Fund launched to find Britain's Billy Elliots of the future

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A government-backed campaign to find the Billy Elliots of the future is to be launched in July, with a mission to attract teenagers more familiar with break dancing than barre-work.

A government-backed campaign to find the Billy Elliots of the future is to be launched in July, with a mission to attract teenagers more familiar with break dancing than barre-work.

Youth Dance England is a radical departure for the staid world of dance, which is still dominated by classical ballet and its "Barbie-doll" associations, despite a growing youth-dance culture.

The new body will support street dance, hip hop, and African and traditional Asian styles, as well as classical. Hip-hop star and choreographer Jonzi-D is a member of the board.

Youth Dance England will be unveiled to the public at a dance display from leading youth groups in Birmingham. Founded by the Arts Council and the Education Department, it follows the creation of the government-backed Youth Music organisation, which works in deprived areas and has become a prominent lobby group for singing and playing.

Although dancing is a compulsory part of the primary school curriculum, it is rarely taught by specialists and remains badly funded in comparison with music.

So while university students are given grants, loans and subsidies, would-be dance professionals like Khyle Eccles, 17, have to pay their own way.

Khyle, who has been given a place to study with the prestigious Rambert dance company, is one of those performing at the national launch, with the Storm company from Derby, which specialises in breakin' and street-style. He has to find £11,000 a year if he wants to study. "It's almost like it's only for rich people," he said. "At the moment I'm writing letters to everyone I know."

Luke Brown, 16, from Basingstoke in Hampshire, is another performer at the Birmingham launch with the Impact street dance group. He said he had come in for stick at school when other people found out about his hobby. "I bought them tickets for one of my shows and after that I had no problems."

Linda Jasper, director of Youth Dance England, said: "It's a long-awaited solution to the relative dearth of resources. Ultimately, Youth Dance England will position youth dance alongside music and drama, at the forefront of British creative and cultural interest. Dance stimulates and liberates the creativity of young people."

The body is chaired by Jeremy Newton, former head of Nesta (National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts), who has recently been appointed director of the Louise T Blouin Foundation for the arts.

Annu Giri of the Arts Council, which has helped draw up the plans, said: "People's perception is that dance lives in a middle-class world ... The truth is it has developed phenomenally over the last decade, with lots of different styles ... But we're unable to communicate that breadth and we get the same old images."

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