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.

January proved the perfect time to launch the next phase of the community dance artist training programme – just before a busy year of classes and projects begin.

So delivering on our commitment to provide exciting opportunities for collaboration with fellow practitioners in community dance, we were delighted to welcome Robby Graham, award-winning choreographer and Artistic Director of Southpaw Dance Company, to host a two day workshop.

Southpaw Dance Company is based in Newcastle, England and, under the artistic direction and unique vision of Robby, who is originally from Omagh, the company creates epic visual spectacle and dynamic physical storytelling sequences in which movement, music, and dialogue are seamlessly integrated.  Southpaw is well known for its mass movement projects such as Rush bringing together both professional and community casts to create high quality and innovative work.

“So pleased to be back home sharing Southpaw’s process of co-creating with community. We had a fantastic few days together exploring choreographic processes. Projects like this are vital, allowing space for artists to develop their practices and create the next wave of brave and ambitious work.”  Robby Graham, Artistic Director, Southpaw Dance Company

A group of 13 community dance artists met at The MAC, Belfast to start their new year refreshing their own practice and filling their creative cup. Robby generously took us through his artistic process for co-creating with communities, highlighting the importance of facilitating the community voice and ensuring due diligence in the research and development stages to ensure communities are represented appropriately.

“Excellently set up by DU Dance NI, and the delivery by Robby was highly informative, professionally delivered and Robby showed a significant emphasis on the needs of the group and on feeding the group with guidance, tools and experience in preparing and working with communities.”      Participant

Not only does this training programme ensure that community dance artists in Northern Ireland are able to keep their practise up to date, the programme also creates an informal network of local community dance artists who can learn and support each other.

“Maintaining connections with local artists, opportunity to be part of that larger dance community and revising and developing skill sets in the area of dance within the community.” Participant

If you are a community dance artist and are interested in finding out more about the programme and further professional development opportunities with DU Dance NI, please get in contact with sheena@dudanceni.com

Happy New Year! We are back to work and raring to go here at DU Dance as Robby Graham, Artistic Director of Southpaw Dance Company, joins us to deliver the latest element of our community dance artist training programme.

Over the next two days, 15 artists will work with Robby at The MAC Belfast to explore co-creation in an outdoor context with community and professional casts.  As he shares his artistic process for mass movement projects such as RUSH we are excited to learn more about ensuring meaningful engagement and high quality work.

You can explore Southpaw’s wide range of work, including RUSH – a spectacular, visceral, large-scale outdoor work inspired by the mass movement of global protest, incorporating 100 local community cast alongside Southpaw’s company dancers, on their website.

We will be sharing more from the training sessions so watch this space.

It is that time again (can you believe it!) when we all come together for one of our most favourite events of the year – DAY OF DANCE.

This year all those involved in our Youth Engagement Projects will be travelling to The Brian Friel Theatre at Queens University Belfast on Sunday 3rd December for the annual gathering.

For most of our Belfast Boys it will be a short journey across the city whilst the Sutemos and Suteminis groups will be travelling from Dungannon.   And…drum roll please…. this year we are thrilled the lively Alternative Energies group in Ballycastle will be heading down the M2 to join the fun.

It is always a wonderful day with sharing workshops which culminates in a performance for family and friends.  And it wouldn’t be Day of Dance if there we were not expecting loads of yummy festive treats and, of course, the annual Christmas dance off!

Belfast Boys have been invited to perform at the Christmas lights switch-on in Belfast city centre on Saturday 18th November.

They are working on an upbeat routine guaranteed to warm the crowd and get everyone moving. With the Lord Mayor of Belfast in attendance, a preview of the Lyric’s Christmas show and a medley of other local performers on stage at the City Hall,  ‘Let’s Glow Belfast’ is sure to be a lot of a fun!

Full event details can be found HERE.