Ismene Brown

Why is British dance training so poor? ‘Diversity’ is trumping quality

A very British thing happened at the dance industry conference last weekend. Three of the UK’s most celebrated contemporary choreographers said British contemporary dance training is not up to snuff. Foreign dancers were better trained from a younger age, they said, were fitter, readier, worked harder. That’s why they got more jobs in British companies than UK-trained graduates.

The two instant results were (a) a chorus of outraged denial from the dance establishment and (b) the resignation of the chairman of Dance UK, the umbrella body and ‘voice of dance’, which staged the conference.

Now, its chairman, Farooq Chaudhry, was certainly playing some fairly brutal politics. He is the producer for Akram Khan, one of the dissident trio of celebrated dancemakers, alongside Lloyd Newson of DV8 and Hofesh Shechter (whose Royal Ballet debut creation I reviewed last month), and Chaudhry has been all over the papers and airwaves this week describing UK dance students as ‘mollycoddled’.

One would think professional standards a bread-and-butter issue for a dance conference, but Chaudhry had not forewarned the organisation he chaired, and greatest offence was taken not at the unthinkable idea of the UK falling behind Cuba and Belgium but at the discourtesy of the shock press release. The dance schools protested that they had no warning with which to answer back. Chaudhry agreed sorrowfully that his involvement ‘created public confusion about the position of Dance UK and my role as its chair’ and resigned mid-conference.

Yet the conference’s purpose was to identify the major themes of a ‘dance manifesto’ for the next government over the next five years and if quality of training isn’t a priority, I don’t know what is.

Instead, Dance UK sent its chairman packing. Still more alarming, many voices defended potential training inadequacies by leaning on some utopian definition of ‘diversity’ and ‘wholeness’ as the British advantage.

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