The Rural Touring Dance Initiative proves a gateway to new dance audiences

It’s official! Touring dance is not only alive and well but loved by practitioners and audiences alike. The proof comes from an in-depth survey of 1386 audience members and twelve dance companies, that showed rewarding results.

The innovative Rural Dance Touring Initiative (RDTI), run by the National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) has been taking high quality dance to rural venues since 2015. Participating companies include a roster of top talent: Lost Dog, Luca Silvestrini’s Protein, Uchenna Dance, Scottish Dance Theatre, Mr & Mrs Clark, Jo Fong and George Orange, and Joshua ‘Vendetta’ Nash.

The UK is London-centric with a disproportionate number of arts venues and funding concentrated on the capital. However, this does not mean that the counties are culture starved. Rather, it seems they enjoy an abundance of alternative and avant-garde dance, particularly those tailored to local communities.

Many positive things come from the survey. Among the primary reasons for attending are the influence of a friend or trust in the venue. A striking 41% of respondents said they wanted to see something new. This is good news for the many small dance companies who thrive on new works.

In 2020, and in response to the pandemic, the RDTI launched a digital season, including Lost Dog’s award-winning single-shot short film, In a Nutshell with Ben Duke (pictured), which envisages a world in which theatres will never open again
Photo courtesy The Place

Quality of experience is extremely high. 98% of audience members said they enjoyed the shows, the same percentage saying that it was value for money. 96% said the show was enjoyable, 94% said it was thought-provoking, and 71% said it made them see dance in a new light. Impressive figures indeed.

An interesting and possibly unexpected result is the effect on the dance works. Choreographers noted that having to trim the works to fit small spaces and work with minimal lighting and stage effects enabled the focus to fall squarely on the dance and the dancer. “You learn about your own work by cutting it down.” Others commented that scaling down was an artistically and personally enriching experience. Many also commented on the deeper connection with audiences and the role they play.

There was pleasure on both sides: “You actually came all the way from London? Just to visit us?” This unique connection and the pleasure of the shared experience made sense of the statistics. Of the 12 companies surveyed, four already enjoyed rural touring and a further seven said their experience made them more keen on the idea.

Of course, none of this happens in isolation. Ralph Lister, director of the RDTI, and founder member and former Development Director for the NRTF, and Holly Lombardo, Director of the NRTF, both noted the pleasure of working alongside the other partners. These include The Place with its prime position as a hub of contemporary dance in London; China Plate, one of the UK’s most prolific independent producers of contemporary theatre; and Take Art (where Lister is director), a unique, life-changing organisation located in rural communities of Somerset.

A final positive, and an important one for the planet, is that taking dance to rural communities has a modest carbon footprint. What’s not to like?

The Rural Touring Dance Initiative Phase 2 Evaluation Report can be downloaded from