Ballet class in Tamara Rojo’s kitchen

The future: New Ideas, New inspirations

Conference introducing speech.

Dance UK, Friday 10 April 2015.


Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome to The Future: New Ideas, New Inspirations – the UK’s first ever industry-wide dance conference.

This is an important event, dare I say it, momentous.

This is the most diverse gathering of dance professionals ever assembled in the UK. We are the people that are entrusted with nurturing and shaping the art form. We are the people who will find and develop the talent of the future. We are the people who need to put in place a sustainable future for dance in this country.

And during the next three days, we will have the opportunity to discuss, debate, question, share, challenge and celebrate all aspects of Dance.

Let me say first, there is a lot to celebrate.

Dance is going through a period of great popularity.

In recent years dance audiences have grown more than ever before and more and more people want to get involved in all aspects of the art form.

At the same time, the old prejudices of different languages and techniques of dance, the snobbery of dance if you like, is being challenged by an ever-increasing cross-synergy and collaboration of dance styles.

Also, our dancers are being cared for better than ever before. For the first time dancers can now have access to specialist care by just being referred by their GP thanks to the Dance UK’s Healthier Dancer Programme as part of the National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science.

And, as Caroline Miller announced, the conference marks the beginning of a new, unified and stronger go-to industry body as Dance UK, Association of Dance of the African diaspora, National Dance teachers association and Youth Dance England are joining forces.

There is much to celebrate, as I say, but we also face a number of big challenges. Challenges that we must confront and overcome together.

  • How we fund dance in this country in the future
  • How we strengthen the fraying ties between dance and mainstream education.

Let me make an obvious point first: without adequate funding we won’t have a vibrant world-class dance environment in the UK.  And I don’t just mean public money; I am talking about encouraging the right kind of philanthropic giving too.

The truth is, despite a compelling economic and social case made by arts leaders in this country, funding continues to be cut. Dance continues to be one of the least funded art forms, even though the return on investment dances makes is one of the greatest.

When it comes to funding, these days, what often seems the case is we have to deal with many different challenges that can be at odds with each other:

  • Become less reliant on public subsidy but at the same time produce more risk-taking and experimental repertoire to push the art form forward and engage with new audiences.
  • Invest in and develop young unknown artists, but produce new work that cannot fail and that must guaranteed commercial and critical success.
  • Balance shrinking budgets and seek alternative income sources besides the subsidies, with a constant increasing desire to widen the participation of different target groups and audiences

You could put it like this – less money, but more strings attached.

But you mustn’t think I am some kind of dyed in the wool socialist who wants more money with less strings. That is an unrealistic answer. It is absolutely right that public money, wherever its spent, is spent carefully, wisely and its impact measured.

The point is that resources are finite and we will need to be increasingly imaginative in making the case for the public money that remains, and in appealing to private donors who can help bridge the gap.

Increasing funding from private sources is clearly front of mind with us all. But that is true across all arts. We are all chasing the same money. Not only that, private funders are bombarded by requests from other socially important programmes too.

We have to doggedly, persistently and creatively make the economic, social and educational case for dance. We have to fire the imagination so that private donors see the benefit of funding dance beyond the tried and tested.

And on that point, I wanted to share with you an education programme that has been running in Boston recently.

At the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology they have developed a program to teach mathematics to girls between the age of 12 and 13 through dance.

According to them, maths, like dance, is a universal language that allows us to express enormous passion and creativity with utter precision. Success in both fields requires confidence, dedication and attention to detail.

They wanted to equalise the gender gap in science, technology, mathematics and engineering. But they achieved a lot more. The girls that took part in this program achieved a 273% improvement in maths results, and 110% improvement in confidence.

Can you imagine a programme like that happening in this country?  Yet it should!

But following changes to government policy, which means that dance is no longer part of the curriculum in schools, the current climate isn’t good.

Education in dance must start early, and so the only way to guarantee the accessibility to the art form for anyone, regardless of their economic and social background, is by including dance in the everyday activities of children.

If we don’t, dance (and here I am talking mainly about ballet) will increasingly become the sole preserve of those with money.

And as you know, dance is a truly classless activity, as it is shown in the ranks of every dance company in the world. But, if we want to continue to have the Carlos Acostas, Alina Cojocarus and Ed Watsons of the future, we must guarantee free access to all that show an interest or curiosity.

The World Bank director, Mr. Jim Yong Kim, said in a recent speech that in today’s world there are three key elements to success; literacy, numeracy and creativity.  Dance in the curriculum would help provide at least two of these.

And what about the education of our own professionals?

Today we prioritize creating technicians of dance, and our dancers are more skillful than ever.

But when we look to the past, those who left the strongest legacy were also able to be great spokespersons for the art form.

For example, the first treaty for teaching classical ballet technique was created by Carlo Blassis. He was not only a great dancer, but also a musician and composer, who studied architecture, drawing, geometry and anatomy.

Of course times have changed, but are we ensuring that we are not just educating great technical dancers, but forming the leaders of the future for Dance?

My final challenge – and it’s as big as the challenges of funding and education I am afraid, is digital.

Look at the music industry, look at the media industry, look at what’s happening in education, almost every industry continues to be shaken by digital.

Some have seized the opportunity, reinvented business models and reinvented their fortunes – others have been less successful.

But in the arts, we are truly only at the foothills of what WILL be a transformational tool for our industry.

But…the pace of innovation is being set elsewhere – that has to change.

Digital technologies will, in the end, transform the way cultural organizations share their stories, connect with audiences and support their essential day-to-day operations. We just need to get much better at investing in and harnessing digital.

Audiences and funders alike now expect us to have mastered these new opportunities, and dance should be the natural art for it. So why hasn’t it happened?

Fear perhaps, loss of control, the “mystique” of live versus digital, the cost?

Whatever the answer, we have to grasp the potential of digital quickly, because I believe it is critical in helping to solve the first two problems I set out (funding and education).

Not only that, it is also critical for the preservation of the legacy, our history and traditions and our repertoire.

Dance is a fragile art form, which has traditionally been passed orally, from generation to generation. But today, thanks to the digital technologies and the author’s right, this work cannot just be passed on to new generations of artist, but can, in fact, be frozen in time.

But digital shouldn’t be about preserving our art form in aspic and, in fact, this is a problem that precedes our ability to record work digitally. It is an essential philosophical question that we need to confront. The meaning of preservation and the difference between replication and reinterpretation is the distinction between a live art form and a dead one.

In other art forms like theatre, music, both classical and contemporary, and even cinema, it is reinterpretation by the new generations of artists what guarantees the survival of the art. Yet, in Dance, we insist in replication not reinterpretation.

Same costumes, same lights, same historic context… Is this really the best way to protect our legacy, or the fastest way to make it dated and irrelevant to future artists and audiences?

A lot to discuss, a lot to explore…

We are starting the conference with a speed World Cafe, led by Zoe van Zwanenberg as Roanne Dod can’t be with us.

Feel free to introduce any subject – be as provocative as you like, and remember to identify solutions, not just name problems.

While the world cafe is taking place more conference delegates are over at The London Mayor’s City Hall with a live “Dragon’s Den” where dance professionals are pitching their ideas for investment, followed by a discussion about philanthropy and dance and the wider arts.

These discussions will directly feed into the creation of the 5 year policy document for dance that Dance UK will publish on International Dance Day, 29 April 2015, so what you say this morning is important.

I am personally really looking forward to it and I hope you all enjoy it and take away not just clearer ideas and vision but a great network from which we can continue to inspire and support each other.

Let it begin!

‘I really believe we need more women’s voices on the stage’

Judith Mackrell – The Guardian – February 2015

Sarah Crompton – The Telegraph – 06 October 2014.

Tamara Rojo: ‘Just a beautiful body? That bores me to death’

Tamara Rojo – artistic director and star dancer with English National Ballet – tells Sarah Crompton about the sort of performers that appeal to her, her radical plans for her current company, and her frustrations with former employer the Royal Ballet.