Bradford School of Arts & Media recently celebrated its fifth anniversary of supporting the worthwhile work of Dance United, pairing student role models with troubled young people to learn dance, discipline and mutual respect, empowering them to take on personal and professional challenges.
Damien O’Keeffe, Curriculum Team Leader: Media, Music and Performing Arts explained more about this mutually beneficial relationship and now that they have returned to College and had time to reflect on their involvement, three of the Academy’s latest graduates gave us their impressions.
Damien said “The 16th December 2010 saw a special graduation performance by the latest cohort of dancers from the internationally acclaimed organisation Dance United. In the impressive new headquarters of Northern Ballet and Phoenix Dance Company in Leeds, a group of twelve nervous young people took to the stage to showcase the work that they had been developing over the last six weeks. Eight of the cohort were young people who had been involved with the youth justice system (either as offenders or as young people at risk of offending); the remaining four were students from our Performing Arts course.
Jack Davis, Taylor Fay, Tanya Gray and Ashley Tattersall had been selected by cohort Director Helen Linsell at an audition to find the latest role models for the project. Working flat-out, all day for five days a week the young people involved discovered, not only that they could dance but also new levels of self-discipline, self-confidence and self-belief. As role models, our students demonstrate the required levels of discipline and commitment in the dance studio, present a professional approach to training and learning the routines, and build supportive relationships with the other cohort members.
Since Dance United opened The Academy in 2005 more than twenty of our students have acted as role models working with young offenders, prisoners and other at risk groups. They have shared the hard-work, heartbreak and happiness, and had the privilege of being trained by some of the country’s best choreographers. The role models have also been given the opportunity to perform at events, conferences and seminars across the country including at the prestigious Sadler’s Well Theatre in London.
Members of the cohorts have, in turn, taken up places on our Level 2 Performing Arts courses and built their academic skills and confidence. Several of them have progressed onto the Level 3 Extended Diploma courses and beyond. Two of our alumni, Donica Kelly and Dahl Yates, were were successful in securing places at The Scottish School of Contemporary Dance.
Also performing at the 5th Anniversary celebrations was Dance United’s Performance Company. Taking the very best of the dancers from the cohorts, this particular group are the very public face of Dance United’s work. They regularly perform all over the country promoting the excellent work done by the organisation to a wide range of audiences. Four of the current company are ex-Bradford College students who all volunteered as role models at Dance United.”
All our students feel they have gained immeasurably from the experience on so many levels, in addition to the contemporary dance module on their course they have gained credit for. It was a mutually beneficial exchange where the learners found inspiration from identifying with the role models, who in turn profited from the responsibility and life experience.
Tanya felt “it was really good in terms of people skills, dance skills and performance experience. I had some reservations at first. You don’t know anything about what people’s circumstances are but make instant judgements. Though these are soon put aside once you work together and bond as a team. Everyone was devastated when it was over.”
Jack had been surprised by the regimented regime at first. “At College you are treated as adults and expected to be self-motivated, but this was much stricter. The structures were there for a good reason as these youths were from bad backgrounds. But they really responded and realised they could make something of themselves. It taught me not to be judgemental.”
Ashley agreed and commented, “Instead of a lunch hour where you could go into town or do what you wanted; you ate, cleared up and were straight back to work. At first the learners didn’t want to even dance in their bare feet but we saw them grow in body confidence as they knuckled down to the work and soon gained an acceptance that you are who you are. I have come back to College with miles more confidence.“