by Jessica Wilson
Following the comments made by British Member of Parliament David Willetts, the relationship between dance and education has now been placed under close scrutiny. Dance professionals became increasingly concerned that the position of dance in education was under threat, which consequently sparked the debate. Willetts, Universities and Science Minister, recently remarked that he believed “soft” subjects such as Dance should be of less worth if a student was to apply to attend university. The dance sector strongly rejected this argument. Willetts’s claims were controversially published on the same day in August 2011 as the examination results which precede students’ further studies at university.
At what can only be defined as perfect timing elsewhere in London was the announcement that The Place, the UK’s premier centre for contemporary dance, is to introduce GCSE Dance to their existing teaching schedules. GCSEs are national examinations taken by young people both inside and outside schools; the course offered by The Place is open to students aged 13-18 years old. A parallel to the British school examination system can be observed in the Cecchetti system, used throughout Britain and the United States and enabling students to take exams at different levels and progress to higher grades. GCSE examinations form much of the first preparation for further education and with such promotion by The Place, dance appears to be on the road to recovery. To hear Willetts’s comments on the prospective introduction of this course would be very interesting to say the least.
The Place is known as the touchstone for contemporary dance in London, combining dance training, creation and performance through housing aspiring dancers, talented professionals and innovative choreographers from around the world. The Place encompasses a pioneering full-time vocational dance training course through London Contemporary Dance School; an internationally acclaimed touring company as a progression from the school; a wide range of participatory programmes for adults; and professional development for artists. The Place is renowned for making dance accessible for an extremely wide audience, so to spread its wings and extend its hand to inspire and provide further training for young people is without a doubt a hopeful message for dance enthusiasts in the twenty-first century.
Peter Laycock, the Project Officer for Creative Teaching and Learning at The Place, is extremely passionate about this latest addition to The Place’s repertoire, as it were. “In recent times the status of dance and other arts subjects within the curriculum has been questioned…we felt that it had been devalued”. The coalition government of Britain – in the combination of two political parties – aimed to measure wellbeing as a part of the country’s prosperity rating. Championing the diverse world of dance is arguably imperative for continuity and educational variety. Dance is a valuable career path with creative employment providing around two million jobs in the creative sector and in creative roles in other sectors within Britain alone. Offering the course now, Laycock added, “felt like an important step to take in maintaining the profile of Dance and the value of the academic study of it.” With such a prestigious dance house as The Place advocating this chance for young people, it is hoped the UK government will rethink its stance on dance education, and the value system it has imposed on certain subjects throughout the curriculum.
UK funding cuts earlier this year to the arts demonstrated the finite nature of the dance sector. Presently just 58 pence per school-aged child is spent on dance activity, compared to £38.21 per child invested in music, and £79.47 per child invested in sport. Despite this, Laycock positively maintains that GCSE Dance “nurtures theoretical knowledge and understanding and analytical thinking skills which are important tools for the dance world but equally transferrable to all aspects of life”. Naturally, the passion and enthusiasm that embodies dance remains a key aspect of the course, additionally encompassing academic study, quite converse to Willetts’s comments, and offering much to the students involved. It is a common misjudgement, also held by Willetts, of the study of dance in the sheer amount of hard work involved. This preparation by The Place for young students will not only provide them with foundational knowledge and understanding, but also further discipline and commitment.
Moreover, Laycock advocates that the teaching staff and guest tutors at The Place “are specialists in the areas they will be delivering…drawing on their experience as GCSE moderators, choreographers and dance in education experts”, alongside the “many benefits to our offer”. The GCSE Dance qualification is offered at many mainstream schools in the UK, yet those with the opportunity to study at The Place “will be passionate about it and really want to be there”. The Place is perhaps one of the most generous arts providers, additionally described by Laycock as a “hive of dance activity” with students’ access to a huge range of dance prospects. As part of this exciting new venture for The Place, there may even be chance for GCSE students to perform at youth platforms at The Place.
Since Willetts’s comments on the educational value of dance, an adjournment debate entitled Education System and Dance was led by Frank Doran MP, secretary and co-founder of the All Party Parliamentary Dance Group. Aiming to considerably raise the profile of dance in parliament, Doran maintained that dance was a unique subject to study, contributing to both the artistic education and physical activity offered in schools. The Minister for Schools, Nick Gibb MP, was seen to recognise the importance of dance to the cultural life of the country, continuing to support the important role of dance in education. With procedures such as Doran’s, and the induction of further artistic qualifications being made available, such as those at The Place, we can only hope that dance in Britain regains the notice and respect it deserves, starting with high quality dance training.
Visit http://www.theplace.org.uk/10782/gcse-dance/gcse-dance.html for further details.
Intern Jessica Wilson is a final year student at Middlesex university in London, studying Dance Performance. Jessica reviews London shows for the Society of London Theatre’s initiative for 16-25 year olds, TheatreFix, writes features for A Younger Theatre and blogs for Cloud Dance Festival, with additional press responsibilities. She has completed many marketing internships, the most recent at English National Ballet.
Jessica has also previously interned for SOLT, East London Dance and the ISTD dance examination board. Jessica is a National Youth Dance Ambassador for Youth Dance England, focusing on young people’s access to dance. She is extremely passionate about opportunites for young people enabling them to succeed and hopes to continue advocating this in the future through a variety of means.