Dance Resource Base: Resource and Advocacy Centre for Dance in Northern Ireland
Since my visit to the Grand Opera House in November, where I was initially alerted to the Arts Council-funded body for the resource and advocacy of dance in Northern Ireland, I have been trying to set up an interview with the Kelly-Ann Collins which I soon realised, being the sole, full-time, Dance Advocate for Northern Ireland, must be a busy person. Since the disbandment of Dance NI, the Arts Council set Dance Resource Base, to fill the gap left by this organisation and to continue the vital work of promoting dance in Northern Ireland.
DRB is for the support of all dancers, whether working professionally, teachers of all-age dance and those that have an interest in and participate just for fun. It is open to all members of the public to join for a nominal annual membership fee. From that, members receive dance resources and support and dance advocacy. I think it was an advertisement that used the phrase, “together we’re stronger”, which is not a new notion and one that is vital for the dance sector in Northern Ireland who have a long way to go to match the likes of dramatic arts or music or even most sports. It is a great experience when two fans of dance come together and we could talk for hours, especially as there are so many forms and there has been a resurgence in the last number of years with popular television programmes and Oscar-winning films and the birth of social media.
DRB is not just for talking about dance but first and foremost, is a resource and support network for Professionals, housing within the premises a dance studio, library and equipment-for-hire. The studio has already a very famous heritage, as it has been used by none other than Natalie Portman whilst training for her controversial role in Black Swan and she was filming in Belfast at the time. Natalie, of course, went on to Oscar glory and also met her partner, leading ballet dancer and choreographer, Benjamin Millepied who is, appropriately, starting a company in LA. Hopefully NI ballet and dance will enjoy a Hollywood-type storyline and go from the back-streets of North Belfast to the rest of the World, but with more firm roots in its’ home-town, producing more and more Internationally-acclaimed dancers to ones we already have. At present, our one hope of doing this is Melissa Hamilton at the Royal Ballet and she has done so largely on her own and probably loads of other dancers that we haven’t heard about but hopefully in the future and because the dance community goes from strength to strength, dancers no longer have to do it on their own. Though not tasked with developing dancers, DRB is there to support and develop opportunities and provide a network where experiences can be shared and passed on. An exciting development opportunity is the increasing awareness and participation in dance with schools. DRB’s Schools’ project is taking off and many Schools are adding dance to their curriculum or are being encouraged again because of its’ benefits to growing young people who have a variety of issues with health and body-conscious issues. DRB also helps to market classes for teachers, to grow their businesses which basically grows dance. The more professional the dance industry is in Northern Ireland, the more likely we are to achieve a professional ballet company and School in Northern Ireland.
One of the lynch-pins of the provision of DRB, as mentioned above, is to bring together teachers of dance who are normally sole practitioners, sometimes offering classes through Arts venues such as the Crescent Arts Centre but can sometimes be going from venue to venue and doing classes in isolation and there can also be a rivalry between teachers who are operating in a small pool. DRB’s main function is to bring these professionals together and help them to grow their businesses together and for the joint purpose of creating dancers of the future and growing the Arts sector. A Dance Sector that is more cohesive and feeds off each other, must be a goal that we all strive for but what Kelly-Ann and Dance Resource Base provide, is a professional service and resources for members. Part of membership includes access to resources, a Library of reference materials, hire of a dance studio and also hire of equipment. Equipment includes, as the resource is growing all the time, portable dance floor, cameras – video a performance or a class for training purposes – sound equipment etc. It is up members to tell Dance Resource Base what they want as the organisation I largely led by the members and the dance community, as a whole.
Advocacy is a different role, less concrete but no less important. One feeds the other, the more dance grows, the more funding and the more equipment and resources can be purchased. As Kelly-Ann outlined, as well as the work going on in Schools and training Teachers and Professionals, there is a growing body of research from Health Professionals and Psychologists. There is a growing body of work showing how dance is very beneficial for certain illnesses such as Parkinson’s Disease. An awareness of and concrete evidence of the value of dance, makes it easier when going to Government for funding and lobbying with politicians for a bigger slice of the funding budget and more projects born and the growth of the sector. Not to mention other illnesses affecting the brain or nervous system, depression etc. as well as general health and fitness benefits. There has been a massive celebrity-backed campaign to get kids cooking but introduce them to dance and healthy eating and looking after their bodies will follow because dance demands a holistic and disciplined approach that incorporates healthy eating. This also got us chatting for a while about the lack of academic study into dance, outside of professional study but unlike music and visual art, dance has not yet appeared as serious academic study but possibly this will change in the future.
DRB works with the main venues to match up professional dancers with the needs of the venues, for example, the Pantomimes in the various venues, advertise calls for dancers through membership, so it is a valuable and necessary network for anyone involved in dance. A secondary part of the networking with venues is audience development and generation. This is so important for the future of dance in Northern Ireland. Audiences ultimately drive the future of dance as any performance-based medium, there is no point in performing to an empty auditorium. Talking of audience-development also challenges me as I certainly would favour classical ballet and usually in one venue, so it challenges me and I would lay this challenge down to anyone who follows dance, to try other forms of dance. From the same stable as DRB, the Arts Council funded, Test-Drive Arts, gives non-attenders, a risk-free opportunity to try venues and art-forms they haven’t previously tried. Northern Ireland has increased its’ number of venues over the last few years, with the latest, the MAC with Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance scheduled for the opening season and Theatre in the Mill, Newtownabbey, regularly scheduling ballet into their programmes. We can also include cinemas such as the QFT and Odeon and Odyssey who have recently and not so recently for the QFT, screened dance and ballet direct from some of the greatest companies in the world including the Bolshoi, Royal Ballet and New York City Ballet. This is a great way for us to be involved and Kelly-Anne is hoping to put together a, ‘What’s On in Dance’-type events diary to pull together information into one place.
Dance has undersold itself in Northern Ireland, we just have to look at the lack of ballet on this Summer’s Big Screens (one opera only), to see this, but with an organisation dedicated to the promotion of dance and more access than ever, it is time for dance to take its’ place as one of the most involving mediums and Kelly-Anne Collins and Dance Resource Base need our help to engage and make the dance community in Northern Ireland more cohesive and we are more likely to be heard. Audience engagement is key but participant engagement is also important. If anyone would like to sign up with Dance Resource Base, please go to their website at: http://www.danceresourcebase.org/. If you are a professional dancer or involved in the teaching of dance, please contact Kelly-Anne, as the more the public know about those dance success stories or stories of interest, this can be pulled together and voiced through appropriate media. This is also why I started Friends of Ballet NI, to provide a central place for the discussion of ballet by fans and to share our information. I hope that we will see a growth in participation and the development of dance, at all ages and all levels of fitness and health. Please don’t think that dance is not for you or that you are not fit enough or rhythmic enough, there is bound to be a class out there within Northern Ireland that would be suitable and you will find groups very inclusive and non-judgemental and could inspire a dance revolution in your life. Dance Resource Base can provide a link to all that is happening in dance in Northern Ireland and I hope that you use this resource whilst it is available.