DAZL-ing dance is breaking barriers

“It’s not just dancing for fun … but it starts there.”

DAZL has been getting children in South Leeds off the sofa and onto the dance floor for 17 years. I went along to meet Ian Rodley, DAZL’s enthusiastic Director to find out more.

We meet at South Leeds Youth Hub in Belle Isle where a summer activity programme is in full swing. Ian grew up in the area and has been involved with DAZL since it started, helping founder Jan Burkhardt shape what was originally called the Dance Action Zone Leeds.

There’s no great secret to DAZL’s success – they work with 900 young people every week here in South Leeds – but Ian explains they do have a style of working.

DAZL’s remit is encourage children and young people to take more exercise through dance. They are funded by Public Health and alongside the dance they bring in subjects such as healthy eating, mental health and smoking cessation. Of the 4,500 young people they worked with last year 2,800 were previously inactive, ie not doing any structured exercise.
Ian is also very grateful to local Councillors on the Inner South Community Committee who have been very supportive in funding programmes in the area.

“We don’t expect people to come to us” he says. “We go to the community, we ask them what they want and start from there. We don’t say you have to do Contemporary Dance, if you want to do Street Dance, that’s fine by us.

“It works, take our Cottingley group for example, we now have fifty children coming every week to the class.”

Partnerships are crucial to DAZL, the Cottingley group has been supported by Cottingley Primary Academy and got off the ground with the volunteer group at Cottingley Community Centre. DAZL also partner with other dance companies in Leeds such as Phoenix and RJC and with the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Chapeltown.

“Our partners are able to open doors and offer our young people opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise get.”

Aspiration is a very important word for DAZL. “I don’t want it to be so comfortable that they don’t want to go out a try new things – there’s a bigger world out there.”

Ian recently took a group of young people to perform at a festival in Malmo, Sweden. Nine of the ten young people had never been abroad before and didn’t have passports.

“They learned so much on the trip. It’s not just about dance, it’s about self confidence, it’s about skills for life.”

DAZL has been particularly successful at getting boys dancing. It started with a group of boys who asked if they could have a go a cheer dance. That group then featured in a video, shot in Belle Isle, for a track by Tiësto & Mark Knight called Beautiful World. The song was a massive hit and the video has been seen by 2.2 million people on YouTube alone.

“That broke down a lot of barriers and made it cool for boys to dance. We haven’t looked back since.”

DAZL is clearly a nurturing organisation. They help young people develop through their Dance Leader programme. They receive training at Level 1 and 2 and work in dance classes to support the teacher.

“All of our first eleven Dance Leaders has gone on to college or university to study dance” Ian proudly tells me.

Like a family, there’s no escaping DAZL. A number of teachers have developed with DAZL, gone on to other things: university, professional dance companies, but they come back again and again to help at DAZL.

Ian and other teachers have worked with young people to create dance pieces that look at issues such as mental health, HIV and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans-sexual).

What’s next? “We’re starting the first competition Hip Hop Crew for children with disabilities.”

It seems there’s no barrier DAZL can’t cross.