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Chance to dance

Alison Allen Alison Allen | 10:03 UK time, Thursday, 24 February 2011

With programmes such as “Strictly come dancing” and “So you think you can dance”, once again dance is back in the public domain. Dance is on the agenda for every PE department both at primary and secondary school. And Anne Widdecombre commented recently that ballroom dancing should be promoted in schools as well, not just on TV.

BBC School Report tells of how students at one school, Shoreditch Technology College, have been receiving ballroom dancing lessons from dancers at the Walton Clubmoor Community Centre in exchange for sharing their internet skills.

Dance has so many benefits. The obvious one is that it keeps you fit, makes you more aware of your body, is creative and fun. You don’t have to make it your life’s ambition. Like in any sport, it causes your body to release endorphins which stimulate the brain, so it helps with study too.

Students will learn about core stability and the use of their muscles. By working on this, they will be able to cope much better with their muscle weakness (which is caused by their bones growing before their muscles). As they get older, they will become far more aware of their posture too and it also promotes good discipline. 

Even if your child does not keep going with dance, it gives them a very good grounding for any physical activity, as I discovered with my own two children - now teenagers. My son has had comments on his good footwork both in tennis and rugby, which was the result of having done ballet for several years. Dance has also helped my daughter with her gymnastics. In fact, all professional gymnasts have to do ballet to help with muscle tone.

Two graceful ballet dancers performing against black background @ Yuri Arcurs - fotolia.com

The Royal Ballet has an education department which runs outreach programmes. A few years ago, they launched one called Chance To Dance which aims to make dance more accessible. They select children who they feel show promise and give them an opportunity to take dance lessons free of charge and currently work with 20 London schools. Some of these children have gone on to have a career in dance and have even been invited to join the Royal Ballet School and company.

Although girls still dominate in the world of dance, over the last few years I have noticed more boys getting involved in the wake of “Billy Elliot” hitting the West End.  Now in one of the classes I teach, I actually have more boys than girls. The challenge for me as a dance specialist is to channel their energy through dance and enhance the curriculum in a creative way.

Recently the whole exam structure has changed so that dance is now under the education banner. More and more secondary schools are offering “Dance” as a GCSE option. For schools where dance is high on the agenda,  they will often bring in specialist dance teachers and will also ask educational dance companies to come in and perform or give workshops. 

Many schools offer free after-school clubs in dance. Some of these take the form of taster sessions in different forms of dance, such as street dance, lindy hopping, or line dancing. The DanceVote 2010 has been a key player in achieving better funding for youth dance – in 2008 an extra £5.5 million was pledged for dance in the UK. Grade six in ballet and other types of dance qualifies applicants for extra points on UCAS (University and Colleges Admissions Service) forms and CV’s.

If your child is interested in dance lessons, you can search for classes in your area on the internet or ask other parents for recommendations. Another place to look is the Council for Dance Education and Training. As a dance teacher, I believe that whether I am teaching beginners or more advanced students, the most important thing I can offer them is to nurture and inspire them.

Alison Allen runs a ballet school in South London. 

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