By the end of our second residency we had developed a framework of approaches and activities we were going to explore and develop as part of our sessions with our dancers. We’d divided (while acknowledging everything is intertwined of course) strength and alignment into sections:
Body awareness – tactile cues (self given such as rubbing, brushing etc)
Imagery for alignment – given verbally, visually through picture and real objects
Floor work (strength) – specific movements to include
Upper body standing (alignment)
Lower body (strength and alignment) – sitting, lying and standing with a focus on ankle strength
Each of us works in a different way with our dancers. Not only in terms of the number of sessions per week and length of term, but also in our approach to training dancers. We are all established practitioners who have developed our methods over several years so our own experience and beliefs are wrapped up in the practices we have developed. The social and organisational context, individual aims and the dancers themselves shape our class structures and the emphasis we place on different skills or areas of training. So seeing how each of us interprets, adapts and develops the activities and exercises is as much part of the process as measuring the impact they have on our dancers. This will also help to ensure our final resource is accessible, adaptable and usable to fit the wide range of practitioners needs.
So we had finally got the part we had all been waiting for. Trying out some new ideas with our dancers! While exciting and refreshing to get some new ideas for class, the process wasn’t going to be without its challenges. I quickly discovered how set my class structure has become which is reassuring for the dancers as they know what to expect. Familiarity is comforting. But shaking this up can also be good sometimes, to help them (and me) adapt to new situations and re-examine. Finding new approaches makes you question what you think you already know, and do. But perhaps as importantly it has also reminded me why we do some things in a particular way. Because it works well, which is reassuring.
Seeing what each other is trying out through sharing short videos has felt really supportive and motivating. Joop and Manouk’s idea for a chair based exercise to Greek Sittaki music (standing and sitting to the changes in the music) was a revelation! Fun is definitely an important point to consider for motivation, engagement and group dynamic. Through emails and Skype meetings we have been able to share thoughts and challenges which is a refreshing change to working alone on ideas. Its good to be part of a bigger team.
Theprojectisalreadyunderway and after ourfirst meeting ofteams and countries, wemetagain in Leeds to set someevaluationmethodsforourteachingproposal. Theseevaluation, ortesting,methodswereofferedtousbythespecialistsfromtheUniversityof Edinburgh,Wendy Timmons and Mark Pace. TheUniversityof Edinburgh willcontributedirectlytotheproject in thefirsttworesidencesthroughtheprovisionofcurrentscientificknowledgeonsafepractice in dance. Theircurrentresearchonhypermobilityisparticularlyrelevanttotheproject, as thisis akeyphysicalsymptom in peoplewith Down syndrome and isessentialforpreventionofinjury. Lateron, theywillact as consultants and “externaleyes” ontheactivities, strategies and approachesthatthethreeprojectpartnersdesign. We alsohavetheexperienceofLouise McDowall, fromtheUniversityof Leeds, wholed a sessionondisseminationoftheProject;whatimpact do wewantthisprojecttohave?
In thissecondresidency, eachofthecompaniesstartedbygiving a secondclasstoAbilitygroupofNorthern Ballet focusingontwoareas;alignment and strength. We wantedto share ideas and exercisesthatweunderstand can be beneficial todevelopthesetwoqualities in futureprofessionaldancers. After observingthethreeclasses, thecompaniescametotheconclusion, thatwehave similar pointsofviewwhencreatingexercises and howtoadaptthemaccordingtotheclassenvironment. In addition, wehighlighted key elements to improve the quality of movementsuch as breath control and the use of imagery or objectsthat dance students can identifywith the meaning of the exercise.
The second daystartedwithsome feedbackfrom theAbilitydancers. We asked how theyhadfelt and experienced the previousday’sexercises as weconsiderourdancersafundamental part of thisproject. Theirvoice and whattheywant to sayisvery important. In additiontothiswecarried out our first evaluation of the Abilitydancers to check if the system of monitoring progesswehaddesignedwas effective and easy to impliment.
Afterthat, the threecompaniesbegan to define the most important aspects whichshouldbeinginclude in the development of a professionaldancer ;physical and artistic aspects and the differentelementsthatcan beincluded ina technique classsuch as improvisation, floorwork, workon differentdynamics etc.Afterdiscussingdifferent points of viewwe came to five areasthatweweregoing to focus on foralignment and strength;body awareness,ankles, resistance and alignement in the lower body, initiation of movement in the upper body (as a means to explore articulation and alignment), and strengtheningthroughfloorwork (in all parts of the body equally).
In addition, itwasestablishedthat one of the principles of thisprojectwouldbesafe practice whichallowsdancers to developtheir dance qualitiesavoidinganyinjury or problemsthatmightharmyou in the development of theirdailylives.
The thirdday of our meeting wasfocusedonour communication strategy ; deciding on how wewould use the blog and social media, finalising a name for the project. How couldweensureweofferedhigh quality contentwhich can help others todeveloptheirownactivities ?
Finally Louise McDowall, gave us a session on whatis the impact and whatkind of impactwewantthisproject to have. It made us consider the differentkindsand levels of impact, whatismost important for us and the kind of visibilitywe are aiming for.
Without a doubt, theywerethreedays full of listening and learning. You willbegin to see the outcomeswithinour blog soon.
Thankyou for your attention and hope to seeyousoonagain!
It was just before Christmas and we all know this is one of the busiest times of the year for dance practitioners or even as director. Well, it didn’t matter because we were all so excited to travel to Leeds to meet all the Partners in real life. Of course there had been Skype meetings in between, but it’s never the same. It was also the first time we met the researchers of the University of Leeds and University of Edinbrugh.
Manouk: ‘When Joop asked me to join the project I felt really honored and exited. We have been waiting for a while to start the project and there it was, the first residency!’
Me and Manouk travelled late in the evening to leeds directly and stayed at a hotel just 5 minutes away from Northern Ballet. The next morning we started at 10:00. Even though a lot of things were discussed and mentioned via Skype, we had a lot of things to do and clarify. Mostly contracts, agreements, the specific content of the research and how where going to research. The days were full of sharing ideas and thoughts. It was nice to feel that we are not alone in this world and we can work together to grow. You could feel the passion for our craftmanship with all the people involved in the project. Even though we had different paths, we do share the same goal. Developing a proper method in dance for dancers with a learning disability. We will search, work hard and try out, discuss and try again! Together with our dancers back in our countries. The beginning of a big adventure.
However it was also quiet overwhelming and a big project! There was just an overload of information and it needed to be structured.
We also found out more about hyper-mobility. Marc Pace and Wendy Timmons gave a lecture about this topic in connection to talent development. It was very interesting to recognize some aspects and effects of hyper-mobility. Almost everyone in the room could just nod and say; ‘Yes I have that’. Both explained the holistic approach to the research, the connection between social, physical and psycological well-being and its importance.
Nevertheless, there was still work to do. We all muttered enthusiastic to tackle the work as fast as possible. After 1 full day discussing it was good that we had a second day in the dance studio’s of Northern Ballet. It gave us the opportunity to not only get to know each other’s principles and thoughts but also their practice in the studio. Every partner had to teach and share their practice for 2 hours with the Ability group.
For me and Manouk it was wonderful to see that so many things were similar to our practice back home in The Netherlands. The Ability group showed the rest of the partners what exercises they have been working on. We also loved the energy of the group. They were all so concentrated, motivated and far in their development as dancers. In our class we worked around themes like contact and partner work. We even worked on lifts.
In addition we had been working with objects and how to lift or work with these. By the end of the class we exchanged the object for a member/person of the group. Everyone was lifted once. This exercise had made such an impression that it will haunt us for the rest of the project. All the dancers want to be lifted again and again, haha.
Psico Ballet Maite León Foundation was responsible of the first class on the second day of work, which was based on the work of a normal class of the Foundation. They worked on developing aspects of the dancer’s quality and dynamics individually, in couples and as a group. In addition, they worked on the development of creativity and imagination through objects and improvisation with the objects and the other’s body.
Gabriela and Ramon echoed that it was very special and rewarding to see the work of each partner and how many points we had in common. In addition to meeting Ability two things stood out to them; teaching a class and observing as they followed it in an outstanding way, and also learning and getting to know each other through dancing together in classes that were taught by each other.
We hope you will find it relevant, interesting and enlightening.
The idea for the project first started developing in Jan 2018. I had led Northern Ballet’s Ability for over 5 years and felt I needed some new input. Mia (Support Artist) and I always spend a fair bit of time reflecting on what happens in the sessions; individual’s progress, why things are working (or not) and how we can improve or change what we do to develop their skills further. However, there comes a point when you need some outside expertise. Or just the chance to see how others are approaching common issues.
Hypermobility and how to work with it safely was, and is, an ongoing concern. The majority of our dancers display it which affects their alignment, ability to build and maintain strength, and increases risk of injury amongst many other things. We also often wonder how effectively we’re communicating with our dancers. Is the idea or concept clear? Or can we approach it in another way? How can we enable them to develop their technical dance skills so they can reach their full potential as expressive artists?
So we decided to create a project that would address these needs. We had a small window of time to apply for Erasmus + funding and within that we needed to find two European partners, some Dance Science and Education specialists, work out what a project that answered these questions would look like and write a (very long) application. All in under 8 weeks. Thankfully we were successful! Stopgap Dance Company helped us find some brilliant partners (thank you!) and Wendy Timmons and Mark Pace from the University of Edinburgh came on board.
Here’s some information about the dance companies involved to start. Please keep revisiting to find out more about the project and how it’s progressing…
Team UK – Northern Ballet
Northern Ballet is the busiest touring ballet company in the UK, creating full length ballets, children’s ballets and a range of digital work with a strong focus on the narrative. We believe in the value of creating a diverse range of ballets which appeal to as many people as possible, from all walks of life and we constantly seek to engage new audiences. Our Learning team work with people and communities who face a range of barriers which may prevent them from benefiting from the arts and in 2016/17 we worked with 58,843 people of all ages and abilities across the UK.
Since 2012, we have delivered ‘Ability’, a weekly dance course for adults with a mild to moderate learning disability with the aim of developing the participants technical and creative dance skills while meeting social and developmental needs. The group perform locally, regionally and nationally.
Ability is led by Sophie Alder with Mia Nielson as support artist.
Team Netherlands – Misiconi Dance Company
Misiconi Dance Company is an integrated dance company based in Rotterdam. The company has continued to grow over the last three years. It was founded in 2015 by Joop Oonk and has already pioneering methods of working inclusively in the Netherlands and beyond. The young company delivering its mission with enthusiasm. According to Joop “everyone should have the opportunity to develop their talents, access high quality training, and perform”.
Misiconi focuses on three strands: Misiconi Dance Company, Knowledge Centre and Creative Community Hub makes the company unique in its inclusive artistic vision. Learning, creativity, artistic practice and research goes hand in hand while seeking new opportunities for development. Misiconi aims to achieve artistic exchange, integration, communication and collaboration between young talented artists through dance and performance.
The company is led by Joop Oonk, artistic director and overall dance practitioner, supported by Manouk Schrauwen as education manager and overall dance practitioner.
Team Spain – Psico Ballet Maite Leon Foundation
Psico Ballet Maite Leon Foundation (PBMLF) is a Spanish non-profit private foundation which was created in 1986 by Maite Leon, a dancer, choreographer and mother of a daughter with a learning disability. Their work is focused on the complete scenic training of people with physical, intellectual, developmental or sensory disabilities through their own methodology which is registered as ‘Psico Ballet Maite Leon Method’. This methodology involves dance, theatre, circus, music, voice and scenic makeup classes, for the complete formation of an actor-dancer with disabilities. Through this method, the students acquire a positive perception of themselves, self-motivation, initiative, perseverance, responsibility, autonomy and teamwork among other objectives.
The FPBML wishes to share its approach and learn about other artistic and teaching proposals with other European partners to raise and deepen the profile and purpose of inclusive dance. The FPBML has three artistic companies: School company, Psico Ballet company and Fritsch Company, which is their professional company (seeks for professional scenic employment of its 16 members) and travels on tour around the world performing in festivals and professional circuits.
Those responsible for the entity in the SHIFT project! They are Gabriela Martín, current director of the FPBML and Ramón Marcos, dancer, teacher and choreographer.
“I love participating in this project in which we can exchange and share methodologies with other companies, expand our own knowledge and create work tools for teachers and artists who want to be part of this process.”
“I feel very grateful and fortunate to participate in such an enriching project and with a team of highly qualified professionals since it gives me different perspectives of work and it is very enriching to be able to develop and create each one of the parts of the project in a cooperative way.”