YORKSHIRE MINERS AND POLICE HEAL RIFT WITH DANCE

By SALLY BECK
In a bid to celebrate the heritage of four Yorkshire towns, choreographer and West End star Steve Elias heads North with a plan to rouse locals through dance. Leading man Steve, who has had starring roles in Guys & Dolls, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Billy Elliot, was inspired by flash mobs and viral videos. His plan was a series of spectacles bringing people together in the way that London's Olympic opening ceremony did.
Steve began in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, whose troubled past is inextricably linked to the coal mines and glassblowing. Steve, who is also a former rugby player and son of a bricky from South Wales said: 'This idea was about working with communities. It wasn't about transforming them into professional dancers is was about what experience people could get by dancing and whether it could change them as people.'
He was particularly keen to ease tensions in Barnsley between the miners and police who clashed violently during the 1984 strikes. One Barnsley miner, Russell Broomhead, was filmed being badly beaten at the Battle of Orgreave, the most violent confrontation between police and pickets. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign are campaigning for a Hillsborough like enquiry and are claiming retired officers are prepared to come forward with damning evidence.
In its heyday there were 10 mines in the Barnsley district, its now green valley was so full of smoke and steam they called it Dante's Inferno. That all changed with the first pit closure. After Cortonwood colliery went in 1985 it marked a steady decline in the industry.
Former miner and local historian Dave Cherry said: 'When one miner went, fifteen more ancillary workers lost their jobs. The blokes that made the pies for the canteen, the steel works, the railways. It were a big knock on effect - a devastating blow. That was it. Roy Orbison. It's over.'
Old tensions still bubble close to the surface, but can dance heal that rift?
Steve said: 'Dance can do so much. It unites, it allows people to express themselves, to show who they really are, it celebrates, it entertains. Dance, I believe, has the power to be life changing. Could I achieve the same result for a whole community? That was the challenge.
'I know from experience that once you get a room full of people rehearsing for a show, there's something about sweating together, failing and laughing together as a group. It makes you lose all your inhibitions and creates a strong bond.'
Steve, 44, is set to do for dance what Gareth Malone has done for choirs. Originally from Carmarthen, but now lives in London. He is not your traditionally slim, athletic dancer. He has a definite prop forward's physique, but he says performing has helped him thrive. 'I knew it's what I wanted to do from the age of six when I saw my brother acting in Oliver at school. I was a chubby kid and I had body issues even then, but dance made me forget all about that. I come alive on stage.'
The community are skeptical and their experience of dance varied. Some have never even danced the conga, whilst other gifted amateurs have dreamed of a life expressed through dance, a dream that for one reason or another, was never fulfilled.
One lady he approached told him: 'The only time I dance is when I'm drunk in Benidorm.' But then he meets 21-year-old Nick working in his parents' chippy who reached grade six in ballet and tap and studied Latin and ballroom dancing too. He hasn't danced for five years after a London audition made him realise he wasn't ambitious enough. His pirouette is wobbly, but Steve tells him: 'It'll all click back into place.'
Getting the proud former miners on board was his toughest challenge. Dave Cherry summed up local feeling. He said: 'Personally I think he's raving bonkers.' Steve said: 'I wasn't planning to put them in lycra and tutus, but I needed them. They're the heart and soul of Barnsley.'
The police were more enthusiastic. PC Craig has served with the South Yorkshire police force for 29 years joining in 1987, three years after the miners' strike. His father was a miner so he has a foot in both camps. He said: 'If somebody had said: "In thirty years time you'll be taking part in a dance in Barnsley alongside the ex-miners." I'd have said, "nah, you're off your head."
'The strikes split families asunder and time hasn't healed all the wounds. But Yorkshire people and Barnsley people in particular are very broad minded and we can move on, put our differences behind us.'
That's the theory, but in practice, the miners are reluctant to co-operate, refusing to come to rehearsals or even dance. Finally, they agreed a compromise, they wouldn't dance but they would march. Former miner Eric Richardson, who volunteers at the Barnsley Museum said: 'We don't need a rehearsal. We've marched through London, we've marched in Birmingham, we've marched in Norwich docks. We don't need no trial run I can assure you of that!'
Steve was convinced they wouldn't show. He said: 'Every time I think about the miners I start to sweat.
'I had no idea whether or not they would turn up. I knew that with other groups, like the glass blowers, they would send a couple on reconnaissance to see what I was doing. They didn't take me at face value, they were convinced I was trying to expose them or make them look silly. Once they saw I was genuine more would join in, but the miners never came.'
Even on performance day, Steve was still unsure.
Their route started at the town hall, wound it's way through the town centre before culminating at the miner's column. Over 350 residents turned up, including 74 proud miners, glassblowers, the women's rugby club, baton twirlers, Barnsley's Northern Soul club and the local theatre group, turned up to take part.
The miners turned up and were pleased to join in. Eric said: 'We get an immense feeling of pride when we march at back of us banners. That's how we all feel that it belongs to us and we're going to be representative of that.'
PC Craig said: 'It's the first time in my 30 years of service that I've been part of a body of police officers and we've actually been cheered to the rafters.'
Steve said: 'They came up trumps. It was mind-blowing, the best moment of my life. To see the miners and police taking part in something together was extraordinary.'
It was a hard won success. Steve said: 'My heart was in my mouth. When you're working with non-dancers, anything can go wrong. If one goes down it can have a domino effect. The result could be carnage. It was a big gamble'
Tomorrow night, viewers can see Steve persuading Barnsley to Dance in BBC2's five-part series, 'Our Dancing Town'.
Next week he travels to Skipton, the rural gateway to the Dales, then the old mill town of Huddersfield which has a higher than average multi-cultural mix, and finally York, with its Viking and Roman history and of course its chocolate. York felt apart after being devastated by floods on Boxing Day 2015.

Our Dancing Town, BBC Two, 9pm, Tuesday 10th January