Creativity, Identity and Youth Dance

Creativity, Identity and Youth Dance




One of the main lines of enquiry for me as Artistic Director of Attik Dance is that of identity. This manifests in everything we do, where every process and experience we lead supports our participants and artists to explore this aspect of themselves.

One very obvious way of exploring Identity is through dance making processes and through structured and robust improvisational exercises. With this in mind, we have made a commitment to ourselves and to the amazing and inspiring young people we work with, a commitment that is also a very interesting challenge. The commitment is that when working with our participants, we will work creatively in every aspect of their experience. This might not sound particularly radical, but this also includes technique training as much as it means choreographically.

This means we don’t teach any ‘steps’ or previously made ‘choreography’ either in class or in the making of dance for performance. We don’t show them how to do particular movement, we don’t ask them to learn a sequence of stylised movement and we don’t expect them to perform choreography we have pre-made.

This is harder, much harder, than you might think. And we aren’t fully doing this yet. I am every now and then still teaching a ‘sequence’ of movement in my preparation class, as the dancers I am working with are still learning dance steps elsewhere, and it helps them bridge the gap between that world and the Attik Youth Dance World. But we are almost there. 95% there. And the results of this way of working are very interesting, for us, and also and most importantly for our young dancers.

Primarily, the impact has been on their self-esteem as dancers and especially as creative artists. Incredibly the vast majority of young dancers, prior to working with us, had never experienced improvisation or what we consider to be a creative process. They may have made up some dances at school, but arguing about and then deciding on a topic, then pulling that topic apart to find the crux of the idea, then creating the movement for that specific world, then choreographing and composing that piece to an end product? They haven’t done this.

There are ranges of challenges for us in delivering this creative session. A significant one is ensuring that everything we would talk about in a technique class has to be delivered through an improvisational exercise. These are ideas such as Alignment, weight distribution, breath, sinking in to the floor, extension, feet articulation etc.., ideas that are normally experienced through a set sequence of movement, which gives the dancer a structure through which they can understand how their body can technically move.

The impact of exploring technique like this is that the dancers begin to have a greater ownership and understanding of how technique feels on their body in their ‘creative state’, rather than just when doing someone else’s exercises in a technique class. And this leads to young people who are totally invested in their choreography and their ideas, who are becoming fearless in improvisation and are proud of their increasing facility in being able to create unique and technical movement through a process they have devised.

The specific methodologies involved in these processes are constantly evolving, as each of our youth companies have different young people with very different histories. A more detailed exploration of these methods will be the subject of future posts.

Sophie speaks about her methodology when working with young people.

Sophie speaks about her methodology when working with young people.

At Attik Youth Dance Company my intention is to coach individual dancing people. Rather than just focus on training bodies I am trying to find ways to help them to construct and create their own creative strategies. They can then harness these strategies with their own body’s capacity for movement in response to discussion and in relationship with others to create choreographies. Recently the company made a work called “I was there, but now I’m here.” It started from a discussion we had at a company rehearsal at the beginning of the year about the refugee crisis, which led us to discuss human rights. What are our rights? What are our needs? And are those ideas universal?

Now I have to stop here and explain that when I say discuss I mean an ongoing verbal and physical exploration of the ideas over months of company rehearsals. Where we uncover our thoughts about a topic by setting tasks such as; write a list of your human rights, and then deliver that speech through action. Or I challenge them to develop a task to give other members of the company which express one of their ideas about rights.

This sort of creative freedom needs clear direction from me to allow them to have the possibility to form their own ideas and direction when they want to and at other times take a bit more control to model ways that a creative idea can be expressed through discussion and choreography. This process of empowering the young people is a learning journey that each of them are on. Often in company rehearsals I get asked the question, “But how do I do that?” to tasks or challenges that I know that they can do.

The fear of not getting it right seems to be the first problem they face. In my practice there is no right or wrong, there is just the expectation that they will try and bravely bring themselves to the challenges I set them. British choreographer, Royston Maldoom, suggests that everyone has the desire to be excellent. In an interview in the book, Knowledge in Motion, he talks about his work with community groups in Germany where the common denominator in all of the sessions is getting over the participant’s fear of failure. In our practice at Attik Dance, in all of the work that we do, we expect that people can do brilliant things. We tell them that- the primary school kids, the youth offenders and the gifted and talented young people in our youth companies- we create a culture where they know that, we expect them to do extraordinary things. In this kind of environment we watch people thrive and create and have the courage to own their ideas, their bodies and their creativity.

It is an incredibly rewarding and exciting way of working!  -Sophie

Catch the short promo of Attik Youth Dance Company here


The ideas from Royston Maldoom came from ‘Working on Experience’ Royston Maldoom in dialogue with Edith Boxberger (2007). In: Gehm, S. Pirkko, H. & von Wilcke K. (eds.) ’Knowledge in Motion. Perspectives of Artistic and Scientific Research.’  Die Deutsche Bibliothek, pp. 299-306








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