Diversity in Training and the Importance of Collaborative Partnerships
The BA (Hons) Diverse Dance Styles is now in its 3rd year of operation having welcomed its first cohort in September 2018, run by IRIE! dance theatre and validated by University of Roehampton; the course is the first of its kind in Europe to give serious credence to African and Caribbean dance, placing it on a par with contemporary forms. In June 2021 IRIE! will have successfully completed 3 years and despite the challenges of COVID it feels like now is the time to breathe, take stock and consider not only the future of the course but the wider implications for advocating diversity in dance training with regards to sustainability and our unique relationship with the University of Roehampton. Our ambition going forwards is that diverse dance courses become part of the Higher Education (HE) landscape so that diversity becomes fully integrated into dance education at this level.
Previous to the BA the company ran a Foundation Degree in Dance (FdA) in partnership with City and Islington College and London Metropolitan University (2008-2018) placing African, Caribbean, contemporary and urban forms on an equal footing. The FdA followed a period of research, ‘Dance and Diversity’ funded by National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) and Arts Council England(ACE) to look at the place of cultural diversity in dance education and practice with particular reference to African and Caribbean dance forms. The research concerned the visibility of the forms and what we perceived to be their minimal presence within HE. The desire to ignite the diverse training debate came through practical experience of preparing young people for HE through Further Education (FE) routes at City and Islington College and witnessing their disappointment at the lack of diversity within their training.
IRIE! is now fortunate to be part of a supportive dance department at University of Roehampton who have acted as respectful advisors throughout the past three years. The department have allowed the course to settle in, generously sharing their performance space, initiating workshops and seeking the company’s expertise in African, Caribbean and Hip-Hop styles. We have experienced a very positive performance exchange of ideas with Roehampton and IRIE! students which we hope to continue when the challenges of COVID subside. The dance department at University of Roehampton are renowned for their research, a factor that first attracted IRIE! since engaging with the dance and diversity research. We are excited about the continual potential for exchanges and developments that can take place within a university setting, which we believe will be a contributing factor to the sustainability of the course. The next stage in our partnership with Roehampton will be to explore the internationalisation of the cohort, a move which makes sense given the nature of the curriculum and uniqueness of the programme
In terms of diversity in training, we have discovered that the course is never what students had anticipated, particularly within the African and Caribbean modules, where they have found the work to be technically challenging. Unfortunately for these genres, there are many myths surrounding their study, in particular that they are forms without a formalised technique. The challenge has been to bring diverse groups of students to the same technical standard and through patient nurturing introduce them to the multi-faceted aspects of the different genres so that they become aware of not only the practical nuances but the cultural context of each form.
They have been fortunate enough to work with visiting artists such as Via Katlehong from South Africa and Professor Cornelius Carter from the University of Alabama, provided by Roehampton Dance Dept, as well as resident artists, Akeim Toussaint Buck, Nicoletta Bonanni (2018-2020) Rhys Denis and Waddah Sinada ( 2020-2022) who formed Fubunation in 2017, with the vision of creating more visibility for dancers of colour in contemporary dance. Increasingly the Moonshot Centre, the base for IRIE! dance theatre and the course, has become a centre for young artists to explore their work. The emergence of new artists who can explore and define their craft will create a wider platform for African and Caribbean dance forms as they attract new audiences and practitioners. In terms of the students it has been important for them to see role models in their building, designing their own blueprints for their work. Going forward they will also need to employ an entrepreneurial approach if they are to survive in the industry.
This blog expresses the desire for diverse dance courses to become a significant part of the dance ecology. Diverse training needs to be seen as important, a visible factor, a viable training choice for young people navigating their way through their career choices or for dancers returning to study. Diversity in dance training and choice will ultimately encourage new audiences and new practitioners because they will see their cultural experiences reflected in education and performance. The HE routes becomes vital because it defines professional training, previous training in the forms have been mainly restricted to After School Clubs and projects/classes within the FE sector. So, while IRIE! are justifiably proud of this landmark BA and the partnership with Roehampton we feel that the future for diverse dance styles, with particular reference to African and Caribbean dance will only be truly sustainable if this form of training becomes an integrated part of the dance education/HE landscape.
Beverley Glean MBE – Artistic Director and CEO, IRIE! dance theatre
Find out more about about IRIE!’s BA (Hons) Diverse Dance Styles in collaboration with the University of Roehampton here.