It is no coincidence that Billy Elliot was the favourite musical of that arbiter of balletic taste, John Prescott (remember him?). It was, after all, like him, the perfect bridge between the worlds of Old and New Labour. Its setting was the downtrodden industrial Labour heartland, but its hero was an icon of meritocracy who strove against the odds for individual fulfilment. Small wonder, then, that the spin previewing the announcement by the Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, of plans for six "centre of excellence" dance schools, talked of nurturing the "Billy Elliots of the future".
The programme is to be welcomed, but for wider reasons. Teaching children to dance outside school should not primarily be about selecting the best to train as professional dancers at The Royal Ballet School, good though that may be for the few. That is why the styles of dance taught will rightly range from hip-hop to ballroom. The scheme, dubbed Strictly Youth Dancing – another populist genuflection – will succeed only if the six centres act as flagships for a wider programme that involves a far greater number of young people in taking up dance.
Dance is second only to football in popularity as a youth activity and yet it has all but vanished from the education curriculum. This is a pity, as dance offers a way of addressing a host of issues facing young people – from countering obesity to learning self-discipline, developing teamwork and expressing youthful creativity.
They might even – like Britney Spears, who has just been offered £2m for a private performance of her erotic "I'm A Slave 4 U" snake dance to a group of sheikhs in Dubai – find a way to make a living from it.Reuse content