Arts University Bournemouth & Higher Education Dance

© Andy Beeson

For today’s prospective University dance degree student, the choice to pursue and progress their dance studies should be about being allowed to creatively explore and test new ideas. The chance to have three years of focused time to enrich one’s appreciation of practitioners and artists, of styles and techniques and of other art forms and their possibilities is an essential part in the building of a sustainable arts future for this country. A student dancer should be able to view their University dance training as a time where they are in a laboratory, and they are free to set up a wide range of experiments. Sometimes the experiments don’t seem to achieve much, sometimes they are volatile and explosive but always they produce a chance to learn from what one has set up and ‘tested’. Increasingly higher education dance courses are having to acknowledge the likelihood of gaps in the educational profile of their auditionees. In the last ten years, the profile of the student looking to study dance at University has changed irrevocably. Gone are the days where UCAS forms show a similar journey of some educational dance experiences alongside private sector training. Although GCSE and A Level Dance still exist as validated qualifications, alongside the BTEC Certificates and Diplomas, the chance of those courses being on offer to all is increasingly rare as many schools and colleges have removed a wide range of arts subjects from their curriculums due to budget or government demands. The benefits of arts education at all levels is something widely acknowledged and present in the media and within teaching forums and platforms. It can only be hoped that the key statistics demonstrating benefits and value for all are recognised and swiftly acted upon, within the educational sector.

Many educational institutions across the country do continue to support the arts throughout secondary training and into further education. Those students are better supported to look for HE courses that further their skills and training, with content that will better prepare them for employability in the industry. However, the gaps that are clearly showing for some students’ journeys to HE does mean that a University course now cannot just expect to bring a dancer in training into both a rigorous academic and artistic environment ready to experiment and challenge their views. It is proving to be essential that a dance background context is given and cannot now be expected, to enable the HE curriculum to make sense and be achievable.

There are a range of other external factors currently affecting University dance degrees and their recruitment but being aware of the potential profile of an applicant and focusing on that can only help. The stepping stones into higher educational dance courses are now much further apart, and in some instances seem to have crumbled altogether. This hugely impacts how much a degree course can look to challenge its students. To create that experimental Dance Lab, the environment created around the students is also key. Three years at University should enable a dancer to develop a resilience to situations that cause pressure and challenge. This demonstrates that pastoral support is as key as the academic delivery.

However, the issues and external factors that Universities offering dance are currently facing should not affect the quality of the courses on offer. Going to University should be both a privilege and a challenge. Deciding to study for a degree in any subject means that an individual is ready to take their passion forwards for a subject and to have their eyes opened and their views challenged. Studying dance means that both the body and the brain will feel the pressure, but if the love of the subject is there, then learning new ways of approaching it should be a pleasure and not a pain. Any HE dance curriculum must remain current and relate to the industry and courses should be keeping their eyes firmly on the artists, companies and initiatives that are happening now. This way students can truly focus on their own artistic development, and a relevant individual employability potential.

Looking to implement change and challenge the accepted templates of the industry has to be the best way forwards. The BA (Hons) Dance degree at Arts University Bournemouth was launched in 2015 and aims to create a different type of industry ready portfolio dance artist. The course works to develop a student into being dance artist with an edge, able to respond to an ever-changing art form. Running in partnership with Pavilion Dance South West, a regional NPO organisation, the course is contemporary focused, and looks to push students to craft a range of skills that can be utilised beyond the expected dance progression routes currently available. This practical, industry focused dance course at a unique and bespoke arts campus encourages students to embrace and collaborate within the University’s ‘maker culture’.

Responding directly to the current dance industry, this course allows students to collaborate with other art forms and organisations, to create responses that are relevant and that are constantly pushing the boundaries as to what is expected of a dancer. From day one, you experience a choreographic focus, and are constantly encouraged to develop and test creative ideas as a performer, choreographer and producer enabling others to experience dance and gain a greater understanding of the industry. With a strong focus on technique, fitness, choreography and critical thinking, dance at AUB looks to support an individual as they find their strengths and specialisms. The programme allows students to focus on skills and to become a specialist in choreographic research and development, community practice, dance production and leadership in a range of industry placements.

Dance graduates need to be both creative makers and adaptable artists. This is the course ethos behind the new BA (Hons) dance degree at the Arts University. Other degree courses are also looking for inventive ways to create change in the dance graduates in the UK. Unless courses truly respond to the ever- changing industry around them, no new pioneers will be graduating from dance degrees anytime soon.

To conclude, it is essential that dance graduates feel they will be educationally, creatively and pastorally equipped with the tools they need to make change, if they apply to study dance at University. Their studies need to give them a nurturing time in a dance laboratory where new experiments can happen daily.

UCAS Course Code – W500
Institution Code – A66