The decision to stage the 2021 Yorkshire Schools Dance Festival was not taken lightly. We'd already cancelled 2020 and (in May 2021) it was too early to predict if there would be any restrictions on the staging of live performances in November 2021 (6 months time).
It's fair to say that the strongest voice for pushing ahead with plans was Lauren, YSDF Event Manager. For her we'd missed one year. Missing another wasn't an option. Saturday 13th, Sunday 14th, Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st November had been pencilled in for a year and YSDF21 was going to happen. But it was risky.
We put the call out to schools and groups register in June 2021. We were blown away by the number of registrations that were submitted - including many schools that hadn't taken part before. We curated the 4 performance days to support our aim to promote progression and included a mixture of primary schools, secondary schools, FE/College providers and community dance groups in each performance.
We put in place enhanced Covid measures. To minimise social contact we worked at 50% capacity. We adapted the Festival model from the usual single 3.00pm performance on each of the 4 Festival days to two smaller ones on each day - 12.00pm and 5.30pm (8 performances across both weekends). We operated an orphan seat box office to create a bubble around booking groups. Each audience would see: 7 performances, a finale involving all performers and a scratch performance developed during a workshop an hour before the Festival.
The stage was set.
Sophia White, one of the young people on our Leadership Scheme, put a call out to schools and community groups to send us videos of people dancing to 'Ain't no mountain high enough'. She then skilfully edited the responses into an amazing film that was played as the lights went down. It was a fitting start to the Festival. You can watch it here...
Over 4 days (13th/14th and 20th/21st November) over 1000 children took to the stage from 51 schools, colleges and community groups across the region.
We were blown away by the range of performances on offer. The periods of lockdown the choreographers and performers had already experienced (and the threat of more to come) inevitably spawned performances that acknowledged the challenges, hurdles and sense of loss many had felt. But there was also an overwhelming sense of hope, achievement and shared experience.
The flow of the Festival was amazing. Whilst only an hour long we were privileged to celebrate the rich dance opportunities afforded to children and young people of all ages in schools across the region. We were privileged to see the progression in experience and ability. We were privileged to share the creative talents of the choreographers and performers.
The performances were developed from our 2021 theme, 'The Power of Together' - a unique partnership with the Rugby League World Cup. Rob Burrow MBE recorded an inspirational intorduction to the Festival and we were delighted to financially support The Rob Burrow Centre for MND Centre Appeal.
Covid was rumbling hard in some schools and 5 groups took the difficult decision to pull out because of either staff or pupil illness. The schools who weren't able to perform at the event kept the YSDF spirit alive by staging special performances of their dance piece to the rest of the school and families.
Queen Mary's were able to send us a film of their dance for us to share on their performance day. It was a fitting tribute to the key workers who kept our communities functioning.
We were hugely appreciative of the continued financial support from Yorkshire Education. Their sponsorship allowed us to run additional strands of work and to ensure the experience for performers, audience and staff from schools/groups is as good as it can be. Joe Butcher, Managing Director of Yorkshire Education, recorded a video introduction to the Festival to welcome performers, staff and families and with an important message about the value of dance and the arts in our schools. We'd also like to thank our advertisers, Northern School of Contemporary Dance, York Theatre Royal and York College.
Make it York/RLWC2021
The Festival worked in a unique partnership with Make it York and the Rugby League World Cup organisers to promote the tournament through the adoption of the RLWC2021 theme, 'The Power of Together'.
York Dance Space
We continued our wonderful relationship with Hannah and Drew at York Dance Space to shape the overall structure and content of the Festival. They've taken the helm with the development and delivery of our finale performance for several years. In 2021 they worked as mentors to Olivia Pearce, one of the young people on our Leadership Programme, to support her production of the Festival finale.
Over Zoom calls they facilitated her choreographic vision, the development of an instructional video and delivery of finale workshops at the Festival. Watch the instructional video:
And here's a clip of one of the finale rehearsals:
Northern School of Contemporary Dance
We worked in partnership with Phil Sanger at Northern School of Contemporary Dance to provide NSCD student led performances and workshops for the primary aged children taking part. They were brilliant.
Yorkshire Dance once again financially supported the professional development strand of YSDF and we further developed the connections with Fresh.
The four colleges/FE providers that took part in YSDF21 (CAPA College, Mechanics Wakefield, Leeds City College & York College) all delivered workshops for the secondary school aged young people that took part in the Festival. Leeds City College had the amazing idea to take a section of a scratch performance into the Festival itself. Here's a great example of what happens when you put young people in a room with professional input for just 45 minutes. Remember... they hadn't met before:
One Dance UK
We had representation from the One Dance UK Children & Young People's team. They connected with teachers and dance artists to signpost additional support and opportunities. The One Dance UK Dance Ambassadors were with us across both weekends. We were particularly excited to welcome Kadafi Mulula, a One Dance UK Dance Ambassador who had taken part in YSDF 8 years ago.
Children & Young People's Dance Network North (CYPDNN)
Gail Ferrin, Children & Young People's Dance Network North (CYPDNN) was on hand to lead Instagram takeovers, consult with the children and young people taking part and support general management of the event.
And so we did it. And we did it good. We can't wait to do it all again.. minus Covid of course 🤞.