von Tamara McLorg beim Laboratorium
CAN DO CAN DANCE
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!