It has been the first all female year of Attik youth dance company, and there have been some subtle changes. At the start of the year I was worried about the fact that we had no boys in the company. We would miss them! And I thought that it would change the space. It has but I can see how it is creating opportunities for the young women to find themselves in a gender neutral space. The big difference is the noise level- it is quiet. Purposeful and alive quiet. They want to get on with it; moving and creating!
Secondly, there has been a radical change in the space in their range of movements. We work a lot with guided improvisation, informed by gaga methodology and ideas I have developed from working with local choreographers, Ben Dunks and Adam Benjamin. The way that the girls have begun to ‘eat’ the space and fully shift their centres through space has changed. It is almost as though the lack of the male presence in the space has given them the possibility to work with their bodies in a gender neutral way. They are beginning to take charge of their style and moves in a subtle yet strong way.
This leads me on to think about role models. Where are the role models for my young female dancers in Attik Youth Dance Company? Recently my youth dancers and I have been having discussions about which songs they want to dance to and how they want to be seen by others. I have noticed over the past few years that they have performed at a few platforms and at each of these we have encountered over-sexualised dance moves performed by children as young as 11 years old. Recently our youngest member- ten years old- voiced that she felt that this was not ok for her. I started to search for female role models for their age group, there aren’t many that respect their right to have a childhood. One I really respect is Tavi Genison, in her ted talk she speaks about the need for strong characters who are female in pop culture for young women to relate to. What a brave, articulate young woman she is!
This need for strong female role models is needed within the dance sector too, since 2013 there have been some big conversations in the UK dance scene about the need for female choreographers. (Google search the female choreographer debate) I particularly like Luke Jennings’ open letter to Akram Khan in The Guardian where he ends with “it is time for the lions to have their say”. I think that it is time for female choreographers to come to the fore but this will only happen on a significant scale if we cultivate that talent in their youth. From my experience with our young female dancers, that when given time and encouragement, they have a lot to say and to make. As with the gender divide on many issues in society, it isn’t about men and women receiving the same but rather recognising gender differences and supporting both equally.
I was thinking about how we work at Attik Dance and the way in which we have supported many young females over the past few years. All of our apprentices have been female, although it wasn’t planned that way. We have developed a particular way of supporting our apprentices through their work with us with our strands of work: LEAP, ELEVATE, EVOLVE and RADIATE. We inspire them to be brave and lead activities with their peers, train them to professionally command the attention of a room full of people and to compassionately share their ideas while working with younger dancers.
The beauty is that with this kind of support these brilliant young women surprise themselves and us by their talent and skill. They are more confident in themselves and their power to make decisions about their creativity in the space. This becomes a sort of bench mark for how they can make choices about their lives. We look forward to continuing to develop the way that we support the young female dancers and choreographers of the future.
Watch our short video about our apprenticeship programme here.