U Dance 2024 provides Cumbrian students with access to dance whilst championing inclusivity.

The festival, which took place between Monday, March 18, and Friday, March 22 welcomed primary and secondary school pupils from across the county to the Crown and Mitre Hotel on English Street in Carlisle to show off their dancing skills. 

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Over 1,500 students from 50 local schools took part in the annual event which celebrated its 21st year in Cumbria. However, due to the closure of the Sands Centre's events building last September due to the presence of Reinforced aerated autoclaved concrete (RAAC), organisers Kelly McClelland, Alison Horn, and Helena Morris-Lockwood were forced to relocate to the alternative Carlisle venue.

Speaking during the event, Kelly explained how a bespoke performance area had to be constructed at the Crown and Mitre Hotel for the festival but admitted that all the work was worth it. 

News and Star: St Bridget's CE Primary School's 'Rock and Roll Rock Stars' performanceSt Bridget's CE Primary School's 'Rock and Roll Rock Stars' performance (Image: Matthew O'Hara/NQ)

She said: "It has been a labour of love and we have managed to pull it off.

"U Dance is an experience that is like no other. It is so rewarding and everyone is so supportive.

"The environment, the energy, and just that shared sense of joy from the children and the teachers is just such a wonderful thing.

"There is no judgment, everyone is really equal and that is what we love about U Dance and what makes it so special. It is non-competitive, it's fully inclusive, and no matter when U Dance finds you, it has found you for life."

News and Star: One of the main aims of U Dance is to provide local school pupils with access to dance as well as its associated benefits such as teamwork and cooperation.

"U Dance is about getting children and young people who would never get the opportunity to perform in a professional venue up there and enjoying it," Alison said.

News and Star: Braithwaite CE Primary School's 'Electricity' performanceBraithwaite CE Primary School's 'Electricity' performance (Image: Matthew O'Hara/NQ)

"It is that collective sense that we have created something special together. Maybe our piece is about a topic we are loving in school but we have really enjoyed creating something together, we are proud of it and here we are sharing it with a fabulous audience."

News and Star: Maryport CE Primary School's 'Snap, Click, Send - Is it Social or Antisocial media?' performanceMaryport CE Primary School's 'Snap, Click, Send - Is it Social or Antisocial media?' performance (Image: Matthew O'Hara/NQ)The U Dance Festival also has a number of educational benefits with schools working across various subjects to bring their performance to life. 

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Helena added: "If you look at a couple of the schools that are here they have not just picked a topic that is part of the curriculum and done the dance as part of their physical education, they have gone to art and done the costumes, they have gone to music."