Right now, the whole of Glasgow, it seems, is enraged about a patronising and insensitive art project, The Glasgow Effect, funded by Creative Scotland I went off searching for more information on the project and, by way of a meander, found Creative Scotland’s “Get Scotland Dancing” strategy for dance. My interest was piqued, as only a few weeks ago, I asked Nichola Sturgeon to push for a National Dance Strategy for Scotland cos I never knew we had one.
You may recall a few weeks ago the Tories put out an “oh, so funny” press release about how Scotland had lost the jig in its step. The number of people participating in dancing in Scotland has halved in the last seven years, from 14% to 7%.. I didnt find it funny; I found it quite sad that participation had dropped so dramatically.
I’ve always liked dance, but its a kindof embarrasing thing to admit, a bit feminate and naff …and when I tried to get some serious discussion about it going in the Bella Caledonia facebook group, so many of the responses, particularly those from men, could either not get past the Tories #SNPbad agenda, or not take the decline of dance as a serious issue. Yet dancing was, up until this year, more a more popular activity than football, which vast resources and attention are given to.
So I went to have a wee look at our national strategy for Dance. Read the evaluation report and weep. This is where £1.5 million of our money has gone. For a start its been embedded in the Legacy Plan of the Commonwealth Games, so money has gone out of Scotland (how does a performance on the streets of Sydney ever hope to achieve the stated aim of getting more people in Scotland participating in dance!). Furthermore Creative Scotland seeks to promote dance by the most high minded way possible. Its all ballets, choreography, ceildhs and dancing in the streets. All of these things have merit – but its not a sustainable form of dance for people to participate in on an ongoing basis.
None of it seems to have been based on how, when and why people dance. People dance at weddings, on nights out, at festivals; kids dance at parties and old folks dance in the common room., Everybody knows how to do the Okie Cokie, and more than will admit know how to do the Birdie Dance. Dance is an integral part of rituals – birthdays, weddings, and I for one had a damn good dance when Thatcher died.
Dance has taken a particular hit through austerity, less spare money means less kids parties, and less nights out; families have less money for treats like dancing lessons, and young people have less money for festivals, and of course less funding for the community organisations that might have promoted dance like youth discos or tea dances for the elderly. No amount of commissioned choreography is going to address these issues.
At the same time the police harassment of clubbers trying to get a dance in has escalated. Clubbers regularly report police drug searches in the queues to get into clubs, and nightclub owners have cut back on harm reduction measures in case the facilities that they provide to keep their patrons safe is used as evidence to shut them down. The most notorious example of this is the closure of the Arches – an act of utter cultural vandalism on the part of Police Scotland in cahoots with Glasgow City Council. Yet when Creative Scotland finally got its arse in gear to actually do something, it was specifically *excluding* the revenue generating dance aspect.
There is also nothing at all in the strategy by the way of supporting non-traditional dance – Glasgow’s Mela, for example, features a number of community dance companies, but you’d never know it from Creative Scotland’s approach; no mention of Salsa dancing, despite its popularity in Scotland; no experimental or interpretive dance, there isnt even any mention of breakdancing – the 1980s dance fashion trend referenced in the Creative Scotland press release.
And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music
When Creative Scotland was launched in 2010, their first Director famously admitted knowing nothing of Scottish culture. He resigned in 2012 after over 100 artists, including Turner Prize winners and the Makar signed an open letter condeming its “ill-conceived decision-making; unclear language [and] lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture“. He was succeeded by Janet Archer. Archer (no relation to the now-defunct arts venue of a similar name) is a dancer. Her entire career history is rooted in the medium of dance – from founding a Dance company to her previous appointment as Director of Dance for the English Arts Council.
When Creative Scotland can so completely mess up the national strategy for the art form that its Director specialises in, overseeing year on year declines in participation, how can it possibly be considered a functional and effective organisation. Its high time this organisation was shut down and replaced with a body which values art rather than pretentious nonsense. One which looks at supporting and encouraging organic growth of dance in Scotland, rather than ill-conceived attempts at high culture imposition with a veneer of tartan.