DAZL dance group set to celebrate 21st birthday by turning former community centre in Middleton into professional studio

A dance troupe that has been taking culture into communities and changing the fortunes of young people in deprived parts of Leeds celebrates its 21st birthday this year.

Monday, 1st March 2021, 6:00 am

Dance Action Zone Leeds (DAZL) was founded in 2000 with a small core group but now works with around 6,500 people a year on as grass roots a basis as you might get.

From street dance to jazz, there is not much you won't find going here and where you will find it - is anybody's guess.

Priding itself on not being a city centre organisation DAZL, and its team of dancers, teachers, choreaographers and health specialists work in 23 of the 33 council wards in Leeds doing outreach work to promote the benefits of dance, health and fitness - ass well as the career possibilities they might create.

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Kaci Emmonds, young dance leader, in the dance studio being refurbished at the Dazl Dance Centre at Middleton Community Centre in Leeds.

At the heart of the DAZL team are young dance leaders, who attended DAZL sessions as a child or a teenager and are being trained to professional qualification level to give something back to the organisation, in turn creating opportunities they were given for the next generations.

And to mark the 21st year, DAZL is set to make its biggest mark yet.

Leeds City Council has struck a deal with DAZL for it to take on the old Middleton Community Centre and turn it into a purpose built professional dance studio - and these are exactly the kind of legacies DAZL wants to leave.

Ian Rodley, is the director of DAZL. He said: "I am passionate that not everything should be in the city centre. It is about bringing arts and culture into the heart of communities. All our provision is within walking distance or within that community.

L to R; Chrissie Emmonds, community facilitator; Kaci Emmonds, young dance leader and Steph Dobson, health and wellbeing worker at the Dazl Dance Centre at Middleton Community Centre in Leeds.

"What an amazing thing for a real art school to be in the heart of Middleton which is one of the most deprived wards in the city - big on inequality, low employment. It is brilliant that Leeds City Council have had us take on that (community centre). It is aspirational for the people that live around here."

Renovations are underway and it is expected to be up and running by April and after lockdown and restrictions are lifted later this year, a celebration is planned.

The lockdown forced DAZL to change the nature of its work which, pre-COVID, was very much people, group, and perfomance based. It turned its attentions to using culture and the arts in different ways to improve mental health.

Garden Grooves rocked up in suburbs, villages, courtyards and housing estates to do dance sessions on the doorstep. The scheme covered 80 streets over the summer and filmed video clips which provided material for film series sessions being done online via Zoom, solo filming and the production of podcasts.

Ian Rodley, director at DAZL.

The age range that DAZL works with is usually between three years-old and 25, but, the troupe also works in Anchor Care Homes with elderly people and those with alzheimers and dementia; the Five Ways recovery programme that helps people overcome substance misuse and women who have experienced domestic violence.

Mr Rodley added: “It is a whole range but predominantly children and young people in the most deprived communities in the city, looking at those areas that face the most hardship and the largest inequalities.”

To make sure DAZL really reaches the young people it wants to, sessions are either free or cost £2 as a maximum. That said, if a child can’t pay, they are not turned away.

For that, they get access to some of the best dance schools in the country as DAZL acts as a progression route working with the likes of the Northern Ballet, Royal Shakespeare Company, Phoenix Dance and the Northern School of Contemporary Dance.

He said: “We use them as progression routes for young people. For those who want to progress or want to get into dance school we have people at Leeds City College, the Northern School, they are on cruise ships, holiday camps but wouldn’t have done that alone.

“The only way to do that is as a dance city coming together and working together.”

Mr Rodley himself is proof of the DAZL model working.

He explained: “I am literally one of those young people. I am from Belle Isle, my mum is a single parent and couldn’t afford to send me to dance school. I am living proof of the DAZL model and I took over the director. The staff have come from these communities, trained up, got qualifications and gone to university or are working on the programme.

“We have a whole generation of people who have got a degree in the arts and are doing something that they love that was never on their radar.”

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