News: Private Members' Debate on dance

Thursday 13 October 2011

Lauren Cuthbertson, Pat Glass MP, Ed Watson & Sir Gerald Kaufman MP

Representatives of the dance profession, including Royal Ballet Principals Lauren Cuthbertson and Edward Watson and Director of Dance UK Caroline Miller, were at Westminster Hall this week (Tues 11 Oct) to see a Private Members’ debate on the Education System and Dance. It was led by Frank Doran, Labour MP for Aberdeen North, who co-founded the All Party Parliamentary Dance Group five years ago with Sir Gerald Kaufman MP to raise the profile of dance in parliament. He says: “Studies have shown that dance can make a huge difference to a child’s overall performance in school. Dance as a subject is unique because it contributes to both the artistic education and physical activity offers in schools, whilst helping children develop skills to help them communicate better, work as a team member, analyse further and imagine more.”

He called the debate in response to comments made the by Universities Minister David Willetts MP. In August, just as this year’s A Level results were being announced he said he believed that ‘soft’ subjects such as A-level Dance should be worth less points for students applying to attend university. There was a strong response from dance professionals, led by Dance UK, concerned that the position of dance in education is under serious threat. The Russell Group Universities Guide which advises students making decisions about post 16 subject choices said: “Generally speaking, students who take one ‘soft’ subject as part of a wider portfolio of subjects do not experience any problems applying to a Russell Group University.”

Nick Gibb MP, the Minister for Schools and Conservative MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton responded on behalf of the government. He began by recognising that dance is very important to the cultural life of the country and has something to offer people of all ages. He went on to say: “The Government does believe that every child should experience a wide variety of cultural experience, including Dance…Dance does have an important place in schools, and I’m confident that it will continue to play an important role in schools.” The Minister also praised the Music and Dance Scheme and the Dance and Drama Awards which help the most exceptionally talented students study for professional careers in dance.

In response to further questioning from Frank Doran about David Willett’s comments about the status of Dance A-Level, the Minister said the concern was that mistakes were made in the combination of subjects studied by able young people from poorer backgrounds, narrowing their range of options for university or beyond. Dance A-level might be right for a student who wants to study an arts subject at university, but it may not be right for a student seeking to study a science degree.

Other MPs who spoke during the debate on behalf of dance included Gordon Banks MP, (Labour, Ochil and Perthshire), Nicholas Dakin MP, (Labour, Scunthorpe), Pat Glass MP (Labour, North West Durham. Sir Gerald Kaufman MP, (Labour, Manchester Gorton) Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Dance Group also attended the session.

Royal Ballet Principal Edward Watson was born in Bromley, brought up in Dartford and attended the Royal Ballet School. He said: “I’m attending the debate today because I believe that all young people should get the opportunity to take part in dance at school. I benefitted from the best training and I’m so grateful. I want all those children who have a talent for dance to get the chance to receive high quality dance training, no matter what their financial background. I’m here to support the future generations of great British dancers.”

Further support for the study of dance in schools from within the government came from Culture Minister Ed Vaizey recently. Speaking at a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party Conference he told the Guardian’s Charlotte Higgins: “For anyone studying dance, it takes exactly the same kind of discipline that it takes to study any other arts or humanities subject and I think those who think people studying dance are simply wafting around a room are slightly misguided.”
__Read more in the Guardian, 5 Oct 2011

Watch the debate

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