The Rural Touring Dance Initiative

 DSC7893The Rural Touring Dance Initiative was launched today at the National Rural Touring Network's Annual Conference; although around four to five years in development, it was largely instigated by discussions at last year's conference, which also held the first ever NRTF dance showcase.

This is a new scheme which aims to address the current underrepresentation of dance in rural touring across the UK through offering residencies, seed funding, a £45,000 production award, workshops, and selecting eight artists or companies per year whose work will be toured between 2016 and 2018.


Rural touring has traditionally been inaccessible to most dance artists (Arts Council England’s ‘Rural evidence and data review’ (March 2015) found that only 2% of NPO-funded dance companies toured to rural areas in 2012/13) for reasons ranging from the practical, such as stages being too small and/or unsuitable, limited technical facilities and fees being too low to cover costs, to venues being reluctant to take on the "risk" of booking dance instead of something tried and tested, or rural audiences simply really not liking dance.

This new partnership between NRTF, The Place, China Plate and Take Art seeks to remedy this problem by providing the support, funds, connections and awareness-raising to enable selected artists to learn about rural touring, develop suitable work and then tour it. The full budget for the scheme is £500,000, of which £379,560 is the result of a successful Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring Fund bid by NRTF.

A call-out for eight artists or companies to take part in the project between 2015 and 2018 is open until 10am on Friday 11 September 2015; for further details, an application form and FAQs, please visit Priority will be given to artists with little or no prior rural touring experience. Any type of format of work will be considered, so long as it is able to tour widely to diverse venues.

Four artists / companies will be chosen to tour existing dance shows from September 2016 to May 2017, and four will be chosen to develop new shows to tour in from September 2017 to May 2018. Bursaries are available for selected artists to adapt their work to make it suitable for touring. A full production award of £45,000 will be given to a company for a show to tour as part of the second round, and it is possible that this award will go to an artist already selected for the first round.

Following their selection, the four companies or artists will attend a 2.5 day ‘Introduction to Rural Touring lab’ run by China Plate, aimed at dance companies new to rural touring and engagement with rural communities. This will be held in autumn 2015 and autumn 2016, and offers an introduction to the scope of rural touring, making the artists aware of the different possibilities, audiences, experiences and more which are part of this type of work.   

The four dance companies (or artists) will be offered a week-long 'Darkroom' residency in November 2015 in West Somerset to develop ideas for rural touring and will include time spent working in local village halls. These residencies will be led by China Plate, aiming to prepare artists practically for the logistics of rural touring, to inspire the artists to want to create work for this circuit, and to embed their practice within the communities which they are residents of. Two of the companies will then be offered seed commissions of £3,600 each to further develop their shows.

Fees will be offered for attendance of the 'lab' and the residency; The Place is adamant that artists should be paid for their time.

In 2016 and 2017, there will be an enhanced showcase of dance works at the National Rural Touring Network's Annual Conferences, and outside of these conferences, ‘Go & See’ grants will be provided to encourage more cautious touring schemes to invest in and book dance shows, whether through shadowing or being advised experienced dance promoters or being able to attend dance performances.

The Rural Touring Dance Initiative aims to deliver a total of 115 shows being promoted through UK-wide rural touring schemes over the course of the two rounds. Each round will offer four artists selected via application, and four selected independently. The first round will showcase work from Phoenix Dance, Sonia Sabri, SpiltMilk and the Norwegian dance company Panta Rei (whose dancers include Robert Guy and Johnny Autin), following on from their successful performances at last year's NRTF Annual Conference. Part of the remit of the scheme is to underwrite the costs of touring so that artists are not dependent on the traditionally low fees offered through rural touring (traditionally around £500 per show).

This scheme is seen as a start, hopefully of a longer-term scheme, however it has significant hurdles to overcome: the shortage of dance in rural touring is only partly due to the shortage of suitable work being created for rural venues, and largely due to the extreme difficulty of getting booked. Although this scheme has letters of support from around half of the rural touring schemes, the touring people in the NRTF discussion about this scheme were extremely vocal about how resistant their promoters and audiences are towards dance. This scheme's partners aim to address that by drawing on the expertise of the promoters with long-term experience of touring dance shows, particularly with successfully marketing dance shows.

Photo of 2Faced Dance Company in 'Old Men' at Urban Moves 2014, Manchester. Photo copyright Chantal Guevara.