routine with plenty of charisma and attitude. Many of the girls had been involved with rehearsals for school productions all day so unfortunately the energy levels were low but this did not take away their enjoyment. The group had been established from three youth theatre groups originating from the Brighton Youth Centre so the teenagers were used to attending such classes, although not at this high a level. Hayley, who has been teaching youth groups for the last 2 years and dancing for the last 8, not only got the girls giving it everything they had, but even got the youth workers up and involved making for a very engaging and therapeutic hour of honest fun. Every one of the girls who participated agreed that they would do the class again, however it was clear something was troubling them in saying this. Upon further probing it was difficult to hear how they could not afford to go to dancing lessons, reinforcing the importance of what Big Dance South East does in its community work.

Watching all these varying participants of the community engage in dance workshops of all genres was rewarding but most significantly it was a clear illustration of how vital dance and the arts are within communities. It cannot be underestimated what Big Dance South East provides for people who would otherwise be ignorant of the pleasures and thrills dance can bring and I for one was deeply honoured to be even the smallest part of it.

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