We’re familiar with the practice of members becoming leaders within the context of Youth Work, but in the context Youth Arts, how does this system work? What skills and abilities do those young people participating within a specific art form need, to support the development of their group?
In this series of blogs, we examine how young people have made the transition from member to leader across a range of art forms; asking both leaders and the members who are making that change, to profile the group that they work with and to discuss the role that they play within it.
The first art form to be profiled in this blog series is Dance. Here, Youth Dance and Drama Practitioner, Ciaran Gray and member Fionn McNeill, shine the spotlight on their now well established dance group; Company B.
“Boys don’t dance,” said a boy in third class in 2006 and it just so happened that I was listening. His timing was perfect, because I was in the middle of my master’s thesis on the theme of dance for boys and looking for a title. I had done the diploma course in the University of Limerick and when it came time to choose a subject for my thesis, the notion that there was a kind of dance suitable for boys, intrigued me and I began to wonder what that might be. Many thousands of words later, I handed in my thesis with its tongue in cheek title and wondered; What Next?
Over the following months, I had a mad notion and ran it by Paul Johnson in Dance Ireland. What about a contemporary dance group for boys of primary school age? He listened and gave me an instant yes to the notion, along with the promise of support. In a number of schools, I ran some short taster sessions, with up to sixty; third and fourth class boys at a time. The sessions were great fun and out of the three or four hundred boys I encountered, about a hundred and fifty took information leaflets and vowed to be there on the first day of Company B.
Fifteen showed up. I was delighted and disappointed. It seemed such a small number after the enthusiasm I’d experienced, but I was glad to have the ones who showed up. As someone said to me “that’s fifteen boys dancing, that weren’t before.” We began dancing and we haven’t stopped.
Six years on, a few of those initial fifteen boys remain and they’re now young men.
When I started Company B, I set out to make dance as normal an activity for young males as possible. Dance sessions run on Saturday afternoon, leaving the morning free for whatever sport they might be involved in. There are occasional clashes, but mostly it works out. We work from three to five thirty. The first hour is a dance class and after that we work on making new material or rehearsing existing choreography.
From the beginning, my method was to set the boys tasks, asking them to make movement that suggested or captured an idea or an emotion. They were great at making up their own movements and my challenge was to tweak and shape these movements into coherent pieces. As time went on, I began making choreography for them and now our pieces are a blend of material generated by them and by me.
People tend to be excited at the idea of a boys’ dance company. I was always wary of the group being a novelty or cute, but I feel mostly reassured that what we do is judged on its own merit and the fact that the group is all male is just a bonus.
I think I succeeded. These boys think it’s normal to dance and when new guys arrive they quickly adopt the same attitude. So apparently boys do dance. Who knew?