Joanne Williams, Community Engagement Officer tells us how Birmingham Royal Ballet can inspire members of the local community.
Since I joined the Company as Community Engagement Officer in 2011, it’s become apparent to me that there are a number of barriers to participation in ballet amongst some areas of our local community. The main obstacles are the perceived cost and the image of ballet, often based on stereotypes.
The Department for Learning listens to what communities tell us, so this means that our work, and how we monitor it, is constantly evolving. In designing a project we’ll ascertain just how we can make dance relevant to the people we’re working with. For example, for school children, we might link it to learning in other curriculum subjects or explore more abstract classroom themes; a school may have a group of children with special educational needs or have a group who are hard to reach inside the classroom, who will respond to opportunities to communicate in a different medium, or a teacher might recognise the health benefits of dance and might wish to learn how they might use it more creatively, to enhance wider learning. Dance combines the elements of physicality, creativity and performance and can be used to provide a variety of compelling learning experiences.
Once the department has worked out what the desired outcomes from a project might be we try to find a sense of familiarity – an access point. On previous projects we have introduced ballet through storytelling, through boxing and even through reggae! Participants have also been inspired just by talking to our dancers, or stepping inside a professional studio for the first time.
We’ve also taught people that Birmingham Royal Ballet isn’t just about dance – it’s an industry. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes at any given time.
In addition to schools, we work in communities with young children, people with learning disabilities, older people and minority groups, from across the country. These projects offer us the opportunity to engage in dialogue with communities who may not previously have encountered ballet in the traditional sense. For example, in autumn 2012 we invited dance artists from the Birmingham area to re-interpret a ballet piece in another dance style and then share their work with local community groups.
A major part of my role as Community Engagement Officer is linking with communities and individuals and finding out how ballet can impact on their lives. They are often those who previously thought that a prestigious company like Birmingham Royal Ballet would never come out to them, and it’s frequently there that the impact is most striking.
Wherever possible we address preconceptions of what ballet is, but in order to understand what it might become to people, we have to speak to them first. It’s truly exciting to be involved in promoting the Company in this way.