Feature: Step into Dance

Tuesday 25 May 2010 by Sarah Smith

In a dance studio at Townley Grammar School, 15 girls from years 9 and 10 are taking a quick breather from rehearsal. During their well-earned water break, the teenaged girls are as relaxed and chatty as one would expect; but when it’s time to get back to work, the mood changes to one of quiet focus. The girls are working with dance artist Jo Meredith as part of the Step Into Dance programme run by the Royal Academy of Dance and the Jack Petchey Foundation, a programme which aims to widen participation in dance at schools in London. Step Into Dance currently runs in 13 boroughs and I went to visit Bexley in South East London.

The Townley students’ technically challenging contemporary dance piece requires discipline and concentration. It’s very clear that, despite the work involved, the girls are also clearly enjoying the piece and looking forward to performing at the borough event. Head of Dance at the school Caroline Owen couldn’t be more pleased with their work, *“It’s really fantastic for them to be involved in Step Into Dance and I think it benefits them in so many different ways.”*
**_Caroline’s job is to oversee the sessions, deal with administration and make sure the girls get to rehearsal on time. _*\“We wanted to give the children access to really high quality choreography that they wouldn’t necessarily get in the school curriculum, and really open their eyes to choreography and teamwork,”* _she says. Caroline feels that working with Jo has been especially good for the girls taking part in the project, _*“It’s nice for them to have teachers from outside of the school who will work with them in a different way than we do, and they can get a really well-rounded and rich dance experience.”*
_**_St Catherines Photo: Zoe Troughton
Step Into Dance runs regular performance events for participants, and employsdance artists with an interest in choreography as well as teaching. Dance tutor Jo Meredith became involved with Step Into Dance after training with Programme Leader and Artistic Coordinator, Sue Goodman at the London Studio Centre. *\“I always like seeing how they interact with the music,”_says Jo, _“I’m using Beethoven for this group and it’s really interesting to see how the different groups relate to the music and seeing how much they pick up just from listening.\”*

Jo’s piece for the Townley group is loosely based on the narrative of *Romeo and Juliet* _and looks at the idea of opposition and conflict. _*“Daniel Barenboim is the pianist and he set up the Israeli-Palestinian orchestra, and that’s what gave me the idea of having this divide – an Israeli next to a Palestinian. It’s abstract in its form, but the overall narrative is this one of conflict.”*

The piece was one of nine shown at the Bexley Borough Event hosted at Townley Grammer on 6 May. The borough event reveals the great variety of work inspired by the Step Into Dance programme – there are jazzy turns from St Catherine’s RC Girls and a very sparkly Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar; street styles from The Howbury Centre and Beth’s Grammar School and contemporary pieces from Townley Grammar Junior and Senior groups and Trinity School.

Ravenswood Boys performed a physically daring piece to the song Bang Bang, fearlessly throwing each other around the stage; Trinity brought undulating marine ripples; and Townley Grammar Juniors danced a beautiful study of circles and extensions based on Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man.A selection of youth dance groups from all 13 boroughs will be performing at Sadler’s Wells on Sunday 11 July at the Step Live! celebration showcase.

Ravenswood Photo: Zoe Troughton

St Columbas Photo: Zoe Troughton

Townley Grammar Photo: Zoe Troughton

What have the students enjoyed most about the project? *\“Everything, really!”* _says Hannah, a Y9 student at Townley Grammar. “I’ve especially enjoyed working with Jo,”/strong> says Holly, another Y9 at the school, adding: _*\“I’ve enjoyed working with new people in different years and learning more contemporary dance, more styles and how to develop your moves.\”*

Caroline Owen says she wouldn’t hesitate to recommend schools get involved in the programme._ “I think it’s unbelievable value for money, I would encourage all schools to do it and allow people to be able to participate in a fantastic event,” she says. A smiling Hannah and Holly add, _*“We love it!”*

Gifted and Talented **Step Into Dance also run a Girfted and Talented programme: Step Company. Young dancers who are successful at this year’s audition willl have the opportunity to work with dancers from Jasmin Vardimon Company, who will choreograph a brand new piece on the company, to be performed in celebration of the 10th Anniversary of the Jack Petchey Foundation.

Step LIVE! 2010
This year’s event will take place on Sunday 11 July from 4pm at Sadler’s Wells, as part of Big Dance week and will feature performances and foyer events including workshops in body percussion and Salsa! Visit the website for more details and to book tickets.


Report by Lise Smith
May 2010

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