Black Dance in Training and Education
The Mission 2005, Birmingham
By Thea Barnes
This debate was an opportunity for those present to examine provision and strategies for including Black Dance training in the curriculum.
The discussion would also touch on what training includes and what the outcomes of this training might be.
Present for this debate was Professor Christopher Bannerman, ResCen, Middlesex University, Veronica Lewis, Director, London
Contemporary Dance School, Anthony Bowne, Director, Laban, Funmi Adewole, Dance Researcher and Dance Artist, with Thea Barnes, Dance Researcher hosting. Ginnie Wollaston, Arts Council England, West Midlands, Deborah Baddoo, and David Massingham, Director, Dance Exchange were also present.
For the host, the debate was an opportunity to problematise the beliefs behind having Black Dance in formal training and education. Was Black Dance a creditable course of study in a curriculum? Or was Black Dance training just a strategy to encourage students of particular ethnicity to study dance?
Currently London Contemporary Dance School (LCDS) offers Kathak taught by Gauri Tritathi. This course though is Director Veronica Lewis’ initiative to have a course of this nature in LCDS curriculum.
This course was also in response to Shobana Jeyasingh, choreographer/artistic director of Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company who is finding it difficult to hire dancers living in Britain or imported from India who have accomplished skill in both Indian Classical and conventional contemporary dance techniques.
Laban has African/Caribbean out reach/access classes taught by Carolyn Muraldo for adults wishing to take dance classes for enjoyment. These classes are enrolled on a term by term basis. These classes are not accredited and cannot be taken towards a degree. Laban utilises the artist-in-residence model for their degree students. Laban’s students have had Benji Reid, Jonzi D, and Robert Hylton, exponents of the use of break dancing concepts and forms within the fabric of contemporary dance making, leading workshops and repertory classes for short periods during the academic year.
Citing a lack of credible rigour within the form as a major hindrance, Middlesex University currently has no provision for Black Dance. Panel members pointed out though the demographics for dance training have changed drastically in the past twenty or so years. It is almost impossible for young men and women whether black or white to obtain financial support to train in dance that discretionary grants and the like had provided in the past.
Even with current educational initiatives designed to target specific ethnicity and gender, the targeted groups do not select dance as a career. Dance just has not proven to be a financially viable career in the British context.
Thoughts on the Debate on Black Dance in Training and Education: The lack of credible rigour in African dance practices is a problem here in Britain. Black dance performance, with its root sources in Africa, Caribbean and associates in Asia is individualistic. There are general characteristics that can be examined and taught but given locations and purpose is manifested in numerous ways.
These propensities may give the impression of chaos and a lack of logic, but this assumption is far from the actuality.
Present practitioners would do well to develop written documentation strategies that articulate the practice of Africanist, Caribbean, and South Asian expressions. Artists also need to be more rigorous in presenting methods for developing skills required for performing their particular expressions. Africanist expressions require more research to verify continuity or discontinuity with British dance practices and relation to other practices within the African Diaspora. Africanist practices need to be made more articulate here in Britain if for no other reason than to dispel the myths there is no theory to write a course of study with an effectual outcome.
It is also thought that those educational institutions that prioritize and privilege Eurocentric, Western techniques limit their students’ potential for post modern, cross cultural dance making that has been in evidence since Britain’s New Dance era.
Currently the appropriation of Hip Hop culture’s breakdance, African/Caribbean forms, Classical Indian, martial arts, body therapies, jazz, urban forms, and other ethnic forms are common sources of inspiration for choreographers in Britain. Training in conventional techniques is only superficially adequate for students whose lived experiences are implicitly intertextual and cross cultural.
A follow up discussion was held by DanceXchange 27 January 2006. Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Laban Centre and British Arts Council were in attendance. Several courses of action were suggested to spearhead initiatives for African, Asian, and Oriental dance practices to be included in British HE and private/public school curriculum. It was agreed statistical analysis is needed to examine current demographics of enrolment for illustration and verification of the need and quality of future advocacy. If nothing else, statistics would assist in determining the number of students of varied backgrounds, electing to study dance and then choosing it as a career. Also statistical analysis will reveal what British institutions are in fact doing. With this information any number of courses of action can be either dropped or refined in the wake of those findings.