Vortrag von Tamara McLorg beim Laboratorium
28. August 2006, Ganztagsschule St. Pauli, Hamburg

The History of Community Dance in the UK
A talk by Tamara McLorg
Transcription: Annette Huber, Hamburg

I'm now going to talk a little bit about the history of Community Dance in the UK, and hopefully, you can ask us some questions. I will keep it quite brief, not too many details, and not to be too academic. Just before I start to talk about the history of Community Dance, I would like to give you a little brief history of Contemporary Dance in the UK, because it is still quite new for us as well.
It was really only in the early 1960s that this concept of contemporary dance arrived. We had Hilde Holger, Laban, as you've heard already throughout this conference, and then in the late '60s, we had a company called Ballet Rambert that was originally started by Marie Rambert, who was a Polish artist and dancer. And in the middle of the late '60s, they changed from a ballet company into what was called a "modern" company.

Approximately around the same time, we had someone called Robin Howard, who had seen Martha Graham performing when she came to London, he thought her work was absolutely extraordinary, and decided that he wanted to support the idea of contemporary dance in the UK and to introduce her technique and concpets. So, together with Martha Graham, a plan was conceived.
Robin – who was a very very very rich man, he was a Lord, actually! – sent dancers to the USA, to train in the Martha Graham technique. Then they came back as teachers and performers. Also, Martha Graham arranged for some of her dancers to come to the UK. In 1969 the first school and building officially concentrating on Contemporary Dance was born.

This building was named The Place and housed The London School of Contemporary Dance. Before that date they did have a little studio in the back of Oxford Street. One of the things that came out of the London School of Contemporary Dance and the philosophy of the London Contemporary Dance Theatre was the educational work. So, in collaboration with Robert Cohan, who was the Artistic Director of The London Contemporary Dance Theatre, and Mr. Howard, the concept of developing the idea of lecture-demonstration groups was planned and initiated to go out into educational establishments, to introduce and educate people the Graham technique – contemporary dance according to the Gospel of Martha Graham! I was one of those students in those early days and I went to the Place in 1969 – I was very young! – and as a student, we were also initiated into that role of working and philosophy. In those days, it wasn't called Community Dance.

It was about going out and working with people. It didn't have a title or I personally was no aware of any titles. The concept, in the sense that we now know, wasn't there. But even in 1972, as I said yesterday, I was working with young children. In the mid 70's The Arts Council of Great Britain needed to create audience for the contemporary dance movement. Following the funding policies many of the students from the London School of Contemporary Dance, Laban and the Rambert School and other dance institutions started to go out into the regions creating small companies.

Some of the main companies that existed and did very good work were Emma Dance Company in the East Midlands, Cycles in the West Midlands, the English Dance Theatre up in Darlington, in the North of England, East Anglia Dance Theatre, and Spiral in Liverpool... we also had the Welsh Dance Theatre that was based in Cardiff and Basic Space that was based up in Edinburgh, Scotland. But what all these companies had in common was that they did educational work. The orginal idea of the educational work was to actually build audiences. They didn't have that concept of "Oh, the community want to perform!" - it was: "We want everybody to come and see us performing!"

So the question was: How do we bring the audiences in, so we're not just four to five people, a sheep and a dog? [giggles in audience]. How do we perform to more people? Go out, do workshops with them, explain the work, and then hopefully, they would come to see our wonderful and extraordinary performances. Unfortunately, what happened was: We began to discover that they weren't particularly interested in seeing us ­ they wanted to do it themselves! So the participants actually also wanted to be dancers. For instance, I was a dancer with the Emma Dance Company, and we had a rota.

Every Monday night, we would go to the main towns around the East Midland, and teach classes. And then we began to do more creative work with them. But we still weren't into that place where we invited them to perform with us. It was like: "Come and see us! Come and see us!" Bit by bit, we began to realize that, actually, these people wanted to dance. Adults, who had been dying to, since they were little children... who said "I wanted to dance but my parents wouldn't let me!"... and suddenly, they had the opportunity to dance, there was a place that this could happen. In the late '70s, also at the same time... so, in the early '70s we had these companies in the regions, which were fantastic, because they were all repertoire companies – I'm slightly going off-kilter here! – but it was fantastic because it was a strong breeding ground for young choreographers like myself, like Mr. Maldoom, to actually learn our craft and skills. We went from company to company to company, working, creating, choreographying. Now, the trend tends to be that the choreographer has a their own company and just develop their on their work, style and ideas. In the late '70s, we had the initiation of Youth Dance festivals.

The first one was held in Birmingham with the philosophy of bringing young people together who had an interest in dance from all over the UK. I'd just like to mention two extraordinary people from that time within our history with whom I came into contact and found inspiring. The first is Marie McClusky who had the vision of supporting artists. And till today she's still doing supporting artists. She's an extraordinary woman, lives in Swindon, and is Director of Swindon Dance, one of the National Dance Agencies. Another extraordinary woman was Nadine Senoir, who was a teacher with the educational system, and taught at Harehills Middle School in Leeds.

To see her youth group was something so extraordinary! She would just ask any professional dancer that was in the area to come and work with her pupils. Both of them have supported young dancers and choreographers from their area, whom have become extraordinary dancers and choreographers and have contributed to the profession – Although that's not the reason why we do Community Dance... Those two women were quite amazing! In 1976 the first Community Dance posts were appointed in Cardiff, Molly Kenny, Swindon, Marie McClusky and Cheshire, Veronica Lewis. Slowly, the first two Animateurs became employed in the UK.

Royston Maldoom, with the Fife Community Movement was appointed in 1980. These appointments were very, very important, because it changed completely how we began to view what we were doing in the community. Unfortunately, we began to lose regional companies. In their place, we had Dance Animateurs. In hindsight I feel this was a shame and a loss. The Dance Animateur, however, began to view the concept of working with the community from a different perspective and would bring in the professional artists and companies that were appropriate for their community. I was very involved with the Fife Movement in Scotland and it was interesting for me to see how Royston worked in the very early days. He went in as a choreographer and the movement was extraordinary: it just spread throughout Scotland! Now the whole movement, the Dance Animateur, has developed, and is now the largest industry in dance in the UK – of people being employed in dance. I'd like to mention someone else, someone called Wolfgang Stange, who is actually German, and was a student at the London School of Contemporary Dance but who also worked with Hilde Holger. He started teaching integrated classes in 1974.

This was very, very new. If any of you ever get the opportunity to hear Wolfgang speak, please go! He is an inspiring man. In 1980 he set up the first integrated company called Amici. The National Youth festivals carried on until about the beginning of the '80s and then slowly died out. But in 1986, Royston and I collaborated and we set up the first Scottish Youth Dance festival which was the first festival in the UK that was integrated ­ for dancers who were abled or non-abled dancers and also people with learning challenges. It was a very successful festival that still carries on today but in a completely different format. In 1986, the Foundation of Community Dance was established, and I think this is what may interest you the most, because I think this is something that would be worth thinking about and contemplating. To quote from some of their literature: "It is the industry-led body for Community Dance, working for the development of dance for all. It is at the centre of the national network of Community Dance.

The Foundation of Community Dance represents the diversity of dance in the UK. Established in 1986, by dance artists, to raise the profile and be the national voice for Community Dance, we work for the development of dance for all. We campaign, take action, and represent the concerns, interests and practice of Community Dance at all levels, acting as a catalyst for the development of partnerships between practicioners, funders and communities." They also have a magazine ­ I've brought some, if anybody wants to have a look at them – called "Animated". It is a quarterly magazine and it is written by the practicioners. So every three or four months, you get the magazine if you join the Foundation of Community Dance. It only costs £ 20 a year, and I think £ 15 if you are a student, and you get lots of information of what is happening. They also have a web site, www.communitydance.org.uk .

The Foundation gives information about funding. They also give information on health and safety, the Disability Discrimination Act (I don't know if you have one in Germany, but I have a copy here); the Criminal Records Bureau Disclosure (anybody working with young people in the UK these days has to go through this), and Public Liability insurance, pay issues... so, you can contact them and have all this information and advice passed to you. They are a voice for Community Dance workers for anybody working in the community. They keep you totally up to date with what is happening. They also look after an organisation called "potential" which is a foundation dedicated to dance and disabled people.

Also, if you are a member, every month they will e-mail you all jobs that are available, or even if somebody is looking for a teacher for a Saturday morning. This happened through networking and through artists and community workers getting together and having a powerful voice. They also lobby for this area of work politically and with the government. Community Dance has also now entered the academic world.

You can now actually take degrees and come out with a degree of Community Dance. Laban has a very good degree, and so does Middlesex University. We have a Bachelor of Arts degree: Young dancers can come and they can specialize in Community Dance. We don't have many students taking this option ­ because young dancers want to dance! What's the community? But at Middlesex all students in their first year have to take a module that is called Community Dance. This is to give the student an awareness and knowledge of this area of work. In the second year, we look at the craft, skills and philosophy of choreographing within a Community Dance context. And in the third year, they actually go out into the community. For instance, we might do a project where we would go into a primary school where we do a performance, and we maybe take issues, for instance, issues at the moment are nutrition and health.

So the piece would be based on that work in the school and then the students do workshops with the young people. Or we go into homes for the elderly and we make work and then we go in and they meet the elderly. This is quite difficult, very often very difficult for our students, because our society... I don't know what it's like here in Germany...but in our society, older and frail people are very often locked away in homes. "Oh, they're old. Put them in a home, shut the door and forget about them!" And I found that many of our students are frightened to meet older people, which I think is so sad.

Once they get in, they realize there's nothing to be frightened about. So I think maybe our society needs to look at how we are working with older people, how we relate to them, and I think there could be more generational work, with young people and older people. Senior citizens have so much to offer ­ and on the other hand, the older people love being with younger people! The other area that I find interesting from an academic point of view is that, also, we are educating new writers. That is the topic that came up a little bit yesterday. We are educating the new writers to look at different aesthetics.

How are we looking at dance? So maybe, we'll have writers that can go and review a community project and feel they are capable of writing about it with knowledge. Or they can go and watch a culturally diverse programme and write about it with knowledge and with the history of it. That area I think is really exciting and I hope we'll develop this more academically. What most young dancers don't realize (in the UK, anyway), is that at some point, they will be doing community work. They will be doing it! End of story! They will be teaching at some point. They will end up working with an older group. They will end up working with sick children. So to have that knowledge is so important. There is a debate going on at present, and I have the magazine here,: "Should we change the title of Community Dance, and call it something else?" ­ It's not been resolved, but the magazine is here with different people's opinions and ideas. it will be quite interesting to see what the final outcome will be. But that's where we are at the moment in the UK, having that debate: "Should it be Community Dance or should it not?"

For me, personally, I think the things that are really important are: quality. If we are working with people in the community, we have to take them the best, not second best. If we are choreographing, it has to be the best. And I think: If you are a community worker, you have to know your limitations. You have to know what you are good at and, maybe, what you are not so good at, and bring in the people that can take over the bits that you are not so good at. You must ­ and I really believe this ­ you have to give the community the best of the best. Dance is happening in all sorts of venues with the community ­ site specific.

For instance: I did a project on a motorway – never again! – with 170 people. It can happen in a church, it can happen in hospitals, it can happen in schools, in swimming pools... it doesn't have to be in the theatre. Like today, the wonderful video we saw of the football: it can happen anywhere. The only thing that stops you is your own vision. I feel it's quite important to look at dance – I don't know what it is like here, but we tend to look at dance in a linear way [indicates vertical, top-to bottom positions]: Here is the ballet, the élite, the best, the wonderful and where the funding goes; then we sort of seem to have the middle venues, middle-scale dance companies; then we have the smaller companies; and then, somewhere here at the bottom, we have Community Dance. And I think if we think of it in that way, we will always be in this place! So I think it would be quite good if we started thinking of it in this way [indicates horizontal positions]: Here we have ballet and here we have middle scale, here we have Community Dance ­ we are all on the same line! We are all doing work, we are all doing dance, we are all in the dance community but just maybe decided to do it in a slightly different way. It would be lovely if we can get rid of the élitism.

The other thing ­ again, this is my own personal opinion ­ I think it would be wonderful for me, and I think we will achieve something, when we got rid of the labels. That we're not saying: "I'm working with someone with disabilities" or "I'm working with a group of immigrants" or "I'm working with...". No! – "I'm working with a group of people!" Because as long as we have those labels, we are still categorizing. I would like to take away those labels. We are all human beings, we all love, we all cry, we all get angry, we all hate, we all want to have a bit of sex sometimes ­ and I think if we would get rid of those labels... and just really one last thing I just wanted to tell you: When I was much younger, my mother ­ we were in a park ­ she picked up a little acorn. She picked up the acorn, she put it in my hand and she said: "Remember – one small thought or vision can grow into something large and amazing and last for a very very long time!" ­ And I think in a way you are in that place. That you are very lucky that if you want to, now, take forward the idea of Community Dance, is to take that vision and you can make it grow here in a really positive way. Thank you!