Dance in the UK can be studied at different levels and in various settings and for a wide variety of dance styles.
Each setting has its own educational values and models and has different aims. In the UK dance education settings range from primary schools all the way to university, academies, and social gatherings.
The amazing thing about learning dance in the UK is that there is something for every age, taste, and ability.
Primary and Secondary Schools and Laban
In the UK, dance is part of the national curriculum in primary, as well as secondary schools. Dance has been taught in schools in the UK, since the late 1800s as part of physical education (PE), although at first it was taught only in some private colleges and to girls only.
After the Second World War, the arrival in the UK of Rudolf Laban (who moved from Germany to the UK, where he set up dance courses) heavily influenced the way in which dance has been taught since in British schools. Because of Laban’s influence dance teaching has become an established part of the British school curriculum, unlike other countries (such as Italy where I am from) in which dance is still completely ignored in the schools.
Because of Laban, especially in primary schools, dance teaching became focused on the benefits that dancing can have for the pupil and the flow of movement, rather than on mastering the technique of specific steps.
The benefits that dancing has for pupils is the reason why it is included in the national curriculum, with benefits including development of social skills and teamwork; fitness; kinaesthetic learning (learning through movement); spatial awareness; expression and communication skills; creativity and thinking skills; body awareness.
The current teaching model in UK schools, both at the primary and secondary level, is based on a new approach, devised in the last 20 years by Jacqueline Smith-Autard, a leading expert in dance education.
Smith-Autard’s approach combines the pupil-centered approach (inherited from Laban) with a technique centered approach (which traditionally privileged the learning of steps and technique over individuality and creativity), adding as an extra element the appreciation of dance as art.
Hence, pupils are taught how to view, compose and perform dance, in view of its appreciation as art. (See the National Dance Teachers Association website, if you are interested in teaching dance in schools in the UK).
Private Dance Academies and Schools
These are privately run schools, overseen by governing bodies and aimed at people of different ages and levels of ability and experience. While in most primary and secondary schools the focus is often on western theatre dances, such as contemporary dance, jazz and ballet, in private academies you can learn a variety of different dance forms from all over the world and both social and theatre dances.
There are classes for everyone and people attend for a variety of reasons. There are professional courses for those who want to pursue a career in dance and aim at achieving technical excellence, as well as courses for people who dance as a hobby for the fitness, fun and social elements.
There are a variety of private dance schools that teach a wide variety of dance genres, such as Josephine Wise Academy of Arabic Dance for belly dance, Upahaar for Bharatanatyam, Dance My Way for samba or the famous Pineapple Studios in London offering a variety of genres.
Bodies that Receive Funding from Government
As part of its commitment to the arts, the British government provides funding for dance companies and individuals. There are various types of organisations that the government and local authorities fund.
Community Dance Companies
Thanks to the influence that Laban had on dance in the UK, which led to the understanding of how important dance is for the development of individuals, community dance is well developed in the UK.
Community dance companies offer access to dance for everybody in the community, without barriers of age, ethnicity, physical ability, or financial means. One example is Rubicon Dance, in Wales, but there are many all over the UK.
Many government funded companies tend to run projects in the most financially disadvantaged areas or for young children, the elderly or people with disabilities.
However, community dance is not only aimed at these segments of society but to anyone who is not a professional dancer but still wants to have the chance to practice dance.
One of the aims of these companies is to foster a sense of cohesion in the community through dance. People of all ages and walks of life are encouraged to dance, sometimes together, other times in classes that cater to a specific segment of the population.
The Foundation for Community Dance is the body that in the UK regulates community dance.
You can sometimes get funding for specific projects that involve teaching, as well as performing.
Professional touring companies
These are government-funded companies, whose main aim is not to teach but to perform. However, in order to receive funding, these companies often have to commit some of their time for education and teaching purposes. Hence, the companies organize workshops and projects for schools, universities, and groups or individuals who are interested. See for example Earthfall, who are based in Wales.
Commercially Based Companies
There are dance companies whose main aim is to produce shows but they are commercial in nature and are not funded by the government.
They sometimes offer workshops and classes in addition to producing shows. For example, Matthew Bourne, a popular British choreographer, also runs a company called New Adventure, which offers courses and workshops for people of all ages.
At the time of writing, there are 91 universities offering dance degrees in the UK. Dance can be studied at undergraduate level, master level or PhD. These courses usually include practical elements as well as theoretical elements.
You can also do an MA in dance by checking Bath Spa University. If you would like to do a PhD, all universities run them but you need to find a tutor who is interested in supervising your project, by researching and contacting him/her directly.
Independent dancers run courses in community centres, village halls, gyms and other venues that they usually rent out and use as a venue to offer classes independently from any institution.
These teachers mostly run courses in types of dance that are not usually part of the official circuit, such as belly dance, burlesque or samba.
Dance Clubs, Restaurants, Pubs
Social dancing genres such as salsa, tango and other Latin dances usually take place in village halls, clubs, bars, pubs and restaurants and gatherings are pretty informal.
You can drop in with no need to book and usually there is a one hour class followed by an evening of social dancing. Examples of this format are Salsa Buena for salsa and Tango Edge for tango, both in Cardiff.
Smith-Autard, J. (2002).The Art of Dance in Education. London: A & C Black.
Brinson, P. (1991).Dance as Education:, Towards a National Dance Culture. London: Falmer Press.
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