Youth Dance England’s Ambassador programme offers young people the chance to satisfy their passion for dance as well as develop valuable career skills, says Claire Somerville.
In 2008 Youth Dance England (YDE) began a Young Dance Entrepreneurs scheme for 16 to 19 year olds to develop their skills and knowledge of how to work in the wider cultural sector. While there was a range of opportunities for young people to develop their skills in dance inside and outside school, there was little to develop the skills and experience that would be essential in any future career, not just a dance-based one. The scheme involved 12 young people in a four-day residential course, one-to-one mentoring and work placements. This was an intensive project with a limited number of places, so we created a more flexible model which has become the National Young Dance Ambassador programme. Over 100 young people have participated to date.
The participants enjoy making contact with other young people from across the country and leave the project with a network that can support them
Many of the young people are studying only one arts-based A level and see a value in harnessing their passion for dance in practical and influential ways beyond the stage. They want more people to get involved in dance activities in their local area and know more about the work that YDE does nationally. A typical year starts in the autumn with an induction day. We have had support from Barclays for the past two years and have held meetings in their headquarters and involved their staff who have presented on topics such as making activities accessible to disabled people. The ambassadors then work in their own communities to develop projects and support existing activities. For example, one of our ambassadors performed in the Leeds West Indian Carnival last year. As a contemporary dance student she expanded her dance skills by learning Afro-Caribbean dance styles and then worked with a costume designer to design and make the carnival costumes for herself and her group. She came away with the prize for Best Troupe. Other community-based work has included designing promotional materials for a local dance school, directing a school musical, leading the active evaluation sessions at a regional dance event, presenting a county dance platform and teaching younger children to dance.
These activities are done independently from YDE, but we remain in regular contact with them through email, Facebook, phone and text. In the spring they play a key role at regional youth dance platforms where they network with the staff, VIPs and participants, sometimes introducing the performance from the stage and often becoming a member of the panel which selects the groups for the national U.Dance Festival. We then run a second training day that focuses on topics the ambassadors suggest, usually project management, public speaking and networking skills. Interestingly, arts funding is almost never suggested. Many of them seem unaware of how work gets funded, so we introduce them to it through project management training.
The year culminates with the ambassadors working in small groups on discrete projects that sit within our broader programmes. This year there are four groups: a communications team developing social media campaigns; a film-making group making a film about their year as ambassadors; a group producing a dance performance or installation at Theatre Royal Plymouth; and a group leading on the U.Dance 2015 mass dance project.
All these endeavours are underpinned by Arts Award. The ambassadors are encouraged to sign up to it to help them use their experience to gain a qualification. They will do 90% of the work for a Silver Arts Award just by engaging with the programme. The tricky part can be documenting it correctly in their Arts Award portfolios, but we are using the online Arts Box tool to help make this easier.
Other dance organisations have set up similar schemes and so there are now more opportunities for this type of activity than there were in 2008. What we feel is unique about our project is that it has a national profile, but involves working locally as well. The participants enjoy making contact with other young people from across the country and leave with a network that can support them as they take their first steps into a career.
Going forwards, YDE will be part of a new organisation with Dance UK, the Association of Dance of the African Diaspora and the National Dance Teachers Association. It is our intention that the Ambassador programme will make new connections with other mentoring and ambassadorial schemes currently run by our partner organisations. It means that young people will have greater opportunity to network within the sector and draw upon a greater wealth of knowledge and expertise.
Claire Somerville is Programme Manager for Youth Dance England.