A major new initiative will support dance artists to make work for pre-school children and develop a blueprint for working with the age group.
The three-year programme, called Little Big Dance, has been created by South East Dance in partnership with DanceEast, Take Art and Yorkshire Dance.
It has more than £371,000 investment from Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Arts Council England.
With the guidance of choreographers, producers and dramaturgs who specialise in work for very young children, Little Big Dance will support eight artists to work in pre-school environments in areas of England with little access to the arts.
The artists will be asked to each pitch an idea for a new touring work to a commissioning circle that includes representatives from Dance Umbrella, Edinburgh International Children’s Festival, Birmingham Hippodrome and theatre company Starcatchers.
Four of the ideas will be selected to be produced, and will go on tour nationally, while the remaining four ideas will be supported for development by Little Big Dance partners.
Canterbury Christ Church University dance expert Angela Pickard will evaluate learnings from the initiative to develop a best-practice blueprint to support the dance sector in making work with and for pre-school children.
The scheme aims to “revolutionise the way early years dance is recognised and support more high-quality dance work for the under-fives”.
Artistic director of South East Dance and lead partner on Little Big Dance, Cath James, said: “We know that dance can enhance physical and cognitive development; build confidence and creative expression; and offer young children living with neurodiversity entirely new ways to communicate with their peers.
“We also know that very young audiences are often overlooked, despite evidence suggesting that children who take part in the arts from a young age are more likely to continue to reap the health and well-being benefits into adulthood.
“For all these reasons and the opportunity to support artists to develop valuable new skills, we are hugely excited to launch Little Big Dance, and hope it will leave a lasting legacy on the way the dance sector views and approaches working with very young children.”
Little Big Dance is also supported by Dance Umbrella, Birmingham Hippodrome, Strike a Light Festival and English National Ballet School.
Applications are open for artists to take part in the scheme. See the Little Big Dance website for more information.