Community: Real Life

I became a dance teacher against the odds

All Pheleba Johnson, 21, wanted to do was teach dance, but a caution on her CRB check prevents her from teaching in schools. Not willing to give up on her dream, she created her own community dance project with the help of funding from Youth in Action. Now her career could be going in a completely different direction...

Pheleba

My whole life was about dance: African, street dance, hip hop, contemporary, ballet and gymnastics. I trained as a dance teacher and then began to train other teachers. This inspired me to get involved in other projects, and through various agencies I'd go to schools to teach dance workshops.

But this is where I sometimes hit a stumbling block with my CRB check. One primary school wouldn't accept me - they wouldn't even let me though the door. Others would make me stand in reception while they ran the necessary checks. This has happened about four times. It's horrible and completely crushes my confidence.

It was so silly, really, and so long ago. I was 16 at the time and got a caution for swearing at a policeman, but now 'threatening behaviour and language to cause public harm' - which sounds way more serious than it actually was - is on my record.

Positive steps with Youth in Action funding

But dance is my life. So I came up with 'Positive Steps' - a community project that not only teaches young people to dance, but also teaches life skills such as team work, communication, leadership, and creative skills. I had big plans for the project and needed extra cash, so applied for Youth in Action funding.

To apply for the Youth Initiative strand of Youth in Action funding you need a coach - someone who can show you how to fill in the forms. I approached a youth worker, Chris Rumble, who works at Ivolo. Having his help changed everything.

Positive Steps started out as a talent show, but with the extra Youth in Action funding it became much bigger project that reached many more young people. With the extra money I was able to get Shaun (a music producer) onboard, and he taught a group of lads about music and production.

Meanwhile, I took on everything else: teaching dance, working out the budget and coordinating the project. Chris was always there to support, but I was fully in control. We started the classes from May, with the final show in September.

"I sometimes hit a stumbling block with my CRB check"

Seeing the whole project coming together was amazing. Our show was at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham and was a sell-out. Everyone put in so much effort; we had over 60 young people involved: gymnasts, dancers, singers, rappers, as well as those behind the scenes. The kids worked so hard and seeing their families so proud made it all worthwhile.

I really enjoyed every part of it. Throughout the process I was not only using all the skills I'd learned from my training, but surprised myself when I discovered new ones.

A new direction

The more we developed the project the more I enjoyed the organisation side of things, and this made me rethink my career options. I realised I had potential to go into events management, which is something I would've never considered before. I've applied for an internship at an event management company in Birmingham, which could change everything.

I'll always be grateful to Youth in Action for helping me. It's not only boosted the confidence I lost, but opened up a new career path.

As for Positive Steps, we've had an amazing response since that show. My classes have doubled in size, and other young people wanting to get involved have approached Shaun. So we're now working towards another show at the end of February.

As part of the Youth in Action initiative we're also doing a cultural exchange with young people in Lithuania, which we're really looking forward to. We're just going to keep going, keep growing and see where it takes us. It feels like next year's going to be very big for Positive Steps.

To apply for funding visit the British Council website, or speak to your local youth organisation to see if they are already running a Youth in Action project. For more information about how to apply email the National Youth Agency on yia@nya.org.uk.

Nic Scott

Updated: 21/12/2011


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