I believe that community dance, that catch-all umbrella term which seems to mean such different things to different people, is a wonderful thing. Dance can enrich the lives of all who encounter it, and it seems odd to even categorise some of it as community and some of it as what… cliquey? Not for everyone? Superior, perhaps? Yes, those dancers gifted with hypermobility have always and will always have the quality of ‘the other’ about them but they were born that way. We can all dance. Our backgrounds, abilities and bodies will lead us to dance differently and want different things from dance but whether what we are doing is the result of imitating music videos in our bedrooms with friends, running around in a garden with a silk scarf and being expressive á la Isadora Duncan, performing the culmination of months of rehearsal and planning for that year’s Rock Challenge performance or taking to the stage at Sadler’s Wells for the première of the latest work by today’s hottest big-shot name, we are all dancing.

Last week I had the pleasure of watching Spring Blast 2012: A Showcase of Community Dance at the Civic Theatre in Chelmsford which was co-ordinated by DanceDigital, an agency dedicated to developing dance in Hertfordshire and Essex with a specific focus on integrating dance with modern-day technology. I attended this performance as one of my fellow students at Birkbeck, Dawn Botchway, was performing in Laura Horn’s Back to Black and I’m really glad that I ventured out of town because I got to see a really interesting range of dance performed to a very high standard which was entertaining and which left me on a real dance ‘high’.

12 different groups performed in the showcase, most of which were comprised of school-aged dancers, although 3 dances were performed by the two adult groups, and there was a diverse range of experience and technical ability on display. One thing which united all the groups was the professionalism in terms of performance technique and the amount of rehearsal that had gone into the dances performed that evening. Perhaps when some people think about watching ‘community dance’, they think about watching the informal sharings which often happen at the end of short workshops; I performed in one myself on Sunday afternoon. These are often meant to be a demonstration of a process undergone throughout the workshop, and they don’t tend to nor should they result in particularly polished performances, although they are very valuable and interesting in their own right. It was great, however, to see a ‘showcase’ where the performers had not only had the benefit of training in and for most, if not all, being creative with their styles of dance, but they had also benefited from rehearsing properly to heighten their performance standard which enabled them to showcase their talents effectively.

I found Drum dance and Drama Queen by Alimah Dance, examples of belly dancing, particularly interesting because for me these exemplified what community dance is all about. Here was a group of women, evidently with various levels of confidence and experience in terms of performance dance, sensitively arranged on the stage and looking fabulous in colourful, diva-esque yet tasteful costumes, unified by their obvious love of dance and sharing that feeling with us. I haven’t previously been a fan of belly dancing - too much exposure to gyrating flesh for too long generally - but Lynn Bywater’s choreography layered enough interesting variations on the basic gyrating action, exploring each fully but changing just before we could become tired of it. The skill required in mounting and balancing on the small Talal drum was evident and special mention must go to the performer in the second row for refusing to be defeated!

If there are any luddites out there who still question the value of dance in education (David Willetts MP?), Reflections by Eastwood School explored the complex theme of being happy with your body and was a strong example of how dance can be used to tackle complex emotional and psychological issues that are particular relevant to teenagers; a recent survey by YMCA as part of their body confidence campaign found that nearly half of 14 year old girls had already attempted a ‘diet’: terrifying. All art forms are both reflective and creative and allow participants space to contemplate their ideas and to test them out in various ways through making and sharing. Dancers can have a complex relationship with body image and if during the creation of this dance even just one of the dancers involved had a chance to explore and resolve any negative feelings they had in relation to this subject then, in my opinion, it holds untold worth. From a choreographic perspective I would have preferred more abstraction as the combination of lyrics, mime and tone of the performance lacked subtlety but I was very glad to see a piece of work that tackled such a challenging and relevant subject matter head-on.

Laura Horn’s Back to Black performed by Hertfordshire Adult Contemporary was an abstract dance to a particularly soulful version of Amy Winehouse’s ballad of the same name which explored movement through space as initiated by the dancers’ pelvises and also played with varied dynamics within the movement. Nearly all of the dancers in this piece were dance teachers themselves, and it was fascinating to see professionals perform alongside the other various groups in the evening. The most distinctive feature which separated them was the subtlety and detail that they brought to their performances, which to a certain extent is to be expected. I found the piece most interesting when the dancers were separated in space and yet still connected within the framework of a duet, very beautiful.

Other highlights included The Boswells School performing Mark Jones’ Never let me go and Bam Bam Boogies A Showcase of dance styles. Both of these streetdance-inspired (and waacking, house, hip-hop and old school jazz) dances were performed by incredibly talented young dancers who didn’t miss a beat, had musicality coming out of every pore and just broadcasted their energy into the performance. The Bam Bam Boogies, with a wider variety of styles in their choreography, had the opportunity to transition in and out of a more fluid dance style but both companies entertained me more than Diversity and Flawless, both of whom I’ve seen live.

The contemporary dance highlight of the evening, out of a very strong and diverse range of works, was Focus Youth Dance Company’s Manipulate by Robert Gentle. Strong lighting and projection design created a 3D hyper-designed world throughout the space, as the projections were also reflected off the dancers’ bodies as well as the back wall/screen. Classical lines became distorted and manipulations in relationships between the dancers and dancers manipulating each other’s extremely articulate bodies created a fascinating and at times sinister world. Out of every piece of the evening this was the one with the most potential to become a full-length evening work due to the richness of its choreography, design and talents of its dancers. They are certainly a company to keep an eye on.

I’m so glad that I went to this evening of ‘community dance’. I’ve come away far less enthused by professional shows I’ve seen and it’s not because I viewed the evening with a different mind-set than when I watch shows normally, which of course I did to some extent, but because of how much passion, energy and dance talent there was on stage and how well that was shared with the audience. If that’s what ‘community dance’ means then put flowers in my hair and I’ll join the commune.