Building confidence through dance

With Dance United Yorkshire
By Steph Donohoe

Dance United Yorkshire (DUY) has a successful and longstanding history of working with ‘hard-to-reach’ groups and vulnerable people from all walks of life. DUY is the legacy company of the original charity Dance United and its award-winning programme for young offenders: The Academy (2006 – 2010). We work with disengaged and excluded young people, young offenders, vulnerable women in community and custodial settings, children and families living in poverty and marginalised communities. Our bespoke projects are designed to meet the needs of different client groups whilst always striving for high artistic quality. DUY, as a development organisation, is adaptable and always shifting depending on the socio-economic climate. The work that happens in the studio is guided by a rigid methodology which has been developed to help each participant achieve their potential. We believe that everybody should have access to high quality arts, irrespective of their challenging circumstances.

‘Hard-to-reach’ communities are all different but, typically, they are groups of people who are under-represented within society and have limited capacity for involvement. Each participant arrives with varying needs and abilities, all of which are supported by DUY. Our pastoral approach includes getting to know individuals in their environments; their support groups, within schools and within their homes. Each participant receives a home visit before an intensive project and we help participants remain engaged through regular texts and messages of support. We are considerate that every individual has their own challenges in their lives. The sessions are not for unpacking or trying to ‘heal’, but instead, for creating moments of respite, building confidence and offering a safe and nurturing environment.

We let the artform lead. By focusing on the practice, we enable our participants to escape their challenging, everyday lives. We create an empowering environment by giving constructive and appropriate feedback and encouragement. We teach at the standard we expect the dancers to perform and place equal value on process and product in all of our projects. Through performance, our participants feel a sense of accomplishment and are recognised positively in society – often for the first time. This is achieved through confidence building tasks, technique exercises, creative movement tasks and physical challenges. Time is spent on correct alignment and posture and we place great emphasis on focus and stillness. DUY also invests in artists, endeavouring to support them in their own professional journey. We do this by hosting artistic collaborations with external companies and choreographers (e.g. New Adventures, 2Faced Dance, Protein and Gary Clarke) and offering artistic training and mentorship. Our artists need to be dynamic and flexible in their leading and choreographic style, yet consistent and firm with our boundaries.

It is astounding how working with the body and focusing on the movement can translate to having a transformative impact on somebody’s life.

Covid-19 has created additional difficulties, but in true DUY fashion, our artists have worked hard to ensure we have kept our participants engaged. We created a documentary about our women’s company participants during lockdown. Watch a video about them here.

If you would like to know more about DUY as an organisation or to get involved with any of our projects, please get in touch with Steph Steph@duy.org.uk.