Founded in 1985, the mission of IRIE! dance theatre remains steadfast: to heighten the profile of Black dance and dancers in the UK. The aim is to change the landscape of British dance by developing a more diverse and equal practice. As a touring company IRIE! created a unique repertoire combining traditional African & Caribbean with Western Contemporary Dance forms. However, over the past decades, its work has been more focused on reshaping the fields of accredited training and its work in the community.
As a result, IRIE! established the BA (Hons) Degree in Diverse Dance Styles in 2018 – the only course of its kind in the United Kingdom – and delivers a regular programme for its local community and communities around London. For IRIE!’s Artistic Director and CEO, Beverley Glean MBE, this was an inevitable journey for the organisation: “I now understand how big that mission is and, as the company has grown, other issues have come to light. In fact, it was not only about the artform, but educating and getting people to understand the importance of Dance of the African Diaspora (DAD) and its cultural value as part of our heritage in the UK”.
The BA (Hons) Diverse Dance Styles plays a key role in building the profile of DAD. The course was planned and designed by Beverley and Rosie Lehan who both consider that the degree was an inevitable step for IRIE! after having run a foundation degree. Beverley and Rosie met during their training at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and after starting their professional careers, they realised the need for a more diverse dance practice. “Together we realised there was a real gap that needed to be bridged because DAD was nowhere to be found on the curriculum”. They undertook a 3-year action research programme entitled Dance and Diversity. The programme was funded by National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA) and Arts Council England (ACE) to look into cultural diversity in dance training with particular focus on African and Caribbean dance. The research addressed barriers to training in the UK and took them to America, Africa and the Caribbean to investigate examples of good practice happening internationally.
In 2007, on returning from the final leg of the international element of the research they were asked to write and deliver a foundation degree, which ran as a partnership between IRIE! dance theatre, City and Islington College and London Metropolitan University for 10 years. The findings from Dance and Diversity research have been shared locally, nationally and internationally; it has been a journey of development and breaking boundaries. “We recognise the importance of what we are doing, in fact what we have done. We are breaking boundaries. The issue for DAD is that it was not seen as a viable form with technique and discourse to be studied academically”.
For Beverley and Rosie, the real work of the BA is to change the narrative. They feel that a number of critical developments have taken place across the sector to support the change. Beverley says “We have academics and artists of African and Caribbean decent writing about DAD and their experience as dancers navigating the UK mainstream dance sector. We now have several PhD scholars continuing to research and write about DAD. In Higher Education there is IRIE! dance theatre’s (validated by University of Roehampton) BA (Hons) Diverse Dance Styles and University of East London’s BA (Hons) Dance Urban Practice. Progress is not as fast as we would like, but it’s happening and we believe we have a hand in developing and changing the dance landscape”.
The BA (Hons) Degree in Diverse Dance Styles is currently accepting applications and it is currently auditioning for September 2022 start. The next audition day will be the 10th of February 2022, at the Moonshot Centre, London – where the degree is currently based. You can discover more about the course programme and how to apply here.