“2023 is an exciting year for us here at Greenwich Dance. It’s our 30th birthday – marking three decades of being based here in South East London, delivering against our mission of creating more opportunities for people of all ages, experiences and backgrounds to make, watch and take part in dance.” An update from our CEO & Creative Director, Melanie Precious.
“Back in 1993, founder Richard Blanco saw the disused Borough Hall on Royal Hill in Greenwich and suggested to Greenwich Council that he turn it into a home for dance. From then until our move from The Borough Hall in 2017, Greenwich Dance built a name for itself as a place where professional dance artists could take a daily class, create and present work in the beautiful Grade II listed spaces. Under the leadership of Richard, followed by Brendan Keaney, Amanda Davey and Kat Bridge, the organisation took bold and creative steps to find ways to make exciting work both inside and outside of those iconic walls. The organisation played host to the Big Dance initiative which saw dance being brought to people in their workplaces, in parks and in studios across Greenwich, Bromley, Bexley and Lewisham. Charlotte Spencer, Rosemary Lee and Protein Dance all made exciting work to animate Greenwich’s open spaces. In a partnership with Trinity Laban – Compass Commissions – artists which included Botis Seva, Robert Clarke, Tom Roden, Anna Williams and Stephanie Schober created work which was shown not just here in Greenwich but toured stages nationally and internationally. The Borough Hall played host to barn dances, ceilidhs, tea dances, balls, cabarets and supper clubs.”
Charlotte Spencer, Compass Commissons 2017. Photo: Pari Naderi
“The education programme also took dance to places not used to having it. In a longstanding relationship with Protein Dance, the two organisations created a dance project for Newhaven Pupil Referral Unit. The Borough Hall hosted a thriving Saturday morning children’s programme offering dance for babies through to teenagers and the education team worked with local Vietnamese women and the Nepalese community, undertook projects in local schools such as Thomas Tallis, Meridian Primary and St Ursulas, and supported local teachers with continued professional development programmes. In the evenings, adults came from across the borough to learn all styles of dance from lindy hop to ballroom, contemporary to African dance.
But an organisation is largely shaped by its funding structure – expanding to fit the resources and remit it is given – and when Arts Council England (ACE) withdrew their long term funding from the organisation back in 2017, followed shortly after by the council requesting that Greenwich Dance leave the Borough Hall, the organisation had to shrink to survive. In a choice that showed a commitment to the communities of South East London, the Board embarked on a course of remodelling and as part of that I was brought on as CEO – wet behind the ears I would say – but with a vision for a peripatetic organisation which could deliver quality activity using existing community centres across the borough.
We moved from temporary office space in the Arsenal – now filled with Punchdrunk’s epic Burnt City – into the Jacobean beauty of Charlton House which was to be our home for the next period of our history. Finding ways to stay afloat financially was difficult but we managed through a somewhat challenging combination of watching every penny whilst developing new ideas and approaches in order to diversify both funding streams and audiences. In 2020, in recognition of our efforts, we won the Best of Royal Greenwich Business award for Tourism and Culture.”
Dancing in Charton House. Photo: Roswitha Chesher
“And then the pandemic hit.
Within days of lockdown we had pivoted our class programme online, and our planned ACE ‘Grants for the Arts’ funded community centre tour to Middle Park, Abbey Wood, Woolwich Dockyard and Charlton became an online project in which artists and community casts made dance films in fully locked down conditions. That year our digital creations reached 84,000 people. We took Temujin Gill’s Ragtime to Grime Bring it Home Tour live performance to the doorsteps of household ‘bubbles’. We built a revolutionary new platform, ArtsUnboxed, designed to tour ideas rather than people, commissioning 6 artists to make new work at a time when many thought they would never create again whilst also offering them a ‘passive income’ through a royalty based model. And we created a podcast, Talking Moves, offering artists a covid-safe mechanism of sharing knowledge and gaining inspiration whilst in-person networking was not possible. In 21-22, a year still plagued by restrictions, we increased participation in our class programmes by 45% and in 2022 our Summer in the Park festival, delivered in partnership with ArtsTrust Productions, took activity to 3,300 people across 5 Greenwich wards, employing 68 artists, supporting 90 community members to perform and showcasing 19 local businesses.”
Autin Dance Company - Out of the Deep Blue in Greenwich Park, part of Summer in the Park. Photo: Roswitha Chesher
“Late last year our existence was thrown into jeopardy once again when we received notification that a re-application to the Arts Council’s National Portfolio was unsuccessful, followed by a 100% cut of our Voluntary and Community Sector funding from Royal Borough of Greenwich. Closure felt imminent. However, with continued support from a range of funders and following (yet) another period of intense refocus and prioritisation, we are set to continue confidently into our 30th year determined to make a difference with dance.
Our work now, largely informed by the experience of living through the pandemic, is focussed on reducing loneliness and isolation, increasing physical and mental health and wellbeing, supporting creative communities and skills development, and developing resilience in our artistic workforce. Using these new directives, we have created an Artist in Residence programme funded by both Garfield Weston Foundation and the Foyle Foundation which is bringing artists closer to the organisation via long-term contracts which include the space and time to be reflective and responsive to community need. We have built upon our 2022 Summer in the Park festival, with the support of The National Lottery Community Fund, The Royal Parks, Peabody and Royal Greenwich Festivals funding, to expand its breadth and reach, and create the capacity to form community Creator Groups with a brief to curate, plan and deliver events in their own communities. We are developing our Lindy Hop Social Night model in partnership with Temujin Gill’s Grounded Movement, and alongside a family of like-minded community centres across Greenwich, Bexley and Croydon and we are building an impactful Dance for Wellbeing programme funded by City Bridge Trust which has already generated life-changing stories from our participants.”
Our session is an invaluable experience, especially in these difficult times we are experiencing. Quite honestly I could not do without!! ! If anything it has prompted me to do more dancing
Dancing to the Music of Time Participant
A Dance for Wellbeing class
“However, we can only ever be custodians of an organisation. I was a student entering vocational college when Greenwich Dance was founded – I can take no credit at all for its success then or for the historical importance it holds for so many dance artists and community members still now. But what I can do is work with my passionate and dedicated team and our family of artists, supporters and beneficiaries, to find ways to continue to make a positive difference in the world at a time in history, as we live through a cost of living crisis, a war and process the impact the pandemic has had on us all, where life feels pretty hard-going for all of us.
Organisationally we may still be small and under-resourced. But together we are mighty.
Let’s gather together and chart a path through to the next milestone birthday.
If you have a memory of Greenwich Dance you’d like to share with us, email us at email@example.com with 30th Birthday in the subject or tweet us @greenwichdance using the hashtag #GD30. Include a picture if you have one! These will be collated and will form part of a planned retrospective later this year.
With heartfelt thanks to everyone who has been part of the Greenwich Dance journey as staff, stewards, artists, audience and beneficiaries.”