South East Dance’s annual free dance festival, Our City Dances, takes place online and outdoors this month [19-24 July]. We chatted to Senior Producer, Rose Kigwana, to get a taste of the line-up and how it reflects what Brighton & Hove can expect from the city’s newest arts & cultural building The Dance Space, opening next year.
What is Our City Dances?
Our City Dances is a dance festival, a celebration of dance and movement. It’s free, and it’s designed to give everyone a chance to watch, have a go at, or rekindle an old passion for dance. It’s also the annual highlight of The Welcome Project, a year-round programme of dance events and activity that we at South East Dance create with and for partners in the city – from Brighton Youth Centre and Brooke Mead extra care home; to Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project and Puffin Community Nursery. We’ve been working with these groups for more than four years – specifically because they will be our neighbours when we open our new dance building The Dance Space in 2022, and we want to get to know them and for them to get to know what we’re about too. Our City Dances is an extension of that idea and it’s our way of reaching out across the city and showing people what dance is, maybe even challenging some perceptions of it and giving people a taste of what to expect from what will happen in The Dance Space.
What can we expect from this year’s festival?
You can expect a chance to take part in and watch some really inspiring and uplifting dance. It’s usually held over a weekend, all outdoors around the Tarner area of the city, but for obvious reasons things are a little different this year. We’re running the festival across the week of 19-24 July, with some events such as Carousel & Parable Dance’s family disco being live streamed online and others, such as a workshop with Brighton & Hove ‘face’ Lya, aka BLK Diamond Dance, happening outdoors. There will be an interactive walk in Queens Park with dance artist Charlotte Spencer, encouraging us to get in touch with our bodies and our environment; and there will be an online South Asian dance workshop. There’s a real variety of events to take part in that demonstrate how vast and diverse dance is as an artform.
What are you most looking forward to, personally?
I have two almost teenage kids and, as I was into the breakdancing scene at their age, I’m particularly looking forward to Jamaal O’Driscoll’s Beginners Guide to Breaking. These are free workshops at Brighton Youth Centre for kids aged 7-11 and teens aged 13-19 who want to have a go at breakdancing but maybe haven’t had the confidence or opportunity to try it out before. Jamaal has loads of experience of teaching and inspiring young people. He’ll teach some basic moves – from six steps to baby freezes to practice. No head spins required! For me, I’m definitely going to be joining Lya for her dance workshop. I’ve seen her teaching on Hove seafront and have wanted to have a go for ages. I love her ethos around moving in public, using dance as a way to reclaim outdoor spaces and to encourage everyone to feel safe and beautiful in their own bodies in public.
How is The Dance Space shaping up and when will it open its doors?
It’s looking amazing! After some delays in the build – due to Brexit and Covid related issues – it’s really powering on now and we’re hoping to get the keys in the next month or so. Then we’ll start fitting out the interior before testing the space and then – all being well – opening to the public in the Spring next year. It’s hard to believe that it’s actually happening, we’ve all been working on it for so long – over a decade now. I just can’t wait to see people in the building, dancing, using it, getting joy from it – it’s going to be brilliant.
What can local people expect from ‘the home for dance in Brighton & Hove’?
First and foremost a really warm welcome! We genuinely want this to be a home for everyone who loves to dance and move. There will be three high spec studios specifically designed for dance – with sprung floors and floor to ceiling windows. There will be a year-round programme of dance classes, activities and curated events for people of all ages and abilities such as kids and youth dance classes, vogue balls, square dances, ceilidhs, breaking classes. Dance artists will be in residence there too – creating and performing new work. We’ll also be carrying on our community programme The Welcome Project inside the building and all of the spaces will be available to hire too. We’re working with disabled artists and access and inclusion specialists to make it a building that works for as many people as possible. And we’re using sustainable ways to address carbon-heavy issues such as lighting and ventilation and reclaimed furniture to furnish the space. It’s going to be a real asset to Brighton & Hove and we can’t wait to open the doors.