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More Than Just A Job

I run the dance festival in Oxford. We started in 2007, so it’s been going a long time now. It came about initially because there was a recognition that there’s a huge amount of dance in Oxford, right across the city. Lots of classes happening with children and young people and adults across a whole range of styles. And yet, a lot of it was hidden, you know, somebody would come to Oxford and they would not have a clue where to find out about dance. There’s no building for dance, there’s no obvious place to go to find out about dance activity.  

And so, the festival was born out of a desire really to raise the profile of dance, to celebrate it and say to the city, there’s so much dance happening in Oxford, it’s so vibrant. It’s all about presenting the work of companies: professional companies, locally based, regional, national, but it’s also about engaging with residents of Oxford. And that’s why it’s great with a company like Body Politic that we can commission what they do, commission their professional work, but also support their community and their community outreach work. 

I’ve worked with Body Politic for probably, I don’t know, maybe 9 years, something like that now. I guess my experience is as a partner – we support them financially and we commission them. I think initially, we commissioned one of their pieces quite a few years ago, and then we jointly got funding for the M Word project, a project with a specific focus around mental health, and that was kind of the start of regular support for them. It grew out of that really. 

With them joining the festival, it was really identifying that there was a gap in terms of what the festival was delivering in working with and reaching young people. In terms of the participatory element, we weren’t, as a festival, really offering anything for the 11-19 age group. That’s when we started to work with Body Politic because obviously the majority of the people they work with are young people. So, it was recognising the value of the work that Body Politic do.  

The festival benefits from them, because they provide something that the festival wouldn’t have otherwise. And that’s when the conversation started around us offering some kind of core project funding to enable them to bring in other funding and really grow the work regularly. Recognising the value in having that opportunity to gain some kind of qualification that is recognised for young people and also for young people to be trained up as dance leaders. 

It was great, because I believe so much in what they do, so it was fantastic that they wanted to come on board and work in partnership with us. I really liked the work the company produced. It’s really strong. It’s fantastic work. It’s accessible, it’s high quality, and it always has a really important message to it, and links in so well with our participatory work with young people.  

The different pieces always had a different focus. I mean, one they did previously about the relationship between father and son was moving, powerful, and incredibly well portrayed. I think that’s part of the beauty of dance. It’s nonverbal, and yes, whilst there is some spoken word, some narrative, so much is said through movement. It enables the viewer to add their own interpretation onto the work. There was something very, very powerful about that piece, and it was great not only to see it, but to hear the audience reaction: always really positive feedback about how moving it was. Ultimately, that’s what good performance is. It stirs some kind of reaction in people rather than someone going ‘Yeah, it was great.’ Actually being able to talk in a more meaningful way, or maybe ask questions. There was almost always a post-show discussion, and I think that’s really important. 

I’ve never doubted them, because I’ve always been impressed with the work that they do. When EmJ said, oh, you know, ‘we’re going to do this and it might be something new’, there’s never been a point where I’ve thought ‘Oh, I’m not sure about that.’ I think she’s got such a good grasp of what the company’s vision is and what they can achieve. I trained as a dance artist, and ran my own company quite a long time ago. So, throughout my work, I put supporting artists at the heart of what I do, because I know what it’s like being a freelance artist, and the pressures of running a company. And with EmJ on a kind of personal level, she’s incredibly inspirational, and, you know, she does a huge amount. Her attitude, her skills, her talent, her passion for what she does. You can’t not be inspired by her. Not only are they delivering high quality, and important opportunities for young people, but just the inspiration that she is, and her vision, the work that she delivers is truly inspirational.  

It’s a real privilege to work with a company like Body Politic because, you know, they work hard, they deliver such high quality and you just want them to do well. You want them to be able to deliver as much as they can. Recognising the challenges that are there, and where I am able to offer support, it’s fantastic to be able to. Just seeing the impact of what they do, reading the case studies from young people. I think when you do any job, particularly in the arts, you need to believe in what you do, you need to get some sense of satisfaction from it, some sense of creative inspiration, and I certainly get that from working with Body Politic. I think when you see that first-hand, or you read about it, it just really reinforces the reasons why we do what we do. I’m excited by what they do, they’re developing a lot and I can just see them really progressing and going further and further. It motivates me. 

I mean, the financial support that we offer isn’t enough, but it does go some way to lever in more substantial funding. Obviously, I’m not the answer to it all, the festival isn’t the solution to all the challenges, but where we are able to go some way to making a difference, that’s great for us. My partnership with Body Politic is a very small part of the work that I do, but in everything that I do, you know, it’s more than just a job. Oxford is a small city, but we all know it’s a very unequal city. There’s a big divide in Oxford between those that are very advantaged and those that are very disadvantaged, and I think The Arts has a key role to play in enhancing people’s lives in terms of health and wellbeing, of bringing together communities, of making the city vibrant, of enabling people to be proud of where they live and feel connected to where they live. It’s really important for me to have that motivation and that inspiration and belief that what I’m doing, the work that we are doing with the festival is making a difference. Otherwise, I don’t think I could do it.

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