With dance being a regular activity for around 10 percent of the UK population, and over 4.8 million people participating in community dance classes each year, there is no better time to get involved. As Oprah Winfrey once said, “Every day brings a chance for you to draw in a breath, kick off your shoes, and dance”, and this could not be truer as more opportunities to experience the art form are becoming available, including the Big Dance events which are taking place all over England this summer.

Big Dance is a celebration of dance delivered by the Mayor of London and the Foundation for Community Dance. The festival aims to encourage members of the public to get involved in free dance classes offered across the country up to the end of August 2014, to promote fitness and teach new skills. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London stated: “London is one of the world’s greatest centres for dance, with enormous creative talent to be found here. But Big Dance is also about getting more active, or simply having fun – and it’s a brilliant way to bring people together”. The free sessions held in London in July 2014 have so far included weekly workshops at Westfield shopping centres; performances at Camden Lock Live; and a group flash mob dance in Trafalgar Square.

The main effect that the Big Dance events have had is educating the onlookers and participants on the different dance genres available. As well as showcasing the more mainstream dance styles (such as Ballroom, Belly Dancing, Street and Bollywood), less well-known dance forms have been brought to the stage. These include the new dance fad ‘Waacking’, which consists of moving the arms to the beat of the music. It is described by the Pineapple Dance Studios as “a dance style originating from the disco era of the underground club scene in the 1970s in Los Angeles”.  Then there is ‘Popping’ which is a street dance where the dancer jerks their body by quickly contracting their muscles. And ‘Flexing’ or ‘Bone Breaking’, which involves twisting and contorting the body at the joints to a robotic rhythm.

As well as participating in dance, there are even more opportunities to appreciate the discipline as a member of the audience. Dance is the fastest growing art form with over 13 percent of the population attending dance performances – and its popularity is apparent even in British homes, with television shows such as Strictly Come Dancing regularly getting over 10 million viewers.

There are many established companies which produce grand dance performances for the public to enjoy. The Royal Ballet, based at the Royal Opera House in London, has an extensive repertoire of classical ballets, heritage works and performances created with the imagination of new choreographers. Their works can also be accessed by a wider audience through cinematic showcases, outdoor screenings and international touring. The English National Ballet is currently staging Coppelia and they are preparing to show Tchaikovsky’s masterpieces Swan Lake and The Nutcracker this Christmas. Justin Bickle, chairman of the English National Ballet, expressed earlier this year, “our ambition is to be the most exciting and creative ballet company in the UK”.

Sadler’s Wells Theatre is a world leader in contemporary dance, presenting a year-round programme of dance from flamenco to hip hop, to half a million people per year at its three theatres in London. The organisation also commissions original works and provides resources such as rehearsal space and technical expertise to up and coming talent. Sadler’s Wells state that “our goal is to grow the public’s enjoyment and understanding of dance by making dance relevant, meaningful and enriching. At the same time we seek to develop the art form by supporting artists and the creation of exciting new work”.

There are an estimated two hundred dance organisations, employing 30,000 people, in the UK – so there are plenty of opportunities to take part. Many local gyms also hold dance classes, including ‘Zumba’ classes. The company that started the ‘Latin and World’ music dance craze claim that they mix “low-intensity and high-intensity moves for an interval-style, calorie-burning dance fitness party”.

For those wishing to delve deeper into the art form, dance is part of the national curriculum and can be studied at further education and degree level, with an estimated 1,000 dancers graduating each year from vocational training schools and university dance courses. Conventions are also a great way for passionate dancers to discover more about the possible academic pathways which are available across the UK. Move It is Britain’s only dedicated dance exhibition and is held annually at Kensington Olympia. The fair contains stalls selling dancewear and accessories; stands offering advice and information on career opportunities; and attendees can sign up to partake in taster classes.

Dance is an art form where people can express themselves and communicate through movement of the body, and it is an integral part of life and recorded performing arts and cultural industries. However, dance is clearly more than just a way to keep fit and put on a show. Michael Jackson once movingly said that “On many an occasion when I am dancing, I have felt touched by something sacred. In those moments, I felt my spirit soar and become one with everything that exists”. So, with the participation and the watching of this expressive art form rising in popularity (with dance audiences growing by 13.7 percent over a six-year period), and even the NHS offering dance-specific health care and support services through the National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science, 2014 is clearly the time to don your dance shoes and join in.

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