Dance Dance Revolution: Big Dance Edinburgh 2012
Sport is unhealthy. Research unearthed by Live Art gadfly Richard Dedominici has demonstrated that the Olympics encorages more pizza consumption than physical activity, and the popularity of football does as much for sustaining primitive tribalism as healthy lifestyles. When the Scottish Government decided to address the nation's health problems, it developed a policy to "get Scotland dancing," building on the wealth of classes, workshops and professional communities across the country. Big Dance Edinburgh, produced by the indefatigible Dance Base, links this policy to the British Big Dance Week for two full days of free events over the last weekend of June, bringing together everything from belly-dance through burlesque to breakdancing.
The programme for Edinburgh's weekend reveals, even to insiders, that there is more dance happening around Scotland than imagined. With seven different locations around the city – even Arthur's Seat has been booked for some early morning yoga sessions – and around one hundred different groups putting on a show or tell, Big Dance is an opportunity for everyone to get involved, whether in a free workshop, a world record attempt or just to watch a musical.
Morag Deyes, artistic director of Dance Base, notes that the weekend "is a fantastic job of co-ordination: a real eye-opener! We heard from groups that we didn't know existed." Having made an appeal for participants, Dance Base found itself inundated with applications. Like the August Fringe Festival, Big Dance Edinburgh is open and inclusive. "The whole weekend is a testamant," adds Deyes, "to 'let's do the show right here!'"
Castle Street will be transformed into the main stage area: it is here that the sheer range of Scotland's dance communities is most in evidence. Alongside a surprisingly large number of belly-dance displays, local ballet schools, jazz companies and ceilidh callers will share their talents: St Andrews Square hosts the b-boys for battles and display their street skills. Even the National Museum of Scotland offers tasters and a couple of lectures - from Scottish Ballet and the ever-wonderful Agnes Ness, who will be introducing the dance coming to the 2012 Edinburgh Festivals.
Like the Fringe, Big Dance Edinburgh is best enjoyed as a selection box: while there is a timetable of events, the sheer scale of the event makes it possible to drift around the city, discovering surprises. The aim of the weekend seems not so much to be a statement about the professional work being made in Scotland - many of the participants are amateurs or students - but to allow audiences to get involved and realise how accessible dance can be.
"Spontaneity is really important," Deyes continues. In Rose Street, she has programmed a secret timetable, that does include professional, site-specific performances. She also promises Flashmob - The Musical! and a very long line of ballet dancers, inspired by the La Bayadere and "random acts of contemporary dance."
"There's no stage," she explains. "Things will just happen. It's all about pop-up events, a complete surprise for the people in Rose Street!"
Meanwhile, on the Saturday evening, there will be a clash of attractions. On Castle Street, the MGA Academy of Performing Arts presents Steps in Time, a history of dance on stage and screen over the past century. Just up the road, the Castle Rocks Park Jam throws down in St Andrews around the same time: an open session for anyone fancying their chances to battle or just dance alongside the cream of Scotland's crews.
Emphasising that dance is for all ages and all body types, the Grassmarket is a family area. At the end of the weekend, it becomes the venue for The Big Tea Dance. When the national Big Dance was launched on May 18th, there was an attempt to break the Guiness World Record for Largest Dance Routine (Multi-Venue): as an appropriate end to Edinburgh's weekend, Edinburgh is trying to wrest the record for biggest tea dance from Glasgow. Starting at 5pm, the session begins with a quick lesson on the foxtrot - beginners are more than welcome to join in - and includes a free cup of tea. The target is three hundred and ten couples.
Big Dance is invading parts of the city that are usually immune to performance: shoppers at Harvey Nicks are promised a selection of dispalys throughout the weekend. The National Museum has classes in ballet, and a selection of dance films. And community participation takes to the screen on the Saturday night, when Chris Stuart-Wilson leads a "dance along" to the movie Dirty Dancing. With Wilson's special class leading the fun, this outdoors showing of the classic film is a reminder that dance can be a block-busting success.
Unlike the Olympics, or Euro 2012, Big Dance encourages engagement and participation: if the Edinburgh events share the scale and the free for all atmosphere of the Fringe, it further stresses inclusivity and diversity. If the "get Scotland dancing" policy is a rare example of a government thinking intelligently about how best to help its citizens get active and creative, Big Dance Edinburgh celebrates the democracy of dance itself.
Castle Street, Saturday
Absolutely Legless: Irish dance performance with live musicians, Contains a warning that this will "leave the audience breathless"
Bollylicious: Dance Base's Bollywood class brings Indian panache and colour
Castle Street, Sunday
Flamenco Fury: early morning kick off from the Edinburgh based Spanish company.
Kick the Cat Cloggers: Tap dance performance
Bellydance Barbie, Twisted Tales and Katra, Helwa Hurdies: there really is a great deal of belly dance.
St Andrews Square, Saturday
Jack In The Box: watch and join in with this award winning b-girl crew
Edinburgh Hoop Jam: high energy hula-hoop hilarity: bring your own and wiggle along
Big Dance Along Movie: Chris Wilson leads the fun: join in with Dirty Dancing's cinematic choreography