Sadler’s Wells’ debate highlights benefits of dance

dance shaped their paths and how it can play a hugely beneficial role in society at all levels.

Carlos Acosta expressed his concern over costs associated with dance classes, which cause children of families unable to afford these to miss out on exposure to dance, and the skills of those having real talent not being recognised, nurtured and given the opportunity to thrive. He called on the UK government to provide the support necessary to guarantee access and exposure to dance to every child.

Jonzi D highlighted the ability of dance to unify and empower young people. He cited the invaluable role of hip hop culture in enabling youth to express their personality and emotions, in fostering a sense of community and in alleviating violence and facilitating conflict resolution, as battles serve as a mean to settle disputes.

Seeta Patel emphasised dance’s positive contribution to physical and mental well-being. She said her training in the in the classical dance form of Bharatanatyam had taught her the value of discipline and rigour, qualities needed not just to become a professional dance artist, but to be able to face life’s challenges. She stressed how the wide spectrum of dance styles available for people to enjoy and participate in – particularly in today’s globalised, digital-savvy and multicultural society – means everyone can try different styles and find the one more suited to their needs. She encouraged audiences to engage with dance with an open mind, suggesting performances can be experienced and trigger emotional responses, without necessarily being understood immediately in all their nuances.

Kenneth Tharp echoed Carlos Acosta’s comments in pointing out how schools are often the only vehicle for children from less wealthy backgrounds to encounter the arts and art education, and how dance’s absence as a subject in its own right in schools means some children aren’t able to access it at all. He credited dance with providing individuals with many of the soft skills employers are increasingly seeking in job candidates, particularly self-awareness, confidence and empathy. He noted how dance is intrinsic to human nature, as people interpret body language every day, inferring the feelings, mood and character of others from the way they move.

Pam Zinkin described how she found fulfilment in dancing with the Company of Elders, Sadler’s Wells’ resident over-60s company. She said she felt lucky to have been enjoying the opportunity to learn different dance styles, work with renowned choreographers and perform on theatrical stages in the UK and overseas, as this was not only keeping her active, but also feeding her imagination. From feeling “invisible” as a retired woman, rehearsing and performing with the company would transform her into someone creative, a dancer. She also explained how, by virtue of dancing together for many years, other company members had now become close and cherished friends.

The speakers were joined by a lively audience, who shared their views on dance’s benefits during a stimulating Q&A session following the talk. BBC London’s report on the event is available here

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Photo: Lucy White