Local Dance Company transforming the lives of teens and young people

2 February 2015


DU Dance is a living embodiment of how the arts positively affect the lives of people across Northern Ireland. The Belfast-based professional dance development company works across Northern Ireland and has brought possibility and opportunity to teens and young people, who, in their day-to-day lives too often feel disenfranchised and forgotten. The company, which works with people of all ages but focuses on the development of young people aged 12 to 24 from all communities and ethnic backgrounds, uses the creative arts as a way of building confidence, skills and self-esteem.

Through their Youth Engagement Programme disadvantaged young people from Belfast, Co. Antrim and Co. Tyrone get the chance to experience dance and performance in a professional setting, creating the space for personal and social development that would otherwise be out of reach for them.

Says one participant:
“I was in a bad place…I was hanging out with the wrong crowd, missing school, getting into bother…When they asked me if I was interested in taking part in a dance project, my first reaction was ‘no way!’ Dance? Could you imagine the flak I would get? That first performance completely changed my life. Instead of someone shouting at me for not doing something, I was surrounded by applause. It was unbelievable.”

DU Dance provides year-round access to innovative contemporary dance workshops with a view toward advancing dance as an art form, building community connections and fostering tolerance and respect.

The dance company runs three separate youth engagement programmes: Sutemos in Dungannon, which works with young people from different minority cultures and young people with learning difficulties; Merge Cru in Belfast, which targets young people across different communities in Belfast, particularly those living in inner city areas; and Alternative Energies, the newest group which targets young people living in rural areas around Ballymoney, involving them in inter generational work.

Groups meet weekly throughout the school year and in a summer school session. Each group performs at least twice locally and at a professional theatre venue in Belfast, as well as seeking out other performance opportunities both locally, nationally and internationally.

In 2014 they performed at the Waterfront Hall and the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast, the Dungannon Youth Resource Centre, Dun Laoghaire outside Dublin and at the prestigious Commonwealth Youth Dance Festival in Glasgow.

Mags Byrne, DU Dance Artistic Director said,
“Arts groups can and do have a profoundly beneficial impact on the lives of vulnerable people across communities. Our work directly affects young people’s lives in a positive way and the long term impact of that should not be underestimated. To cut funding for those of us who work in the arts will only mean paying higher social costs further down the road.”

DU Dance is also part of arts advocacy group #ArtsMatterNI, made up of professionals, participants and volunteers from across Northern Ireland which is working to remind us all of the value of the Arts.