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Case studies

Big Dance

Big Dance, a collective public dance initiative that began in London, has led to:

  • a worldwide celebration of dance involving 25 countries
  • benefits across health, fitness, social & community inclusion
  • a step change in cultural participation – with millions getting involved in dance

Big Dance has grown from the seed of an idea – the idea that dance can have a transformative impact of people and cities - and grown to become the biggest dance project in the world. This dance festival now connects 25 countries around the world biennially. From India to Lebanon from Canada to Bosnia-Herzegovina the programme has reached a staggering 9 million people. This year’s edition celebrated the Commonwealth Games and the focus was on ‘’the power of dance to mobilise communities’.

So why has Big Dance grown so fast and has such a far reaching impact?

Dance as an artform itself has the unique ability to impact across a number of policy areas of importance to cities – it draws communities together to celebrate, improves the health & quality of life of its citizens, engages socially excluded young people, crosses community boundaries and contributes to the vibrancy of public settings in a way no other cultural activity can do. Dance is very accessible and universal, there are no language barriers and every culture has a dance.

“To understand the culture, study the dance. To understand the dance, study the people.” Chuck Davis

The innovative delivery model was key to its rapid expansion across the four nations of the UK. A Big Dance Hub model created 21 ‘Hubs’ led by major dance organisations. They each devised locally relevant programmes but worked under one framework to create strategic impact. Leadership and vision came from London as the centre and it was supported by a national partner - the Foundation for Community Dance as well as hundreds of partners across a range of sectors.

Big Dance was a simple concept from the outset which captivated the public’s imagination. A compelling invitation for everyone to join in - organisations, artists and the public - and they did. Strands of the Big Dance programme have touched health, sport, physical activity agendas. It has often been the ‘glue’ for local government programmes where other interventions have failed to make headway. Big Dance has created a sense of community across the UK and taken on a momentum of its own with people and organisations organising their own Big Dance events outside the festival period.

In 2012, the Big Dance festival reached its pinnacle when London hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012. It comprised 6,142 events involving 600+ across cultural, sports, libraries, health, fitness organisations. All took up the challenge of inspiring people through ‘dance’ whether this was through watching, doing, photographing, film-making, designing for, writing and reading about dance.

Dance has significant positive impacts on the quality of older people’s lives and psychological states particularly in the cases of strokes and the onset of Parkinson’s disease. One example is that Ballroom Dancing can cut dementia by 78% (BUPA). A strategic pan-London Big Dance programme connected hundreds of older people in day centres, residential homes through a programme of dance which encouraged enhanced self-esteem, reduced social exclusion and improved mental health and well-being for those participants.

The Big Dance Schools Pledge by internationally renowned choreographer, Wayne McGregor, galvanised 121,000 young people in schools for a single collective dance performance moment across 25 nations in town squares, fields, beaches and parks. It is the world’s biggest collective public dance initiative which places dance back into communities. It also spread its reach outside the UK and partnerships were also developed with China, Brazil and Australia for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Choreographed by Rafael Bonachela, thousands of dancers simultaneously performed on both sides of the world ‘Beats for Peace’ outside the Sydney Opera House at dawn and in London’s Trafalgar Square & Glasgow’s City Centre at midnight – a triangle of major world cities. This global moment of connectivity through culture also offered a different lens on a city for tourists.

The Big Dance Bus – taking culture to communities - A converted classic London bus with its a pop-up dance floor has woven its magic with an A-Z of Big Dance workshops and performances in public squares, parks, shopping centres, estates and beaches. Reaching out to excluded communities, the bus programme has provided hundreds of unforgettable fun family days backed up by a commitment to signpost participants to take dance up and create a legacy of change.

Big Dance challenged the industry to join up across public and private boundaries. It encouraged collaboration across organisations and individuals on a scale never before experienced. Its legacy is that Big Dance is now a movement. It is part of the UK’s DNA and has connected the world through dance.