Emily Holtom blogs her experience of the #DanceConnect project

“Over the course of the past several months, some incredibly talented dance artists from across the West Midlands have been coming together with digital artists and young people to develop some ground-breaking action research. Five collaborating groups captured their process. As one of the four Young Dance Leaders, I supported the collaboration between Rachel Liggit (Shropshire Inclusive Dance) and Ashley Jordan (Ascension Dance), whilst taking part in regular meetings with the producing team and contributing as a member of the project steering group.  For a flavour of the project see Grounded a short film reflecting the process.

For me, this #DanceConnect project has not only been a force for exploration, but a platform through which young people have been given an opportunity for expression. It has been an incredibly unique and valuable insight into the professional dance sector, and something that is bound to shape many of the young leaders’ careers.

To begin, each Young Dance Leader was allocated to one of the professional pairings to work with on their exploratory tasks. This in itself was an integral part of the process, allowing each of us to decide which areas of dance, producing and digital media would be most beneficial to explore. So while one of our Young Leaders became, in effect, a secondary producer, the rest of us began the digital research around parkour vs inclusivity, Afro vs martial arts and the combining of 3 totally different styles. There is no doubt that our experiences differed greatly, but each was fundamental to the project and eye-opening in their own way. From a personal standpoint, I never realised just how much my phone could do. The world of digital media has always been a scary prospect, but this project has opened my eyes to just how easy it can be to transform something simple, into something innovative.

As a young person on a project that focused on young people, our presence ensured that the research remained relevant and practical. But it was so much more than that. Working through the research, production and evaluation phases meant that we saw every side of the project and learnt not only how to manage all the different aspects, but how to improve them. Just because it is a professional work does not mean that it is not constantly adapting. These are skills that I will take with me throughout my future career, dance-based or not.

But most importantly, as a young person it was wonderful to be treated as an equally valued creative voice. An extra mind is always a bonus when aiming for innovation.

It has been so rewarding to work with the professionals (dancers, producers, and digital artists alike). For many of us, this has been the first time being involved in the behind-the-scenes of this kind of project first-hand, and the knowledge that we have picked up is something that could never be taught in a university classroom. My newfound understanding of disabilities and inclusion for example is absolutely invaluable. Put simply, our participation has been endlessly rewarding and unforgettable.”