Community award nomination for innovative youth project
Monday, 09 July 2012
"They are my family. The Dance Academy has helped me a lot, they've been brilliant!" that's the verdict of Nathan, 16, on an innovative and inspiring dance project run by Hampshire County Council and Hampshire Youth Offending Team that has been shortlisted for a national community award.
The Wessex Dance Academy aims to transform the lives of young people at risk of social exclusion and offending and is in the running for one of the Howard League for Penal Reform's prestigious Community Programme Awards 2012. The winners of the awards will be announced at the League's annual conference in London, on Thursday, 19 July 2012.
Wessex Dance Academy has only been running fully since January this year after successful pilot projects. It is run by Hampshire County Council and Hampshire Youth Offending Team in conjunction with professional dance company Dance United .
Those taking part come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have been in care, while others have offended or been at risk of offending. Young people excluded from mainstream education are also a target group for the dance academy. The aim of the project is to raise the self esteem of the young people, build their confidence and show them they can achieve and succeed. As well as the discipline of daily dance classes the Academy also encourages the young people to look at healthy lifestyle options with tips on preparing healthy meals, the importance of a healthy diet and keeping fit as well as making positive life choices.
The academy runs three 12-week programmes each year and is seeing successful outcomes for the young people who have attended.
Among those who have benefitted from the programme are Nathan and Jodie, both aged 16.
Nathan, from Andover has been in care since a young age and says the Dance Academy has helped him gain in confidence and believe in himself. So much so he's just taken part in auditions which could see him studying dance full-time with Swindon Dance and even a potential career as a professional dancer or teacher of dance. He says it has transformed his life.
"It has been brilliant," said Nathan, whose speciality is Street Dance.
"I love taking part in the Academy. It's been a lot of fun and each time I go I just want to learn more and more. Working with the dance teachers has been amazing."
For Nathan, who was recently adopted by his long term foster carers, the best bit is the performances at professional theatres in Hampshire. He has taken part in one at the Andover Lights and at the Theatre Royal in Winchester. "It's great getting on the stage and seeing the audience of 400 or more people enjoy our work. It fantastic getting that positive feedback when you have worked so hard."
Nathan is halfway through a two year course in Dance at Eastleigh College and hopes if he gets into Swindon Dance that it will set him on the way to being a dance teacher himself one day. He currently helps mentor other young people who are starting their programmes at the Dance Academy.
Like Nathan, Jodie has ambitions to be a professional dancer or teach dance, ambitions she never thought were possible to achieve until she went on the Dance Academy programme. Jodie was, on her own admission, in and out of trouble with the police before attending the 12 week programme.
"People were always saying oh no what has she done now," said the sparky teenager.
"The Dance Academy has made me want to move on and do more positive things with my life. I am really hoping I can sort myself out. I'm going to Taunton''s College in September to study Dance. I'd love to be a dancer on cruise ships or maybe even a dance teacher one day."
Jodie will take an important step towards that ambition when she attends the Freshers Day at Taunton's college.
"I'm nervous but excited," she said.
"The Dance Academy has taught me that I can do good things when I put my mind to it."
Commenting on the project's short listing for the awards, Councillor Roy Perry, Hampshire County Council's Executive lead member for Children's Services said: "It is superb news that the Wessex Dance Academy has been nominated for this award. It seeks to raise the aspirations of vulnerable young people, offering them an opportunity to train under professional dancers, developing new skills and discovering just what they can achieve.
"Like Nathan and Jodie, some of them have faced challenging personal circumstances which may have affected their attainment in more formal educational settings while others may have been at risk of social exclusion and offending. This project provides them all with a unique opportunity to find out what they are capable of achieving through hard work and dedication and with the expert guidance and support of our staff, staff from Hampshire YOT and professional dancers.
"In many cases, as Nathan and Jodie have testified, it has helped transform young people's lives by enabling them to focus on their futures with a more positive attitude and approach and realise there are things they can achieve with support and guidance and some commitment on their part. I think this project has a real part to play in improving outcomes for young people at risk of social exclusion or those at risk of offending which in turn will benefit the wider community."
The programme has already resulted in performances at Hampshire venues including Eastleigh's The Point, Winchester's Theatre Royal and The Lights at Andover.
Dance United has run similar project in Bradford giving vital opportunities to young people who would otherwise have been at risk of social exclusion and offending. Lucy Nicholson from Dance United said: "Young people, many of whom have been considered hard to reach young people have responded very well to learning through Dance. It is physically, mentally and artistically challenging for them but we have seen them grow and grow through the experience." Seventy five percent of those young people who took part in the Bradford project went on to engage positively in education, employment or training and many stopped offending.