How dance became big again

Midnight Tango is a new show at the Edinburgh Playhouse Theatre. Picture: Jane Barlow
Midnight Tango is a new show at the Edinburgh Playhouse Theatre. Picture: Jane Barlow
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If you’re walking through Edinburgh city centre this weekend, don’t be surprised if a ballet shoe whisks past your face, or castanets joined to a snaking flamenco arm click by your ear.

Taking over several central locations, Big Dance Edinburgh is a 48 hour celebration of movement, featuring over 100 performances in over 20 different dance styles.

Backed by the Scottish Government’s ‘Get Scotland Dancing’ campaign, funded by Creative Scotland, and part of the Cultural Olympiad, Big Dance Edinburgh has all the major players on its side. But why?

Such a large investment of time, energy and, to a degree, money all for the love of dance is – in my eyes – a beautiful thing. It’s also very timely. Ten years ago, maybe even five years ago, Big Dance would never have left the ‘good ideas’ list of whoever dreamed it up. Yet in 2012, dance events will take place across the UK, including a mass week-long celebration in London this July, during which 1,000 dancers will perform a new Wayne McGregor piece in Trafalgar Square.

So what is it that has got the politicians and purse-holders so excited about dance? It’s not a new concept, it’s been around since time began and, until fairly recently, it’s been the favourite artform to marginalise and under-fund. The answer seems to lie in the small - and to a lesser extent large - screen. Over the past ten years, a glut of television dance shows has sprung up on both terrestrial and satellite channels, and the public, it would seem, can’t get enough of it.

Strictly Come Dancing, So You Think You Can Dance?, Got To Dance, Move Like Michael Jackson, and America’s Best Dance Crew are just some of the ways dance has made its way into our living rooms. And cinematic release StreetDance 3D and its sequel opened up ballet and Latin to those who think dance begins and ends with hip hop.

The powers that be have clearly caught on to this new wave of dance fever, looked around at Britain’s increasing obesity problem, and put two and two together. In Scotland that meant contacting Dance Base in Edinburgh and asking them to programme a weekend of inspirational dance activity, which they’ve promptly done.

Enlisting the help of dance groups across Edinburgh and beyond, Dance Base has assembled a diverse line-up of performances, demonstrations, taster sessions, talks, flash mobs and more, right in the heart of the capital, free and open to all. They also managed to recruit Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace, Strictly Come Dancing’s Latin supremos, as Big Dance Ambassadors.

TV has been good to Simone and Cacace, leading to their hugely successful (and well worth seeing) stage show, Midnight Tango, currently at the Edinburgh Playhouse. “It’s been like a boom really,” says Cacace. “Dancing had been off the TV for many years, and I think people had forgotten just how entertaining it is. But luckily it’s back and it doesn’t matter what the programme is or what type of dance it is, if dancing is on our TV screens, it will make people want to go and learn. Anything that has to do with promoting dance, like the Big Dance, then Vincent and I are 100% behind it.”

So whether it’s hip-hop in St Andrews Square Gardens, international dance on Castle Street, films and illustrated talks at the National Museum of Scotland, flash mobs on Rose Street, or dance for children and families and a world record breaking Tea Dance on the Grassmarket (sign up for it here – they need 306 couples to break it), it’s safe to say Dance Base has got the genre pretty much covered.

The organisers are very upfront about their agenda and the reasons behind the weekend. “The message is simple,” they say, “if you don’t already dance, we hope that over the weekend, you’ll be inspired to start.” With almost 50 dance schools, groups and organisations for all ages and genders listed in the Big Dance programme, they couldn’t have made it any easier for us.

What they can’t give us, of course, is the time to do it – which is my sorry excuse for not currently taking part. For the first 20 or so years of my life, dancing was one of my favourite things to do. Whether it was ballet, tap, ballroom or contemporary, I loved the way it made me feel, both physically and mentally. In recent years, the only thing I can find time for is writing about dance or watching my children do it.

But, after immersing myself in the Big Dance from 10am on Saturday morning until 7pm on Sunday evening (including that record breaking Tea Dance), I fully expect to be knocking on the door of Dance Base on Monday morning, clambering for a class.

Big Dance Edinburgh takes place on Saturday and Sunday.