£5.5m plan to inspire new generation of Billy Elliots in schools

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The Independent Online

From Billy Elliot to Ballet Hoo! the power of dance to inspire young people in Britain has never been clearer: Stephen Daldry's 2002 film, now a hit musical, told the story of a miner's son torn between his macho working-class background and his love of ballet, while Channel 4's documentary Ballet Hoo! offered 200 disadvantaged youngsters from the West Midlands the chance to train with professionals.

Now the Government is to capitalise on the national passion revealed by the hit BBC1 show Strictly Come Dancing by investing £5.5m in dance for school-age children over the next three years.

The initiative, funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and Arts Council England, follows a review of youth dance by the Royal Opera House chief executive, Tony Hall, who oversees the Royal Ballet.

The money is a fraction of the amount spent on music in schools, but for the first time, the Government plans a national youth dance strategy under the auspices of an organisation called Youth Dance England. The funding will double the amount that the body receives each year.

At present, dance in schools is mostly restricted to performing arts academies such as the Brit School in Croydon, but under a pilot scheme, specialised "co-ordinators" will work with the Youth Sport Trust to get more children strutting their stuff.

Six new Centres of Advanced Training for dance will also be set up by 2011, with the aim of taking about 1,500 young people to "the next level".

Andy Burnham, the Secretary of State for Culture, said: "Dance is proving itself the pastime of choice for a lot of young people up and down the country. My two daughters have re-educated me: dance is about self-expression, self-confidence and physical development. It's attractive to young people who do not find traditional competitive sport attractive."

Arlene Phillips, a judge on Strictly Come Dancing and a patron of Youth Dance England who made her name with the 1970s dance troupe Hot Gossip, said: "The opportunity to dance is something that everyone loves in life. Whatever music you're into, there's a dance form. It can be life-changing. People become passionate about it. When I was a child, my family could barely afford for me to take a dance class. We could have young dance stars we are overlooking, because they don't have the money for classes."

Tony Hall's review, commissioned by the Schools minister Andrew Adonis and the Skills minister, David Lammy, envisages a dance teacher in every secondary school, an ambition which would begin with a specialist dance co-ordinator being appointed to each of the 450 School Sport Partnerships. Mr Hall also called for all new schools to be equipped with a sprung floor, for every young person to attend at least one dance performance a year, for a programme to encourage diversity in dance, and for a schools dance festival leading up to a performance at the opening of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The recommendations are targeted at secondary schools, because children happy to dance at primary school often run a mile from the idea by the time they are 12 or 13. Mr Hall said: "Dance answers so many of the issues that young people have. It's creative, it's a form of artistic expression, but it also teaches discipline and teamwork and it's very physical. It has been a Cinderella art form for too long."

Responding to the idea that some teenage boys might dismiss dance as "sissy", Mr Hall said: "That's the challenge, to make dance cool,"

Ms Phillips added: "That's why street dance and break-dancing is a perfect way of getting them to dance to the music they're interested in. The facilities need to be there, and the opportunity to perform; there's nothing like people cheering you on."