From Berlin to Belfast- changing your life in a dance class with Royston Maldoom 

There was no better way to round up our dance artist training programme than to invite DU Dance Artistic Consultant and long-time colleague and friend Royston Maldoom back to Belfast.

15 local dance artists joined us just before the Easter holidays to delve deeper into their community dance practise and learn from Royston’s extensive experience working across the world, often in places experiencing conflict and hardship.

Talking about the programme, Royston said:  “It has been over 35 years since I delivered the first Ulster youth dance project at the Kings Hall in Belfast and I am delighted to be back working with artists who are at the forefront of community dance in Northern Ireland. It was a great experience to work with people who are eager to learn and enhance their practice and the participants gave themselves wholeheartedly to the workshop.”

After introductions, Royston shared the pivotal moments in his esteemed career which have informed his practise. From his youth dance days in Scotland, through developing his signature choreographic style to the steep learning curves of working in Adunga, Ethiopia.  And with  recollections of working alongside our Artistic Director Mags Byrne in Gaza, Palestine, he brought us full circle back to the the origins of our own organisation.

What resonated most with the group was how Royston’s approach to the work is focused on the artform; when he walks into a room he is the choreographer, the artist and his passion for the work must come across.  Critically he believes strongly that everyone in that room has the potential to be extraordinary and he meets them human to human not with the labels society too often uses.

“Great to have long held beliefs and theories strengthened and confirmed. Heartened to see the life changing effect of dance in action.” (Participant)

Over the course of the two days, Royston spoke about the importance of bringing the group to where you are, challenging the participants to raise their expectations and experience new styles of music and movement they may not normally access. This gave the group plenty to reflect upon and left them excited to jump back into their own practise.

“Meeting new people with the belief that everyone has the potential to be extraordinary. Don’t be afraid to try something with a group that is new to them.” (Participant)

In each of the dance artist training programmes, it has been very apparent how community dance artists need to connect with each other. In a role that requires us to output all the time we often don’t get a chance to reach out to others. This programme has created an informal network of artists who can share and connect with one another independently of the work we as a company do.

“Enjoyed the two days immensely. Lovely to make choreography with the group, human to human. Royston is inspirational. A privilege to be here. Moments come from the heart. Great reminder!” (Participant)

It was important to DU Dance (NI) that we invited Royston to be a part of this training programme as Artistic Director Mags Byrne says;

“Having worked with Royston for many years both here in Northern Ireland and internationally it was very important to us to bring him back to Belfast to reinforce our unique style of delivery and the need for this type of work. We started Dance United together first following the Adunga Ethiopia project before DU Dance came about in Belfast. As Artistic Consultant for the company Royston’s philosophy and approach has heavily influenced the work of DU Dance so it was the perfect way to complete this part of the programme.”  

Finally, we would like to say a big thank you to all of the community dance artists who have taken part in the programme. Each one came in open and eager to learn, share and connect and that made for a very special experience!

 

 

 

At Saturday’s Belfast Boys workshop, family and friends were invited along to join the first ‘All Boys Can Boogie’ session.  First the younger boys performed their choreographed piece, followed by Sean and the older boys creating an improvised performance inspired by this dance. Then it was everyone’s turn to take to the floor. Aged from 3 years to over 60, there was no stopping the group’s shape throwing and energetic moves to Boogie Wonderland. Afterwards families enjoyed the chance to socialise over a much needed cup of tea!

Something tells us this won’t be the last time we hold this special session. Just hear what the families had to say:

Absolutely fantastic. Great energy. Great team!
Did a great job of encouraging parent/sibling participation in a new activity. Not easy to do!
I love dance and I think it is an important way to connect with ourself and someone else.”

Thanks to the programme funders:
Arts Council of Northern Ireland and National Lottery Good Causes

 

The CARE Women’s dance project is based in South Belfast and made up of twenty five women from different backgrounds.  The group were delighted to debut a new dance performance at Greenway Women’s Centre, Cregagh Estate in East Belfast at the end of February – the first stop on their Belfast tour!

A big thank you to Helen and all the ladies at Greenway Women’s Centre for their warm welcome and fantastic dance moves!

Next stop on 6th March was familiar territory to the group who meet regularly at Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich on the Falls Road.  It was a wonderful morning as we were joined by women from Colaiste Feirste, Irish Language classes at Cultúrlann and Whiterock Children’s Centre.

Then we are delighted to have been invited to the Windsor Women’s Centre in South Belfast on 8th March to perform and share with them as part of their International Women’s Day Celebrations.

Following a short workshop to get to know each other, the group will perform a dance piece before celebrating over more food, coffee and delicious Arabic sweet treats!

This project is funded by Clanmil Housing Association.

 

 

 

March heralds the next element of our community dance artist development programme as we warmly welcome back to Belfast internationally renowned choreographer, Royston Maldoom.

Royston has choreographed work for the Dance Theater of Harlem in New York, The Scottish Ballet, Irish Ballet, the National Ballet and Ballet San Marcos in Peru as well as numerous other dance ensembles in Great Britain and abroad.

In the mid 1980’s he spent three years as Dance-Artist-in-Residence for Fife/Scotland organising numerous workshops, summer schools and dance festivals, founded community dance groups for teenager and adults and developing his philosophy of Community Dance.

Listen to more on Royston’s approach here:

 

Since then Royston has directed dance projects in Lithuania during the independence movement in 1991, in Croatia and Bosnia during the Balkan War, in South Africa during Mandela’s election, and a myriad of other projects in Zimbabwe, Georgia and Oregon/USA, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Romania, Moscow, New Zealand, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands and Peru.

These international engagements led Royston to Ethiopia in 1996 where, together with his colleague and very own our Artistic Director Mags Byrne, he organized a dance project with 100 street kids. Following the success of this project, they established the Adugna Dance Company, giving young people the opportunity to be educated in dance, choreography, and teaching. On graduation the students were given accreditation by the University of Middlesex, London and have gone on to work in the internationally as well as in Ethiopia as choreographers, dancers and teachers.  Learn more here:

Over Thursday 28th & Friday 29th March, Royston will share his philosophy and vast experience as an initiator and leader of numerous dance projects over the past 40 years. He will delve into his very particular and strong held view on dance in community contexts as demonstrated in the award-winning film Rhythm is it!.

We are delighted that Royston – now resident in Berlin – continues to support DU Dance as artistic consultant.

Thank you to The MAC, Belfast for once again hosting the training.

 

Our Community Engagement Artist, Sheena, has been invited by Armagh Banbridge Craigavon Council to join the panel at their upcoming Community Arts Forum. The focus of the event is to examine how art has the power to inspire, unite, and transform communities.

In addition, our short dance film ‘The Effect’ will be showcased.  This film made quite an impact at our January film night and is the last in a series of films made with young carers and young people referred to social services as needing support. It explores how some of these young people felt and demonstrates how the project made a positive difference to the participants’ self confidence.

Details below if you are interested in going along:

This is a FREE event but please RSVP

Our Youth Steering Group are working on a film about the environment.  One member of the group has written this poignant poem and it will form the score for the film:

 

What if I told you

Your whole world went up in smoke?

You were left

Gasping,

Choking,

Desperate for air.

What if I told you

This was your last breath?

No more beauty left to take your breath away.

No more time to make a stand or have a say.

What if I told you

There was no more sky or sun,

No more ground left to walk on?

Your hopes, wishes and dreams

Tangled up and 

Strangled.

No more crashing waves or trickling streams.

The sound of bird song 

A long forgotten memory.

What if I told you

It was your fault

That you lit the match?

That your careless choices were catching up with you?

That soon you would be 

Tripping up

Stumbling over Landfill

Drowning in Thick Black Tarry Oil.

When will this message sink in?

Only when there is 

No more water to drink

No more time to think

No one left to love or blame 

But yourself.

When will you acknowledge that 

Our homes, our loved ones,

Our planet is on the brink of complete collapse!

Can’t you hear the Whale Cry?

It’s Tears Black with Crude Oil?

That you let Drip into our Oceans.

What if I told you

That this isn’t a game

That the thudding sound inside your chest is a Timer

That time is running out!

Wake up!

Listen!
That beating drum inside reminds us that we’re Human!

Now is the time to stand up 

To Protect

The land, the forests, the animals, each other.

Your own life is at risk!

In 50 years it will be too late.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

You can still make a change and have a say

You could be the spark

That lights a different match

That lights a different path…

 

Following a summer of busy youth activity and performances with our partners VILLA Leipzig and Beyond Skin, we were delighted to embrace a new addition to the second year of our Cultural Bridge project – the organisational exchanges.

Sheena Kelly, our Community Engagement Artist, was part of this exchange and has written about the experience and learning outcomes below:

Lifelong Partners

VILLA Leipzig hosted first and after a very early morning journey (1am to be precise!) from Belfast to Dublin to Berlin to Leipzig we arrived hungry but excited to learn all about VILLA. Having spent time getting to know their participants and create artistically together in the summertime, it was great to have a chance to delve into the organisational structures and practices of this art charity based in a city not dissimilar in size to Belfast. VILLA, the socio-cultural centre of Leipzig, encourages people to participate in society on an equal, self-determined and committed basis. Over a great cup of coffee in the VILLA cafe we met the board members and learnt of the history of the organisation, as well as the big boss and wider team. This gave us a clear sense of just how large the reach of the organisation is and how each department works together and separately.

(Sheena and Mags arrive at Leipzig Train Station)

Breadth of knowledge

The energy as you walk through the VILLA doors is infectious! From one side of the building you hear music being practiced, created and mixed and from another you can smell the coffee brewing in the café. The diversity of groups, people and artforms using the building demonstrates lots of possibilities for future collaborations.

We were invited to join the youth theatre group as they devised their new show based around stories of witches and spoke to them about some similar devising projects we do back in Belfast. We enjoyed a presentation from the Tanzlabor group who spoke to us about their aim to increase cultural participation for disabled people in Leipzig and connected them with some friends and colleagues of our own across the globe. Finally following an entertaining evening at the weekly Open Mic night we got a chance to try out some digital music making in the music lab.

(Youth Theatre rehearsals)

The ripple effect

One of the many areas of expertise VILLA brought to the partnership was their knowledge and skills around social activism. Philipp and his team delivered a thought-provoking workshop around politics and the environment which was based on how they deliver to secondary schools in the area. It was interesting to see how these informal methods are used to offer young people a platform and an opportunity to discuss politics and social issues in a safe environment. The aim was to support young people in engaging with their society more which in turn can ripple out into the wider society. This itself created a lot of conversation as within Northern Ireland we tend to shy away from direct conversations around politics due to the challenging political landscape here. Our experience is that hitting these hard topics straight on can create tension and barriers which may in turn be detrimental to the project aims and the engagement with the young people. This was a clear cultural difference and an interesting one at that.

(Social Activism workshop)

 

Next stop: Belfast

Then it was our turn.  Predictably the rain poured down on Philipp and Dirk as they got off the bus from Dublin, so we headed first for a coffee and a catch up at DU Dance NI’s home at the Crescent Arts Centre. Similar in some ways to VILLA’s building, with different classes and events happening, we had a “wee” tour and then a chat about the structures and strategic plans for DU Dance over the next few years.

 

Out of the city

About 20 minutes outside of Belfast, we joined Beyond Skin as they delivered a cultural workshop celebrating Chinese culture and the impending Chinese New Year. Matcha tea, Chinese calligraphy and music from the GuZheng were all on the menu for the children at this Primary School. Darren shared the importance of children meeting people from diverse cultures to celebrate diversity and strengthen community relations. The workshop sparked new ideas for VILLA and their volunteer programme made up of young adults from a range of countries.  Later that day, we were welcomed in the studio with Beyond Skin as a mix of musicians from diverse backgrounds created a brand new song having just met that same morning.

(Chinese Cultural workshop at a Primary School)

(Meeting Beyond Skin artists in the studio)

Take your space

The afternoon was spent in the Helen Lewis dance studio in the Crescent Arts Centre where DU Dance Artistic Director Mags delivered a movement workshop with much laughter, a bit of sweat and an increased heart rate.  After devising a dance together, we spoke about the diverse range of young people we work with and how dance and performance is used as a tool for change for the young people. Philipp and Dirk were particularly interested to hear about the specific projects where the young people do not feel they are important enough to take up space in a room and how dance as a physical and cognitive artform can raise confidence and self-esteem which brings them to the point of standing onstage.

Reflection

Whilst this part of our journey with Cultural Bridge has come to an end, we finish knowing we have lifelong partners who we can connect with in the future. It was great to finish the project celebrating the highlights of the last two years over a Guinness in Belfast, chatting about the impact it made on us as organisations and the young participants involved.

It has demonstrated the importance of international connections such as these to reinforce best practices and challenge us to move outside of our comfort zone as well as ensuring young people from Belfast feel connected to the wider European community. Overall it has shown us the power of the arts in tackling difficult conversations in a safe environment to offer young people their rightful place in their society.

(Final Celebration)

As we enter our third year of working with Blessed Trinity College, Belfast on the Creative Schools project, we look forward to an exciting new phase of the rewarding intergenerational work with Newington Day Centre.

Workshops with Sheena and Sean are taking place throughout January and February and focus on the “The Story of Who We Are”.  The aim is to show the voices and faces of North Belfast through dance, portrait photography and creative writing.  This week the Trinity students got to talk to the members of Newington Day Centre about their past and then they represented the history of North Belfast together through improvised dance.

Here’s a fun fact about our project participants – the oldest group member was born in 1932 and youngest born in 2009!

Thank you to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Education Authority and Urban Villages for this opportunity.

 

 

Last Tuesday we were delighted to welcome over 50 guests to join us for our inaugural short film event at The Strand Arts Centre.  By sharing the five films, we hoped to showcase the range of our dance work and how we advance dance as an artform using it to build community connections, foster tolerance and respect.  The evening was hosted by Board member Tom Hughes:

and each film was introduced by someone who had participated in the making of it.  The films we screened were:

-A Chance To Dance: Celebrating how age is no barrier to dance featuring Alternative Energies, our intergenerational project in Ballycastle was introduced by Deborah Hamilton, our Youth Engagement Project director:

-Little Stranger: A film on the plight of unaccompanied child migrants which was introduced by Sheena Kelly, Community Engagement Artist who was integral to the film:

-Ode to Gaia: Celebrating the diversity of a group of women who have chosen to live in West Belfast coming together to dance, share and create was introduced by two participants Halla and Carole:

-The Effect: The last in a series of films with young carers and young people referred to social services as needing support.  This dance film explores how some of these young people feel and our Artistic Director Mags spoke about the real impact the project made on the participants’ self confidence:

-Tribe: A look at the dance performance which broke ground for Belfast Boys taking them to the prestigious U Dance showcase. Tribe show how friends and community are key to every young adult achieving their highest potential and Belfast Boy dancer Oisín introduced the film and spoke about why he enjoys being part of the group:

The audience feedback was fantastic!:

 

“The scope of the work is amazing and so personal, moving, important and uplifting.”

“Wonderful to see the support that Dance has.”

“Really insightful and impactful on the work that DU Dance do!”

“It was a most interesting showcase of the cross-community work undertaken by DU Dance. It was wonderful to hear of the personal development showing in the faces and work of the dancers, young and old.”

“It was brilliant to see the films and the work you do.”

“I found it really moving and impactful- loved hearing the participants voices and stories in…A Chance to Dance.”

“I liked every film but was moved to hear of the west Belfast group, the Little Stranger group and the achievements of the young carers dance.”

“It was really uplifting to watch the results of such important work presented in such beautiful forms.  The range of groups and participants and the clear pride and pleasure everyone had gained from the work was great to see.  It was also good to have the introductions to each film, setting them in context.”

Thanks to all the team, but especially Creative Producer Gina, for pulling the event together.  Let’s do it all again next year!

 

On Sunday 4 February, Debs – our Youth Engagement Programme Director – was delighted to attend Belfast Cathedral’s annual Good Samaritan Service and receive a grant award from the 2023 Black Santa Sit Out Appeal.

This year’s Sit Out raised over £171,000, all of which has been shared out among over 130 local charities.  This generous donation will immensely benefit Alternative Energies, our intergenerational dance programme in Ballycastle.