It is hard to put into words how special rural touring is. It is almost like visiting family you haven’t yet met.
Artist (RTDI 2 Evaluation report)
The Rural Touring Dance Initiative (RTDI) is a national project which supports dance artists & rural promoters to make great dance performance events happen in rural spaces.
RTDI was launched in 2015 when The Place, National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF), China Plate and Take Art joined forces to address the lack of quality dance in rural spaces. From the start, RTDI has introduced some of the UK’s leading dance companies to rural touring including Lost Dog, Luca Silvestrini’s Protein, Uchenna Dance, Scottish Dance Theatre, Mr & Mrs Clark, Jo Fong and George Orange, and Joshua ‘Vendetta’ Nash.
The first phase of the project, RTDI 1, ran from 2015-2018 and was made possible by a grant from Arts Council England’s Lottery funded Strategic Touring Programme. Due to its successes, in November 2017 the project was given a further £417,000 to develop a second phase of the project which ran until 2021.
Over the years RTDI has transformed UK rural dance touring. An evaluation report of the project’s second phase published in 2022, highlighted that 98% of audiences enjoyed watching the performances, with 88% saying the experiences made them want to see more dance, demonstrating demand for high quality touring dance.
In July 2022, the current RTDI partners (The Place, Highlights, NRTF, Sonia Sabri Company, Take Art) were awarded £400,000 from Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and £450,000 from Arts Council England to continue the project from 2023 – 2026. As well as supporting 10 new associate venues to programme dance in rural areas and market towns, many of them in Levelling Up for Culture places, the funding will enable RTDI to support eight dance artists & companies per year to tour their work to rural areas, with over 200 performances and 90 workshops expected between autumn 2023 and summer 2026.
Learn more about previous editions of RTDI at ruraltouringdance.com.
What is Rural Touring?
Rural touring describes professional performances which take place in rural venues. These rural venues usually take the form of a Village Hall or Community Centre, but can also be pubs, libraries and outdoors. They are rarely fully equipped arts venues. Performances are programmed by a rural touring scheme, who will curate a varied season of events. Instead of all the events taking place in a couple of rooms in one building, they take place in lots of venues across a specific geographical area, sometimes whole counties, sometimes even further.
Rural touring work is very different from touring to city centres or venues in urban areas. Artists express high regard for rural touring venues and the level of professionalism from the promoters. They often talk about their appreciation of a certain “magic” and warmth of the audiences that happens at rural events which aren’t the same at larger halls or festivals.
17.6% of the population of England live in a rural area, as defined by the Defra & ONS classification (which includes rural towns & fringes). Many of these people find it harder to access cultural activities than those in urban centres, but RTDI has shown that this doesn’t mean there is less demand.
Our evaluation of the first six years of the project has shown that the main reason audiences attend RTDI events is because they want to see dance. The second most common reason is that they want to see something different.
RTDI exists to respond to this demand – to make connections between brilliant dance artists and their work, and rural programmes and audiences.
Artists touring through RTDI have found it to be a rewarding, enriching experience.
Highlights Rural Touring Scheme connects over 65 venues, an army of volunteer promoters and an ever-growing list of artists. Together, we bring great arts and unmissable culture to rural areas, lighting up village halls, schools and community centres with music, dance, theatre and storytelling.
Set up originally to work with isolated communities in the North Pennines, we now work across Cumbria, County Durham and Northumberland. Across the three counties, many communities have suffered from long term economic decline, resulting in pockets of high unemployment, poor transport links, declining local services and social isolation.
Our events bring people together, providing drama, music and laughter. Some of the halls are small and intimate, lending themselves to music or one-person shows, others are large and luxurious, and can showcase some of the larger-scale theatre we programme. There are refreshments and raffles, and often some of the most amazing cakes made by local people, but most of all there is always the warmest of welcomes.
We are one of 30 similar schemes which support professional arts in over 1,000 small community venues throughout the UK, playing an important part in the social life and sustainability of their community and supported by the National Rural Touring Forum. We work in partnership with Arts Out West to deliver a collaborative programme of events throughout Cumbria.
National Rural Touring Forum
National Rural Touring Forum has been in operation for 25 years, it has over 500 members and is an ACE National Portfolio Organisation. NRTF networks, develops and supports the ecosystem that delivers high-quality creative experiences across communities and rural areas in the UK. The aim of the NRTF is to strengthen and support rural populations to bring professional work to their venues.
Sonia Sabri Co
Sonia Sabri Company (SSCo) is one of the UK’s leading contemporary, South Asian dance and music companies. SSCo creates music and dance that is progressive, challenging, technically accomplished and sincerely felt. Our work is relevant to modern audiences and inspired by Eastern and Western cultures (classical and contemporary). We make connections across cultures and generations, as well as strengthening community understanding and wellbeing through performances, workshops, and talent development.
SSCo was established in 2002 and joined the Arts Council’s National Portfolio in 2012. An Associate Company of Birmingham Hippodrome, the Company is led by Artistic Director, Sonia Sabri, one of the brightest and most inspirational of British born Kathak dancers and choreographers today. Musical Director Sarvar Sabri is an internationally renowned award-winning Tabla player and composer.
Take Art is a unique, life-changing organisation that doesn’t live in an arts venue but in the villages, towns and rural communities of Somerset. We also have projects in the South West, UK and Europe. Every year we bring exciting and empowering arts experiences to thousands of people, providing opportunities for all ages and abilities to experience, participate and work within the arts. As one of Somerset’s leading NPO’s, we currently run one of the UK’s most celebrated rural touring schemes, along with projects in theatre, music, dance and early years creativity.
Head to the Rural Touring Dance Initiative website to learn more about the project and how to get involved.