Echo Echo recently completed the first year of the Dancing Together project – a dance and music project in partnership with local schools and community partners.
All P1-P7 pupils in St Patrick’s PS, Dunamanagh were involved in a long programme of weekly movement and music sessions with Echo Echo Ensemble artists Ayesha Mailey and Tonya Sheina with musicians Ronan McKee of Play Percussion and Mark O’Doherty leading to a sharing performance at Echo Echo Studios in Derry.
During a time when creative arts are being eliminated from schools in Northern Ireland due to continued funding cutbacks and political stalemate, and despite the valiant and often voluntary efforts of individual staff and teachers to ensure that dance, music and arts projects are still made available to pupils, the Dancing Together project has demonstrated the positive impacts of children participating regularly in quality arts and creative activities.
Principal of St Patrick’s Jacqueline Carlin, which will amalgamate with three other Sperrin primary schools this summer to form the new St Michael’s PS, told us:
“You know my sentiments on the benefits that the creative and aesthetic bring to the curriculum for children. I believe its benefits are not solely in the performance and the pride which this inspires in both parents and children, but that it feeds directly into the achievement across the curriculum. Pupils who are confident and have self-esteem, are more able to engage with the academic side of the curriculum, are more willing to take chances with their learning and to ‘have a go’. Your programme instils such confidence in our children and the fact that we have been partners for a number of years is readily apparent in the level of engagement which you have with pupils – how many schools have P7 boys who are confident enough to perform an improvised dance for an audience! Our parents too, have learnt over the years of our holistic approach to the curriculum and are aware that our weekly dance sessions are contributing in ways which cannot be measured to their children’s development. The number of parents who came to our performance in the Echo Echo Dance Theatre is testament to this.
In the time when schools are acutely aware of pupil mental health and well-being, I know that I am very fortunate to be able to offer this opportunity for weekly self-awareness, calmness, self-control and gentle working with others. Add to this the opportunity to work with professional dancers and musicians (such as Mark, and African Drumming with Ronan McKee) and I am confident that I am addressing the well-being of the pupils of our school.”
A big thank-you to everyone involved at the school, all of the children who took part for their commitment, to the Echo Echo artistic team, and to the project funders BBC Children in Need, Arts Council NI, and Derry City and Strabane District Council.
Here is a small selection of images from the project by Patrick Duddy Photography: