Dance celebrates its role in Olympics ceremonies whilst dance leaders respond to David Cameron's comments

Date Thu 23 August 2012
Filed under: DanceUK News

Dancers celebrate Team GB’s Olympic success & role of dance in Olympic ceremonies

Ten days after the Olympics closed and the nation is gearing up again for the Paralympics, British dancers and dance professionals have been celebrating Team GB’s outstanding success and flooding social networking sites with excited messages from the thousands of professional and amateur dancers who took part in the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies.

Dance UK member Temujin Gill who along with choreographers Kenrick H20 Sandy and Akram Khan were part of the creative team for the opening ceremony says:

"The honour of being invited by Danny Boyle to choreograph a major segment of the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, Swing Out Sister - aka 'second to the right, and straight on till morning' - has gifted both Sunanda Biswas (co-choreographer) and I with the most challenging, memorable and moving of experiences of our lives.

Working so intensively with such a diverse collection of adult and child volunteers as well as professional dancers - from breakers to tappers, musical theatre and lindy hoppers - has been both humbling and inspirational and I believe I can confidently say, that in coming through this remarkable journey with so many twists and turns, we have all discovered a wealth of personal strength and the deepest respect for our fellow artists and performers - a big up to British dancers, young and old"

Jenny Crane joined many dancers who posted on Dance UK’s facebook page saying:
“Danced in the opening ceremony for the NHS. Best experience of my life.”

Nicholas Keegan who trained at Northern School of Contemporary Dance wrote:
“I was in the opening ceremony dancing with Akram Khan - Abide With Me section. A truly unique experience - one to tell the grand kids!”

Both Olympic ceremonies heavily featured dance, Akram Khan gave a moving performance and Dance UK supporter Darcey Bussell came out of retirement to perform as a flaming phoenix to close London 2012. She danced with 200 ballet dancers from the Royal Ballet, English National Ballet and Northern Ballet School.

Dance leaders and renowned choreographers express disappointment at Prime Minister’s comments about dance in schools:

However, the industry’s celebrations were tainted on Friday 10 August by comments by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, about dance as part of physical activity for school children. His remarks were made in a series of media interviews defending the scrapping of targets for sports in schools and announcing the government’s intention to prioritise competitive sports in primary education. The Prime Minister said: “I see it with my own children… the two hours that is laid down is often met through sort of Indian dancing classes. Now, I’ve got nothing against Indian dancing classes but that’s not really sport”.

Dance and sports science professionals who work closely together, especially via Dance UK’s work to improve dancers’ health, responded with dismay to these comments. An over-arching theme which emerged was an agreement with the prime-minister that dance is not sport, but that dance still has a valuable contribution to play in physical education for school children. It should not be “sport pitted against dance”.

Farooq Chaudhry, Chair of Dance UK and Producer Akram Khan Company said:

“In this moment of national euphoria we as a nation are enjoying and celebrating that through commitment, well targeted investment and passion we have extended ourselves beyond our wildest imagination. But as we saw over the last two weeks details matter. So I was concerned when David Cameron was unable to grasp that dancing, from whatever cultural context it's delivered in school education programmes does not educate the body physically in the same way sports does. Yes, it may not be competitive, but it certainly offers participants the opportunity to develop their physical intelligence in extraordinary ways.

Many times I heard over the past fortnight comments that whenever a sportsperson executed their physical discipline with consummate ease and effortless beauty they were compared to dancers. They naturally made the association. After all we have achieved we will lose out if we end up being confronted with either/or scenarios when it’s a choice between dance and sports. They are from the same family and should be afforded the same respect and appreciation. I believe the way forward is for our leaders to be smarter, more imaginative and to see links where they are not so immediately obvious. This way we win as many invisible gold medals as visible ones!”

Matthew Wyon PhD CSCS, Professor in Dance Science, School of Sport Performing Arts and Leisure, University of Wolverhampton: “I live and work in both worlds (dance and sport). Very rarely do children get exposed to proper sports within schools within the curriculum especially at primary level. The success we have seen at the Olympics is mainly due to parents taking their children to after school clubs and events to get this exposure and training.
So in fact this is an area that both sport and dance can work together to get changes implemented to move away from general “exercise” and back to recognising that children should be exposed to dance and sport taught by experts, not generalists. In all instances we don’t know what talent we are missing because of this lack of exposure.”

Arlene Phillips, choreographer and television presenter
“I was shocked to read David Cameron's ill informed and damaging comments on why he cut two hours a week of sport for pupils, because too many schools were fulfilling the time with activities like Indian Dancing. I would invite David Cameron to come into a studio with me and take one hour of dance to see what it does for mind, body and spirit. As a patron of Youth Dance England, I have seen young people from all over the country, many who struggle with academic subjects and have poor self esteem begin living their lives through dance, aspiring to be physically fitter, more confident and able to face the challenges they experience every day.

Many students enjoy taking part in sport, but having a child who is always last or always at the back and doesn't achieve medal position is not a positive experience. Dance, which is about joining together, helps inspire students on a daily basis. The number of people taking part in dance today is growing and is akin to that of football. The government needs to promote dance as both an art and physical form, just as it needs to encourage sports for our future Olympians, they are not one and the same, but they both ultimately have the same effect on the child that takes part in them.”

Mira Kaushik, Director of acclaimed South Asian dance organisation Akademi, which was performing in Westminster Hall as part of Arts in Parliament the night the Mr Cameron’s comments were made said:

“David Cameron is right, Indian dance is not a sport. While dance has significant health and social benefits, it should not be part of the sport curriculum. His comments highlight a major problem in the current curriculum that classes dance as sport. This does a disservice to both sport and dance and needs to be addressed by the Coalition. Dance must be recognised as an art form like art and drama and should be included as part of a well rounded arts education to inspire the artists of the future.

“We have trained some of the foremost dancers in the UK including Akram Khan, who performed in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Dance can help young people reach their potential and achieve greatness, but it is not a sport.”

Shobana Jeyasingh, Artistic Director Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company:
“We are all proud of the brilliant achievements of British sportsmen and women and the government should do all possible to make sure that every school child has the opportunity to discover and enjoy sport. Dance and sport are not in competition with each other. Neither is dance a poor substitute for sport which is what Mr Cameron's comments seem to suggest. Dance, (Indian or otherwise), like sport trains the body , increases its potential for physical intelligence, accuracy, strength, speed, alignment and develops kinaesthetic awareness. There is style in sport just as there is athleticism in dance.

If Indian dance, (is Mr Cameron aware that this term covers a whole range of movement from filmy Bollywood to classical Bharatha Natyam? Would he use such a catch-all phrase, "English dance" to cover both Ballet and Morris dancing?), is being chosen by students in their sports hour, lets celebrate the fact at least they are doing something that is cardiovascular and physically stimulating. Perhaps the answer is to have a dance target for schools so that they do not have to choose between Basketball and Bhangra.”

Charlotte Vincent, choreographer and artistic director, Vincent Dance Theatre.
“Dance is one of the most challenging physical activities a child can learn. Dance encourages an intelligent approach to physicality. Dance teaches respect for the body and all of its physical possibilities. Dance is as competitive as sport, where only the fittest, strongest, most strategic thinking, most diligent practitioners survive. Dancers are athletes of the highest calibre. So, Dear Prime Minister, please do not dismiss dance. And in the spirit of the multi-culturalism that has shone through the 2012 Olympics with such beauty, do not dismiss Indian Dance.”

Mark Baldwin, Artistic Director Rambert Dance Company responded:
“Indian dance is one of the greatest of human achievements; combining extreme co ordination, strictness of pulse and drama, tight athleticism and cultural sensitivity. It is a shame to have its pedagogical reputation maligned. I would like to ask our Prime Minister to look closer.”

Ann Sholem, Artistic Director, National Dance Company Wales
Cwmni Dawns Cenedlaethol Cymru

“Dance is physical, it’s also creative – it’s an art form not a sport. Fitness is the by-product of a good dance education which also teaches musicality, imagination and expression. We don’t differentiate sports saying young people must be athletes not swimmers, cyclists not footballers; we give them choice and opportunity. Dance, in all its forms can inspire youngsters to be physical where sport leaves them disinterested; dance must play an essential part in the curriculum teaching discipline, creativity and promoting health.”

Kate Prince, Dance UK Board member and Artistic Director of ZooNation:
"I was shocked to read David Cameron’s comments. Dance is just as valuable as sport, and both dance and sport share a long list of the same benefits. In fact, our work with ZooNation Dance Academy has shown that in many cases dance is the best way to engage kids who would otherwise shy away from any sports activity altogether. It is simply not right to dismiss dance from a conversation about the fitness and physical activity of our young people. Isn't it better to engage young people in a physical activity they actually love, than them not doing anything at all? Hip Hop dance classes particularly can be taken by people of any shape or size and it really helps getting young people who are body conscious to start exercising."

Stine Nilsen, Co-Artistic Director, Candoco Dance Company
"Through all our work with disabled and non-disabled young people in schools and beyond, we see the benefits of dance to get people moving. Physical boundaries are pushed beyond everyday movement, inspiring not only health benefits but also improved self awareness, self-confidence and increased ability for people to express themselves in a non- competitive way. We agree that dance is not sport, but believe that both may have a positive influence on learning and achieving for disabled and non-disabled people of all ages."

Janet Smith, Principal, Northern School of Contemporary Dance
“I agree dance is not a sport. It's a big pity that dance is still not established as a discrete arts subject in the way that literature, music and visual art have owned their place in the UK's state school system for so long. If you're a child that's a gifted writer or musician, you can discover it at school. Why can't our gifted dancers find their fulfilment in school?

But this is not the point here. Dancers are elite athletes. Dance is used in training sports professionals. It builds co-ordination, strength and flexibility and - for example ice skaters (like our gold medallists Torville and Dean), gymnasts and footballers. There are several examples of fitness competitions between city football teams and dance companies being won by the dancers.”

Etta Murfitt, Dance UK Board member
Associate Director Matthew Bourne’s New Adventure

“Dance in all its forms enhances a community - it gives participants health benefits , lifts the spirits and gets people working together in harmony - how can that not be important in schools or in communities ? Dance is important to every culture and feeds us socially and connects us all – let’s celebrate it rather than belittle it! Where would the opening Olympic ceremony have been if all those professional, volunteers and child dancers had not performed - it would have been boring and uninspiring!”

Rosie Kay, Artistic Director of Rosie Kay Dance Company
"The Prime Minister has really missed the point here - dance and sport are not the same thing and should not be judged as so. There are considerable and proven health benefits to dance, improving, fitness, flexibility, co-ordination and balance as well as mental health benefits and social all round well being. Dance has particular benefits for young teenage women who tend to be less engaged in traditional PE. However, dance is an art form, not a competitive sport and needs to be in the curriculum as part of the arts not part of Physical Education. I hope this isn't an art or sport debate - we need to invest in the future of all our young people and not give them an “either / or” option, whether they chose to be an athlete, a performer or just enjoy participation and appreciation in both. The opening ceremony involved a huge amount of dance - including dancing NHS workers and the celebrated choreographer Akram Khan, and our art from should be celebrated as bringing people together and giving a positive message in a really intelligent, joyful manner. While most of the UK is celebrating our diversity, multiculturalism and Olympic success, it seems a pity to focus on a perceived negative."

For further information please contact Caroline Miller, Director of Dance UK, 020 7713 0730 / 07980 675137