I’ve recently had the pleasure of attending and reporting on a number of youth dance showcases, including Dance Futures at the Royal Opera House, Sum of Parts at Sadler’s Wells, and Youth Dance England’s Young Creatives choreographic platform. Youth dance is currently enjoying a moment in the sun, with a record number of young people taking part in the London Youth Dance Say at The Scoop this July and increasing numbers of high-profile choreographers, including Hofesh Schechter and Youth Dance Champion Wayne McGregor, making sophisticated work for young people.
Despite the quality of these showcases, the feedback I received on my reports of these events contained a rather suggestive recurring phrase: “It’s nice to see somebody taking youth dance seriously.” The commenters clearly felt that the press lack a sincere engagement with youth arts in general, and youth dance in particular. From my point of view, there’s no reason at all why this should be the case – the performances I saw were distinguished by both the ability of the performers and the maturity of the choreographers.
Youth is clearly no bar to talent. The young Darcy Bussell was promoted to Royal Ballet Principal aged 20; the great Sylvie Guillem became an étoile of the Paris Opera Ballet at just 19. Outside the field of dance, Tom Daley (now 17) and Becky Downie (19) are among the athletes expected to perform well at the 2012 Summer Olympics, having already competed in Beijing. There is no reason to believe that youth dance equates to amateur or second-rate; and yet surprise persists at the idea that someone might take youth performance seriously.
The youth dance sector encompasses a wide range of participants, from recreational dancers to young people in vocational training who have the commitment and talent for a career in a demanding industry. And yet funding for youth arts is already dwarfed by that for youth sports; following the announcement that Youth Dance England will not be part of the new Arts Council National Portfolio from 2012, the sector is under increased threat. A number of familiar faces I see regularly at performances, from institutions including The Place, Dance UK and YDE, clearly share my interest in taking youth dance seriously, but it sometimes feels like our small and habitual group is alone.
Now more than ever it is vital to take very seriously indeed opportunities for young people to shine and develop talent – by continuing to provide high-profile performance and choreography platforms, by investing in grass-roots activity, and by championing the events that take place. I’ll be reporting on youth dance as long as it’s happening; I urge all who care about creating a future for dance to join me in shouting from the rooftops.