Introducing Bob Blunden from Dmac

If you’re ever walking past Hamilton House of an evening, you might hear the clatter of African drums or the rhythms of Salsa filter out of the building and across Stokes Croft. That’s down to Dmac — Dance Music Arts Collective — who run two dance studios from the fourth floor.

The collective offers around thirty classes a week in different dance, music and martial arts styles from across the globe, including African dance, Ballet, Capoeira, Five Rhythms, Salsa, Samba and Tango. But the group has ambitions that stretch far beyond the walls of the building.

“ At the moment, Dmac is like this big friendly octopus that’s got loads of arms and is quite difficult to hug” jokes Bob Blunden, who has been involved in the collective since it first moved into Hamilton House in 2010. He recalls the early days, when the group had to “scavenge bits of lino from here and there” in order to make a dance floor. But since then, Dmac has grown into a professional outfit with dozens of teachers, hundreds of students, and regular events called ‘Dmac Presents…’ to showcase their work.

Bringing dance, music and arts to the widest possible audience is at the heart of the group’s mission. Dmac are very active in Bristol schools, running classes and workshops as well as collaborating with educational projects like Mama Africa, which centres around African dance and history. In addition, the collective is strongly committed to providing more paid opportunities for practitioners, and making a career in the arts viable for those who choose to pursue it. As Bob puts it: “we want to see prospects for artists much better realised, so people can actually treat art as a decent career that doesn’t have to revolve necessarily around health or education practice.”

One of the most interesting ideas that the groups is currently working on is that of Social Prescription, which seeks to harness the therapeutic and transformative potential of art and dance. As Bob explains:

Instead of referring people to a course of pharmaceuticals, [GPs] could just as easily refer people to health and wellbeing activities. So whether it’s for health or whether it’s for mental health, we’re trying to design bespoke courses for people. That might be us and Wellbeing and the Community Kitchen and maybe drama or art therapy working together, with Hamilton House as a hub.

Dmac is also acutely aware of the need to engage the communities around them. Despite its equidistant position between Stokes Croft and City Road, Bob points out that “there’s always been this sense, right or wrong, that Hamilton House opened up to Stokes Croft and turned it’s back on St Paul’s.” As a group, Dmac is working towards expanding the work that goes on in Hamilton House to a make sure it reaches more diverse audiences.

Next week, the group will be putting on its annual Cool Corner event. “There will be music and dance, there’ll be a few workshops, there’ll be a really good kids area. And a real mix of people” and will feature collaborations with Bristol’s Got Talent as well as the Docklands Youth Project in St Paul’s.

The event will hopefully be a reminder of the fact that dance and music can be forces for promoting integration and understanding. Referring to the current political climate, Bob mentions that “there’s all these issues under the surface about race and inequality and migration. And we want to be an organisation that says none of that matters. People are people and they have stuff to offer and we want to be a home for that.”

Cool Corner will take place at the City Road entrance to Hamilton House on 8 July, from 2–9pm.

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