Dance Schools in the UK

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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by Article19

Last week we answered some of our most received questions about NDA’s. The next most popular question is about training in the UK. Where can I? How can I? How much does is cost? Are they any good? The list of questions goes on. So in this article we give you the inside track on the four big schools for contemporary dance in the UK; London Contemporary Dance School (London), The Laban Centre (London), Northern School of Contemporary Dance (Leeds) and Scottish School of Contemporary Dance (Dundee). This article is not intended to be a “which is best” comparison. We will just a have a good look at the merits of each school and let you make up your own mind.

One thing that all of these schools have in common is they are all brand new. Millions of pounds have been spent either renovating existing facilities or building completely new ones. Both the Laban Centre and Scottish School of Contemporary Dance (SSCD) are brand new facilities built from scratch. Northern School of Contemporary Dance (NSCD) and London Contemporary Dance School (LCDS) have been completely revamped over the last couple of years with brand new facilities and major renovations of existing facilities. So whatever school you may go to you will have access to state of the art facilities including dance studios, fitness rooms, audio visual equipment and a great deal more.

All the schools have their own performance venues based at the school. The most famous of these is The Place Theatre at LCDS. As well as hosting performances by the students these theatres also provide professional performance spaces for touring companies.

Courses on offer at the schools are essentially the same. You go in one end as a first year and emerge at the other end a fully trained professional dancer (if only it were that simple, Ed!). Laban, NSCD and LCDS have a plethora of study courses that last from a few months to
a year in addition to the performance related courses. What we are concerned with here though are the courses that train professional dancers within a three year programme.

SSCD is the newest school so at present you do not emerge from the final year with a degree but you do obtain a HND. The school is working towards providing a degree level programme. The other three schools offer full degree level courses although from a purely practical point of view this has little if anything to do with the standard of performance or technical ability you will graduate with. Believe us when we tell you that in an audition having a 1st class honours degree carries no influence on choreographers or company directors.

Once you are in school, having past the audition process of course, what techniques will you be studying? The core of all contemporary dance training is a mixture of contemporary techniques like Graham and Cunningham and classical ballet technique in almost even measure. A usual day will comprise 3 hours of technique training in the morning split between classical and contemporary technique.

Both NSCD and LCDS are very much hardcore Graham and Cunningham schools. While the other two also teach those techniques there is a liberal sprinkling of other styles just to keep things varied. The afternoons will be spent in either practical creative and movement classes or in the classroom studying some frightfully dull, but essential (so we were told anyway, Ed!) subject like dance administration, dance history or human biology. Dance history is usually a hoot but we will let you find that out for yourself. All courses require the completion of written work at several points in the academic year.

Performances are a regular part of your training. How often you get to perform varies from school to school and depends on how many students each school has in each year group. Practicality dictates less students means more stage time and NSCD, LCDS and Laban all have an awful lot of students in each year group.

The work you will perform is choreographed either by in house teachers, (all former professional dancers almost without exception), or guest choreographers from existing professional dance companies. Students are also given choreographic opportunities at all of these schools.

Again the number of opportunities is dictated by the numbers of students. In our research NSCD came out worst for student choreographic opportunities. Laban has a strong reputation for encouraging choreographic composition amongst its students. Touring may also be a part of the programme to some degree. The Northern School takes certain students on tour with a repertory programme that covers various theatres around the country including The Place theatre.

In terms of their relative locations the two London schools have an obvious advantage. Given that 80% of all dance funding in England is spent in the London area it should come as no surprise that there is a lot of activity in terms of performances, professional dancers, workshops and additional classes going on in the city. In contrast the SSCD, based in Dundee, is somewhat out of the loop in terms of professional companies and touring. But, Scottish Dance Theatre is located in the city and the school has strong links with the company.

Edinburgh is also a short train ride away. Leeds, where the NSCD lives, has several dance companies located around the city including the well established Phoenix Dance Company and there is a steady stream of professional performances and dance activity in the city.

The ever thorny problem of cost is never far from the mind of any prospective student these days. If you attend either NSCD or SSCD the chances are almost all of your school fees will be paid by your local authority if you are a resident of the UK. You may have to pay tuition fees at the Northern School of £1,100 per year but most students will also qualify to have these fees paid for them either in part or in full by their local authority.

Dundee and Leeds, the respective homes of these schools, are also fairly moderate in terms of living expenses, especially accommodation, entertainment and transport costs. Until a few years ago attending either of the London schools was a complete nightmare with regard to paying your fees.

LSCD is now a member of, or affiliated to, the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama. This means essentially that all UK and EU students are eligible for funding to pay their fees. You may still have to pay tuition fees of £1,100 but like NSCD this would probably be in the minority of cases. Laban has no such connection however and we are assuming you will be liable to pay the fees in full unless they obtain a scholarship from the school. A phone call to Laban to discuss fees was not immediately returned. Fees aside, when you are dealing with a school in London you also have to live their.

LSCD estimates living costs at £7,500 if you are a model citizen and don’t spend too much money. At present student grants or loans do not even come close to covering that so part time work is an absolute must if you want to dance in the big city.

Wherever you eventually go to train there is one thing that is certain. You will come out of it at the end of three years with a very high standard of training, a fatally damaged bank account and very sore legs. What kind of training experience you want to have is the choice you have to make. SSCD is the smallest but that means less students and more one on one time with your tutors.

LCDS is in London, the home of dance in the UK (rightly or wrongly) but it costs a lot of money to live there and there is always the worry of being lost in the crowd.

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