Oxford University and the dance company Body Politic have partnered to provide free dance classes for 11 to 16 year olds in the city. 

The university’s aim is to explore the effects of the arts and physical exercise on wellbeing and is being funded by The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities. The findings will form part of a study being conducted by the Social Body Lab. 

The lead researcher heading the project, Dr Bahar Tuncgenc, said: “Arts and physical activity can be very beneficial for improving social connectedness, reliance and self-esteem. 

“We want to find out whether engaging in our creative dance programme would promote young people’s wellbeing during these much-needed times, in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis.” 

The classes will take place over five weeks and will explore all aspects of dance, from performance to improvisation and choreography. The programme will be led by the artistic director of Body Politic, Emma-Jane Greig. 

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The company was founded in Oxford in 2012 and aims to promote diverse communities by addressing the lack of representation of artists from Black and Asian backgrounds. It works to provide opportunities for young people from vulnerable and marginalised communities and to remove barriers to the arts sector. 

Body Politics’ mission is built around outreach, artist development and producing theatre. Through dance, the group tries to help to improve the skills, confidence and employability of young people, while also producing “authentic, relevant and essential work”. In 2019 the company became the first female led independent hip hop group to tour outside of London. 

Oxford’s Social Body Lab, which is heading the research project, is part of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at the university. It was set up to explore links between social connection, group activity and health in relation to both everyday behaviour and culture. Research is conducted by academics and postgraduate students studying for an MSC degree in cognitive and evolutionary anthropology at the university and involves fieldwork as well as laboratory experiments. 

The work of the group tries to connect evolutionary, psychological and behavioural sciences. Researchers are aiming to try and use their findings to improve wellbeing, health and life outcomes across a wide range of settings globally. 

The hope is that the hip-hop classes will help to support young people in Oxford who are currently out of the classroom and are “experiencing challenging times”.