Saturday, 2 June 2012

Dance Participation

This one took a while.

Pineapple Studios is a building in Covent Garden, London, with several floors of dance studios, changing rooms and a café. The deal is that you pay a daily entry fee to the studios, and then pay the teachers whatever they charge for whatever particular classes you take. (You can join Pineapple, and not pay the entry fee, which works out cheaper if you visit more than once a week).

At the desk, they have A4 leaflets, folded twice, printed all over in very small print with the full weekly timetable, classified into levels along the lines of "Beginner", "Elementary", "Intermediate", "General", "Advanced" and "Professional", with mixtures and variations.

I picked up the leaflet recently, and on the Tube home, I started to count the different kinds of classes, got rather interested, and thought I would make you a chart.

To create the charts below, I typed out the name of each of the 266 classes offered in the timetable, and made a fairly vague, best-guess classification, first by looking at the words in their names and then by manually classifying the ones that didn't work for. I've totally ignored Pineapple's own classification on their website.

By "World" I mean anything characterised by a specific place of origin. Those dances have nothing else in common. This includes Brazilian Samba, Irish Dance for Performance, Island (Polynesian) Rhythms, Flamenco, Salsa, Bhangra Grooves, Bollywood Dance London, Capoeira and Egyptian Dance. It would include Argentine Tango if there was any, but in this particular leaflet there isn't a class listed. So the "World" bar in the charts doesn't tell you very much. It could equally reasonably be seen as a lot of little tiny bars - all these dances appear once or twice each.

"Street" is a very, very vague classification including Break Dance, Popping, Locking, Waacking, and a few things I'm not too sure about such as "New Skool". There are also two or three wild guesses in there.

You could dispute lots of things and do the classification lots of different ways. It depends what you're trying to do. Here, the only thing I am trying to do is get a general impression of how many people every week want to take what sorts of dance class, to see if I could learn anything from that.

A lot of classes fall into more than one category, like "Commercial Jazz" and "Ballet-Based Body Conditioning". That means double-counting, and it raises the total count from 266 to 296. There was one class, Singing, that only happened once a month - this is classified under "Music/Stage" along with a couple of other classes apparently designed for people appearing in musicals.

Here's the first pass:

On a second pass, after a quick Google, it seemed to me that perhaps I should add together "Street" and "Hip-Hop", and perhaps also "House", as a broader classification of closely related (but living and rapidly evolving) styles. If you do that, something interesting happens; taken together, they almost catch up with "Jazz". If you added "Commercial" as well, they would comfortably overtake "Jazz". But I feel as though the reasons you would do "Commercial" are different from the reasons you would do "Street" or "Hip-Hop", even though they might be physically similar, or even danced to some of the same music. I could be completely wrong about that, though.

Another interesting thing: Ballet is very popular. In fact, that's what inspired me to do this. I noticed how often the word "Ballet" came up, and wondered why we don't see more of it in mainstream culture. Many, many adults and children participate in a ballet class every week. It's popular. How come it's so invisible to non-participants?

Carole tells me that a lot of adults who are mainly interested in other dance forms, do ballet for body conditioning, and also to plug themselves in to the traditional European language of dance; if you work as a dancer, it's extremely useful to know, and to have other people know that you know, what a plié is. Those things still make it very influential; it seems strange to me that it doesn't somehow come up more often as a thing that people are interested in and do. But maybe I'm wrong, and it does; I don't really watch TV.

266 classes a week, with say 10-20 people in each class, is a lot of participation. This is just one place, Pineapple Studios - albeit a rather unique place, right in London theatreland, with an extraordinarily long, easy-to-analyse class list.

But I suspect there are many, many adults all over the country who regularly dance for their own enjoyment, and not that many of them ever have any intention to perform, professionally or otherwise. Even at Pineapple, 80% of the people in my weekly samba class (about 19 out of 20 of us are usually women) probably have no such intention and are doing it purely for fun and fitness. Why, I was wondering, does dancing for its own sake not seem that mainstream, plus-or-minus Zumba? Why is dance not something that people talk about at the water cooler, much, the way they do about their Sunday-league football adventures? Strictly Come Dancing has done a certain amount to change this, but it's essentially a ballroom programme, with a mindset that sees dance mainly as a stage performance rather than a regular mainstream recreation. And only about five of the classes listed are partner dances at all.

It made me think. But I don't have any conclusions for you.


Unknown said...

The water-cooler test. How divine! Yes, Ms Hedgehog, dance comes a long way after soccer, rugby and fishing. There are thousands of women around the UK who love dancing, and would love to dance. There are many who attend classes for their own enjoyment and quietly reap the personal health and fitness benefits of doing so. To become mainstream, you need the guys to get obsessed with dance. Back in the 40’s and 50’s (long before my time, I hasten to add), men needed to learn to dance to feature on the mating scene. Brylcreem, a smart suit, pressed shirt, shiny shoes and dance lessons were de rigueur. Now, they just need to turn up in trainers and a tee shirt to pull. Perhaps it is a question of effort. Many men and women for that matter, are not prepared to make the effort that was formerly necessary.

Perhaps things will change. Strictly is watched by millions of men and women alike, and raises the profile of dance, of romance and the benefits of effort. Get dance into the school curriculum and you will have cracked it.

Tangocommuter said...

I think ballet is mainstream culture, especially if you include contemporary dance, which has its base in ballet – but you have to look for it, just as you wouldn't know how popular tango is unless you started to look for it. I've been to the Royal Opera House when the Royal Ballet performed their evenings of three short contemporary works, and it was packed out with young people, a really electric, enthusiastic crowd, great atmosphere. Sadlers Wells runs two theatres in London with a mainly contemporary programme. This month there are ten full-length works by Pina Bausch and they were fully booked last autumn! But ballet doesn't have a social dance aspect: it's performance-only: if people do ballet just for body conditioning they wouldn't want us to watch!

I also found that people don't talk about dance at work. I remember running into a work colleague at Ceroc some years back: we always had a laugh about it but didn't mention it to our other colleagues.

I'm not sure that TV visibility is any guide to mainstream culture. Up to about six years ago, BBC 2 and 4, and Channel Four had regular dance programmes, once again, mainly contemporary. This went back years: I remember watching a full-length Pina Bausch work back in 1986, and a great deal of often quite radical and difficult work since then. But apart from Nutcracker at Christmas, dance has been dropped from TV. Sadly the slot seems to have gone to Strictly; great entertainment no doubt, but a great loss to anything more substantial.

zumba hamilton said...

To be able to do this, then you need to see the link between practice and getting better. If you feel that practice pays off, then you will be happy to practice, and feel that it is making you a better dancer. You will get satisfaction from practice that is much like the satisfaction of actually dancing how you want to dance.

Dance Tog said...

So.. the idea germinated fully...

see my blog tomorrow after 11.30ish .. heh!

msHedgehog said...

@Stephanie: yes, I considered whether that might have something to do with it. But glancing through the windows into the classes I've classified as 'street' or 'urban' suggests they attract somewhere near 50% males. So it doesn't quite explain it by itself. (If, however, we regard ballet as mainstream but heavily female-dominated, we get a totally different picture).

Yes, in my mother's generation various kinds of dance were taught in schools: I was even taught some country dancing (not for very long) in primary school.