‘You have to let the energy go boom,’ explains Hip Hop dance tutor Sean Graham to twenty boys in a dance studio at Laban. The image works and the boys run their angular, syncopated routine with a visably new vigour; letting the energy go boom is what Laban’s second Explode! day of dance for boys is all about.
Sixty boys aged 11-16 came to the South London dance centre to take part in Hip Hop, Contemporary and Capoeira workshops and to watch performances by three all-male youth dance groups. For most, it was their first trip to Laban, and for many their first taste of contemporary dance.
Veronica Jobbins, Head of Community Development at Laban, describes the background of the project: ‘We feel that it’s really important to make them feel that dance is OK for boys. One of the reasons we knew it was very important is because it filled up very quickly – when you get something that fills up and has waiting lists, you know it’s something people really want.’
‘We wanted to have a very male-oriented day,’ says project administrator Louisa Pestell, ‘and to give the boys male role models to aspire to.’ I watch Lee Smikle’s Contemporary session and the boys are certainly swinging, hopping and leaping down the studio with great enthusiasm. The group are really focussed, and when one pair finally cracks a contact exercise after several attempts they’re keen to show off their new skill to everyone.
Explode! aims to increase boys’ participation in dance, and to provide information about Laban’s CAT (Centre for Advanced Training) programme for young people. As well as male tutors, the project uses three male assistants who have been through similar CAT programmes and are now in full-time training.
One of the helpers, Joel, attended the CAT programme at The Place before starting his BA course at Laban. ‘It was really great and it made me want to dance even more!’ he says. ‘I had the opportunity to meet all these amazing people like Rafael Bonachela and Richard Alston’s dance company. I had a very positive outlook on dance from the beginning, so that’s what made me want to carry on.’
Joel feels the group he was helping got a lot out of the day. ‘I think they’ve really enjoyed the contemporary class and the fact they could go away and use the material to choreograph,’ he says. Louisa feels it is important to use tutors like Lee, who teaches on Laban’s CAT programme, and assistants like Joel, who can talk to the boys about how they got into dance and what the different possibilities for progression are.
The boys in Sean’s hiphop class are facing one another in two groups and posing, preparing to battle using their new routine. Not everybody has the tricky material quite down to perfection, but everybody has a go and the boys are all smiling at the end. I ask Theo, Sam and Joe, three Year 10 dance students from Riddlesdown School in Purley, if they think they’ll keep dancing after today? Without hesitation they chorus – ‘Definitely!’
In the Capoeira class, a circle of boys gathers around tutor Erez Odier singing and clapping. Two at a time, the boys cartwheel, kick and dodge in time to the music made by the group. One of the boys is at first too shy to go into the circle, but later plucks up the courage and joins in the game – Odier explains to the boys that although the movements of Capoeira derive from martial arts and combat, the dance is always played as a game or jogo.
17 year-old Josh has come to Laban all the way from Folkestone in Kent. ‘I do a lot of dance, Contemporary mainly, but I’d never been to Laban. I was looking forward to seeing the building, which I’d heard was random – and it is! – and meeting other people.’ Josh is in the second year of his dance A-level and enjoyed the Capoeira. ‘I’d never done that before in my life, and never thought I would do it, but it was quite interesting and fun.’
Veronica Jobbins explains the reasoning behind training boys separately from girls: ‘Boys want to be energetic, they enjoy throwing themselves around, they like working with other boys because mostly that’s what boys do in social situations.’ The Explode project gives boys a short, sharp and energetic introduction to recreational dance, and a taste of what they might expect from future training. ‘We’ve got ongoing work encouraging boys into dance, so this is one of a myriad of activities that we do,’ continues Jobbins. ‘They need to see that what they do is valued, they need to see that there are male dancers and male teachers out there, and that this is part of life!’