Strength & Alignment – Beginning to find new ways of working

By Sophie

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.

Team Ability!

Back to Leeds!

By Gabriela

Welcome back to the SHIFT blog 

The project is already underway and after our first meeting of teams and countries, we met again in Leeds to set some evaluation methods for our teaching proposal. These evaluation, or testing, methods were offered to us by the specialists from the University of Edinburgh, Wendy Timmons and Mark Pace. The University of Edinburgh will contribute directly to the project in the first two residences through the provision of current scientific knowledge on safe practice in dance. Their current research on hypermobility is particularly relevant to the project, as this is a key physical symptom in people with Down syndrome and is essential for prevention of injury Later onthey will act as consultants and “external eyeson the activities, strategies and approaches that the three project partners design. We also have the experience of Louise McDowall, from the University of Leeds, who led a session on dissemination of the Project; what impact do we want this project to have? 

Gabriela & Ramon leading class

In this second residency, each of the companies started by giving a second class to Ability group of Northern Ballet focusing on two areas; alignment and strength. We wanted to share ideas and exercises that we understand can be beneficial to develop these two qualities in future professional dancers. After observing the three classes, the companies came to the conclusion, that we have similar points of view when creating exercises and how to adapt them according to the class environment. In addition, we highlighted key elements to improve the quality of movement such as breath control and the use of imagery or objects that dance students can identify with the meaning of the exercise 

The second day started with some feedback from the Ability dancersWe asked how they had felt and experienced the previous day’s exercises as we consider our dancers a fundamental part of this projectTheir voice and what they want to say is very important. In addition to this we carried out our first evaluation of the Ability dancers to check if the system of monitoring progess we had designed was effective and easy to impliment. 

Group Evaluation

After that, the three companies began to define the most important aspects which should being include in the development of a professional dancer ; physical and artistic aspects and the different elements that can be included in a technique class such as improvisation, floor work, work on different dynamics etc.  After discussing different points of view we came to five areas that we were going to focus on for alignment 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 strengthening through floor work (in all parts of the body equally). 

In addition, it was established that one of the principles of this project would be safe practice which allows dancers to develop their dance qualities avoiding any injury or problems that might harm you in the development of their daily lives 

The third day of our meeting was focused on our communication strategy ; deciding on how we would use the blog and social media, finalising a name for the project.  How could we ensure we offered high quality content which can help others to develop their own activities ? 

Finally Louise McDowall, gave us a session on what is the impact and what kind of impact we want this project to have.  It made us consider the different kinds and levels of impact, what is most important for us and the kind of visibility we are aiming for.   

Without a doubt, they were three days full of listening and learningYou will begin to see the outcomes within our blog soon 

Thank you for your attention and hope to see you soon again! 

The First Exchange

The First Exchange

By Joop

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!’

Manouk & Tessa

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.

Joop, Tessa & Lewis

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.