Interview with Carolyn Woolridge Vice Chair of the National Dance Teachers Association (NDTA) and Executive Committee member Beth Butler

What role does the National Dance Teachers Association play in the development of Dance in this country?

The National Dance Teachers Association (NDTA) lobbies for the place of dance in the curriculum. We have been successful in raising the profile of the subject at a national level and in contributing to development of good practice. We support those teaching dance in schools and maintain links with physical education and arts organisations in order to promote high quality learning and teaching in dance.

How can young people that are interested in taking up dance find out about their nearest classes or schools and how can they find out if these classes or schools are up to standard?

The best thing to do is to search the internet for ‘dance schools’ putting in your county or area. The yellow pages or local directory often have good dance schools listed and usually they are listed as the school has been around long enough to be established and recognised. Often dance schools will have a website you can view to help you make a decision. The best way to see if they are up to standard is to ring and arrange to sit in and view the class with your parent/guardian. That way you can see a live dance class in a real situation and decide which you think would suit you best. Any good reputable dance school keen to recruit new students should welcome a viewing of a class. The other way to see if they are up to standard is to first find out if they do public performances/shows. A good school always likes to view their work and have publicity in the paper. Go and view a performance and if you think id love to be part of that then join! A good dance school usually is accredited to a national dance exam body such as The Royal Academy of Dancing, Imperial Society for the Teachers of Dance or Cechetti. Students are put in for exams and a good dance school would have a good success rate and this would be clear to see on their websites.

Many local and regional dance agencies run classes and youth dance groups often in a range of dance styles and as well as improving your technical ability, you will have chances to be involved in choreography and dance performances. Dance agencies bring in professional dance artists to work with young people and sometimes run workshops led by professional dance companies. See the Links page on the NDTA website www.ndta.org.uk for access to websites of agencies in your region or visit the Youth Dance England website www.yde.org.ukfor information about youth dance groups in your area.

Centres for Advanced Training (CATs) are organisations or consortia of organisations/partners that provide training in dance for boys and girls of school age with outstanding talent in dance. They provide young people with local access to the best available teaching and facilities alongside strong links with the dance profession. They ensure that those who are talented and committed dancers have appropriate, tailor-made, specialist provision. Young people accepted for training through the CAT’s scheme continue to attend their own primary or secondary school.
Funding is available to support young people accepted for CAT training through the Music and Dance Scheme; DCSF national grants are aimed at young people with exceptional potential and dedication who do not have the financial means to access the best available training. These grants are intended for young dancers aged 11 to 16 (on first application). In making such grants available to individual students, the needs of the individual child are put first. These will be spelled out in individual training plans agreed upon by students, parents, teachers and providers. The grants are means tested and some level of contribution may be required by parents. The scheme is being extended to cover all regions. For further information, visit www.dfes.gov.uk/mds

Dance is seen as an activity more popular with girls than boys, how popular is it in this country and are you seeing more boys getting involved?

More and more boys are getting involved in dance and it is becoming less of an issue in the UK. Programmes such as ‘So you think you can dance?’ ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and ‘Britains Got Talent’ are helping address this gender imbalance.  Generally, in schools in years 7-9 all boys take part in dance lessons as well as girls and figures show more boys are opting for dance at GCSE and AS/A2 level. More male dance teachers are qualifying on PGCE/GTP dance courses to teach dance in schools than in previous years. There are an increasing number of boys attending youth dance groups and some forms of dance, such as Street Dance, more boys participate than girls.

What skills do you need to become good at Dance?

Technical / physical skills:
Flexibility, strength, control, good postural alignment, stamina, excellent co-ordination, extension, mobility, energy, balance
Interpretative/expressive skills:
Good focus, focus, projection, sense of style, musicality, the ability to communicate the choreographic / artistic intention to an audience
Creative skills:
The ability to use your imagination and create new and exciting movement. You also need to be able to direct other dancers in a group and think about how to create interesting relationships between dancers. You need to be have ideas about themes, issues, ideas etc. that you want to communicate through dance.
Dance appreciation skills:
The best dancer is a thinking dancer someone who can talk about dance intelligently using the right vocabulary, someone who is keen to watch their own dance and that of others including professional dance works and be able to comment on the work deciding what makes it successful.
Personal skills:
Good teamwork skills, the ability to cooperate, good communication skills, perseverance, patience and sensitivity. A good dancer should be able to reflect honestly on their work responding to feedback and wanting to always learn and improve.

Now Dance can be physically demanding, in what shape do you need to be in to do well?

Dancers are disciplined athletes in their own right. You do need to be physically fit and be able to sustain long hours both training and creating in the studio on top of performing and touring. Stamina and high energy levels are vital.

What are the career opportunities like in this country and around the world for people who want to make a career in Dance?

There are an increasing number of opportunities for people to have a lifetime career in dance although not usually working as a performer until they retire! These include working as a dancer, choreographer, dance critic, dance notator, teacher (in dance schools, state schools, higher education, dance companies, community classes), community dance artist, freelance dance artist, set/costume/lighting designer, dance film maker, dance physiotherapist, dance movement therapist, dance photographer, dance / arts officer, management of dance companies. For further information visit the careers page on the NDTA website www.ndta.org.uk and the Youth Dance England website www.yde.org.uk

If you do want to make career out of it how do you go about getting noticed by the big companies do you have to go to special schools, auditions etc?

It is best to audition and go to a specialist dance school. Some schools offer training from 11 and some offer full-time training from 16. You will work some of the leading dance people in their field and learn a great deal. Specialist dance schools have more links with the professional world of dance so it is easier sometimes to get noticed. You can also take dance as a subject at degree level – either in a University – sometimes as single subject but also combined with another subject. You can find more information by visiting the UCAS website www.ucas.ac.ukand putting in a search by subject. Visit the careers page of the NDTA website www.ndta.org.uk for more information. You can also apply to do a degree course at a conservatoire – see below.

Are there any top schools, organisations, companies that young people should be looking out for as the best places to learn Dance?

There are several schools in the country offering a very high level of professional dance training as part of a degree course. Many of the graduates from these courses go into leading professional dance companies in the UK and Europe. For further information go to www.cdd.ac.uk – the website of the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama or www.laban.org (Trinity Laban).

If you want to make it to the top what age should you start at?

The more time you have to get trained technically the better. Often dancers say they started when they were two! It depends which genre you want to specialise in most ballet dancers start when they are under five but contemporary dancers often start later. As soon as you are interested – get as involved as you can.

And finally what advice would you give anyone wanting to take up Dance?

Be aware that the world of dance is a competitive one – be prepared for setbacks. Your general education is as important as your dance education – you need a very wide range of skills to make a lifetime career or even a short one! Look around to find the classes and training opportunities that are right for you. You must be disciplined, committed, prepared to work hard and passionate!