U.Dance Digital Round Up

30 Jul 2020

Several days ago, thousands of young people, teachers, parents, guardians and dance industry professionals gathered online to host and participate in U.Dance Digital. Only a few months prior, U.Dance was set to take place in Glasgow in its usual bustling and buoyant format, but in light of global events and with the magic of One Dance UK’s team, was transformed into an entirely online and free event. My name is Lauren and I am a placement student and projects assistant with One Dance UK – and I was lucky enough to be involved with the planning of U.Dance Digital! 

The U.Dance event is a highlight in the calendars of many across the UK. Described as the National Youth Dance Festival, it brings together youth groups in dance hotspots all around the country. For the first time ever it was scheduled to be held in Scotland, which will continue to take place in 2021. Yet despite circumstances, the restrictions felt by us all this year have resulted in the festival reaching more people than ever. U.Dance has broken its creative limits and continued to deliver dance to young people. It has honoured its history, rewritten its future and left a digital footprint of its success. 

Where there was no physical stage, U.Dance Digital instead hosted several challenges for young people to create their own work. I was asked to help shortlist the U.Dance on Screen applications which were then sent to our expert panel: Sima Gonsai and Mark Reid. It was an enriching process to view such a diverse selection of dance and I learnt vast amounts through the content, production and editing of these films. Two additional challenges that U.Dance has never seen before were introduced this year: the Choreography Challenge and Writing Challenge. I was given the task of creating a challenge and was therefore thrilled to see my suggestion of a writing competition taken forward. Throughout my journey so far, I have found immense joy and value in using words to further my practice. I hope that this has encouraged young people to explore the collaboration of literacy and dance, as seeing entries submitted for this challenge was without doubt a highlight for me. 

As you can imagine, planning an online event is vastly different to that with a physical venue. Considerations of accommodation, catering and dressing rooms take a back seat in the auditorium, and instead the troubles of internet connection plague us all! But the beauty of virtual learning is ease of bringing everyone into a room together, regardless of distance. U.Dance Digital this year allowed participants to sit in a room with Alexzandra Sarmiento, Layton Williams, Rhimes LecointeAljaž and Janette, Sir Richard Alston and so many moreI witnessed these names delivered into my email inbox daily, each one eager to deliver content to the young people who are the future of this industry. Gradually a sparkling line up formed and U.Dance Digital found a home in its colourful new website. (You can still check out the line-up and view sessions by visiting One Dance UK designed and delivered posts straight to your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds; to inboxes, newspapers and websites all across the country. With over 5000 registrants comfortably seated in the auditorium, U.Dance Digital began. 

Unmissable sessions took place all across U.Dance Digital weekend. If you’re catching up on sessions (available on the U.Dance website until 7 August) or simply revisiting your favourites, it can be difficult to know where to begin! After zooming my way around the festival, I thought I would suggest some must watch sessions you don’t want to miss! On Friday afternoon, Akosua Boakye hosted an uplifting Careers Chat on ‘Being a Dancer Across Many Genres’. Akosua discussed the strengths that come from having many skills and the power that this diversity brings. I particularly found Akosua’s advice on developing your voice, even as a dancer, to be an important lesson that often dancers overlook. If you’re hungry to get moving, then check out SIX West End Masterclass with the brilliant Carrie-Anne Ingrouille. This upbeat and energetic class teaches choreography from the incredibly trendy musical which tells the stories of Henry VIII’s six wives. If you’re feeling sassy or spunky – this one’s for you! 

Another must watch session is Edel Quin’s Dance Scientist Careers Chat. This session addresses the importance of understanding our bodies to develop safer practice. Edel also discusses her pathway into dance science, a great example to young people on how finding your passion comes with exploring different options. There are so many possibilities to discover in the dance industry, therefore sessions such as this one are wonderful in showing young people the breadth of careers and opportunities available to them. Similarly, there are so many more sessions to experience and I cannot possibly give credit to them all. However in every one of these sessions, it was a pleasure to witness the many dedicated young people who showed so much enthusiasm; whether it was having their questions answered, sending us videos of the Masterclass choreography they learnt or sharing their experiences on social media. 

Planning, watching and participating in U.Dance Digital reminds me that aa current BA Dance student, I have the opportunities provided to me during my education to thank for my confidence in choosing dance as a career. It is important young people know that should they not take similar pathways to mine, they are still able to have a career in dance. In school it is emphasised to us the importance of deciding our future, and whilst it is by no means irreversible, we can provide knowledge which empowers young people to make these decisions with confidence. One Dance UK’s work to support young people interested in dance is vital in ensuring a vibrant future for our sector. More importantly, it allows young people to learn about careers, opportunities and encourages them to have belief in achieving their goals. And so being a part of U.Dance Digital is of course an exciting and wonderful experience, but it also reminds us that there is immense power in sharing our knowledge. Perhaps someday the young people dancing in their living rooms will be the faces of such an event, and I am sure they will look back and remember the wise words and great moves shared over the U.Dance Digital weekend.  

By Lauren Hewett