WHEN Suzanne Watson sat down to watch a group of young people dancing at an event earlier this year, she didn't know what to expect.

By the end of the performance she was in tears - and she knew there and then that she wanted to support these youngsters in her role as the new president of Bradford Chamber of Commerce.

“I hadn’t heard of Dance United Yorkshire until I was invited to their celebration of becoming a charity back in March," says Suzanne. "The evening involved dance performances by children, young people and adults who’d had some unthinkable experiences in life. I was moved to tears watching them perform and support each other in front of an audience.

"I saw some of our district’s most vulnerable and isolated people come to life on that stage, following months of hard work and commitment, and I immediately knew this was the charity I wanted to back in my first year as Chamber president.”


Based at Kala Sangam Arts Centre in Bradford city centre, Dance United Yorkshire works with schools, youth offending teams and pupil referral units, delivering contemporary dance courses for 13 to 19-year-olds. Aimed at building trust and self-esteem, the courses culminate in a performance at a professional venue. Through its outreach programme, the charity also works with young people and adults with poor mental health, domestic abuse victims and those living in poverty.

From now until 2020, Dance United Yorkshire (DUY) will receive funds raised from Bradford Chamber events, including its annual dinner in November and weekly dress-down days, as well as volunteer support from the Little Germany-based Bradford Chamber team and profiles in the West and North Yorkshire Chamber’s quarterly members magazine.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Young people learn vital life skills through dance Young people learn vital life skills through dance

Over the last 12 months, DUY has worked with 1,193 children, young people and adults in the Bradford district, and over 80 per cent of youngsters involved felt that it had improved their mental health and wellbeing.

Established in 2011, initially as a Community Interest Company, the charity is led by artistic director Helen Linsell, who has worked around the world delivering dance to a range of communities.

“We're delighted to be recognised by Bradford Chamber for the work we do across the district," says Helen. "We use high quality arts interventions to develop discipline, motivation, teamwork and confidence, as well as fitness and wellbeing, with vulnerable and disengaged individuals and those who are socially isolated. But we can be overlooked or misunderstood, when there are better known local and national charities.

“Funds raised through Bradford Chamber in the next 12 months will go directly into continuing our projects for people here in Bradford aged three to 80. Our experience shows that through dance, it’s never too late to turn lives around.”

Suzanne, managing director of Ilkley-based Approach PR, who took up the Bradford Chamber presidency in July, says:

“At a time when Bradford is bidding to become City of Culture 2025, we’re increasingly aware of how culture can bring personal transformation and I can’t think of a more fitting charity for Bradford Chamber to showcase and support than one which uses dance to support, connect, engage and become a catalyst for positive change."

The main strand of DUY's work is its dance and social inclusion programme for NEET (not in education, employment or training) young people, some of whom have behavioural issues in school or are excluded, are youth offenders, or have mental health problems. When youngsters walk into DUY’s studio, there are rules: mobiles aren’t allowed, hair must be tied up, jewellery off, and uniform T-shirts worn. By the end of their first session they're walking that bit taller, and over a course of classes they develop confidence, trust and self-esteem, which many have never had before.

The dance training, delivered by specialist tutors, develops discipline, motivation and teamwork, as well as fitness and wellbeing. Helen Linsell says the discipline works: “It’s strict, but for a good reason. They often walk in and say: ‘It’s worse than school’. They’re not allowed mobiles, they eat what we give them, they’re supervised, they’re in a room with people they've never met before. There are no hiding places. It’s rigid but it’s also creative, and every day they go that bit further.

"There’s so much going on in a dance studio. They have to stay focussed. They begin with resistance behaviour but over time they learn how to communicate and co-operate, they stand up tall and make eye contact. It’s incredibly rewarding to see. At the end of the programme they get a qualification and everyone performs on stage."

Some participants go on to study dance at college, and some now have careers in the industry. Says Helen: “Even if they don’t continue with dance, the programme helps with valuable life skills. It’s not about turning them into dancers. It’s about helping them with things like controlling anger and problem solving; building tools to manage their behaviour."