By Sophie

April saw our third residency of the project which was hosted by Misiconi Dance Company in Rotterdam.  Mia and I were excited to be travelling to our Dutch partner’s home, to meet their dancers and gain a better understanding of how their company worked.    

Joop had kindly arranged a meeting for as at Introdans who are based in Arnhem which was our first port of call after landingAdriaan Luteijn is acting as one of their Associate Partners on Shift and was to deliver a workshop as part of our residency later in the week.  As one of the largest dance companies in The Netherlands, Introdans share a similar remit and structure to Northern Ballet so it was really interesting to hear about their approach to education and the projects they are engaged with.  We were made to feel very welcome by everyone at their studios and even got to see some work in rehearsal! 

The following day we started the residency proper.  The aim over the next 3 1/2 days was to share our learning gathered in the first block on strength and alignment, share our current practice on balance and coordination (which was to be the next block), and create a new template of balance and coordination ideas and activities to try out and develop with our dancers.  We knew we would be pushed for time!

Marijke Lips

It was great to see Gabriela and Ramon again and to meet many new people.   Joop had invited La Mia Misura from Italy to join us for the residency so we had a full studio.  Marijke Lips from

Marijke’s Workshop

Codarts (Misiconi DC’s other Associate Partner) kicked off the practical sessions focusing on balance and coordination.  As Ballet and Community Teacher at Codarts, Marijke brought her knowledge and experience to share giving us another perspective on how these skills can be taught.  Through this and subsequently sharing our own practice we gained an overview of the types of exercises wehad experienced ourselves as students and those we had since developed.  Through discussion we analysed the common threads and differences.  We had all done some research into the area leading up to residency so were beginning to develop a much greater scientific understanding of how we develop balance and coordination skills.  This is an essential part of the project as it is only through understanding the “how” that we can devised activities that work effectively.  For me it has helped to unpicked why the typical traditional class consists of certain elements.  While I knew the basic purpose of a weight shift exercise (e.g. falling in different directions to a lunge and returning to centre) I now understand what how this is affecting the vestibular sense, the role of eye focus in this, the importance of sensitivity/awareness in the feet etc, etc.  The exercises we have all know have been developed over decades for good reason.  So part of what we are trying to achieve is to make them accessible and relevant to our dancers needs.  Who all have very individual bodies and learning styles.  This is the challenge.

Another area of our research which became the focus on day 3 is finding new activities or approaches for developing balance and coordination.  For each block we create a template of areas and things we are going to explore.  Pulling this together is not easy as there are numerous way it could be approached.  We need to find a consensus.  For this block we decided we would use the categories internal and external.  These would be activities where the dancer worked with an internal focus or worked with an external influence such as another person or object.  So for example when a dancer performs a balance exercise alone they are purely working with their own, internal systems.  If they are working in physical contact with a partner there is the added layer of stimulus to respond to; their weight shifts, amount of pressure etc.  The residency came to a close with an evening of performances by Misoconi DC and La Mia Misura.  Hosted by Misiconi DC and Codarts it was a chance to remind ourselves what the overriding aim of the project is; to enable our, and other’s, dancers to reach their potential and enable them to express themselves articulately in performance.  Thank you for hosting Misiconi DC!

Misiconi Dance Company

Methods, Observations and Process

In January we started with our first block on alignment and strength. Both me and Manouk devised the class immediately after our last exchange day in Leeds. Our minds were fresh and full with new ideas to test out.  

We came up with over 6 set excercices combined with explorations which were all based on the template.  Our class became:  

  1. Body awareness 
  2. Initiation by the upper body 
  3. Strength on the floor  
  4. Locomotion  
  5. Resistance towards the floor  
  6. Foot focus  

We also had decided together as partners that several tests needed to be conducted with the dancers. These had to be taken by the beginning and end of the first block. Within this blog I am not going to shine my light upon the test results as I can only conclude by the end of this research if there is a significant change.  

Over 3 months we worked with the Company group. This group consists in total of 7 people; 2 interns, 4 dancers with down syndrome and a dancer with spasms. The group works 2 days a week (Thursdays and Fridays) with 2 hours of training each day from 9:30 to 11:30 AM.  

We started with the prepared lesson sheet that Manouk and I created just after the exchange. Within this sheet the exercises and objectives are written down. Generally this was the base of the class. Over time exercises developed or were combined with others. Every company day was taught by another teacher. Manouk Schrauwen was teaching Thursdays and Suzanne Lamers was teaching Fridays. With this way of working we could see what objectives and ways of teaching was picked out and which exercises and objectives worked in generally. Also we have worked with the same class within our community hub classes. These classes are a more beginner level and accessible for dancers with a multiple learning, physical and or behavioural needs. 

After 3 months a few things stood out by looking at the dancers and the observations. 3 months of training the same class or similar material had benefits but also issues. We saw that some dancers gained more confidence and would be more happy to show the material/ exercises on their own. Also they could more easily answer questions about class, so sticking with the same material for a longer period did facilitate a deeper level of understanding and embodiment However, balancing this with ensuring the class material was varied enough to maintain interest and increasing challenge at the right time was more difficult. 

Another area we are looking at is the social and emotional skills such as autonomy, self-reliance and self-reflection. The general awareness of the social skill that is needed in order to become a professional dancer. What is needed to grow as a dancer and how do you facilitate that for dancers who need help with these things?  How can it become part of the class and training as a underlying aim/goal/objective? 

The testing methods we have devised such as the wheel we to monitor different skills (physical, psychological and social) made oppositions clear. You can see immediately where some strengths and weaknesses are. Besides we have noticed that the aims and objectives of this class needed to be mentioned constantly. Just a reminder of how to stand parallel and how to grow taller. This needed to become a habit and therefore in my opinion also strongly connected to taking responsibility as a dancer. You need to see, hear and feel it almost daily, but also need to go to class knowing what you work on and what you want to work on.  

In general we have found that working on the floor brings difficulties in so many ways (spacial awareness, body awareness, groups dynamic, strength, cognitive etc). Therefore we think it was needed to already introduce the floor and different directions earlier in class.  We found that for some dancers both teacher and dancer need to find another way to execute the exercise as they cannot see the teacher all the time.  They need another point of reference to help them remember the exercise.  For beginner groups it is a very important working point. The floor is often forgotten, but so important because it gives a whole different experience but needs to be built up slowly and carefully.

Because we work with a mixed group we have to take in account the limited space and room needed for adaptations. And that these are also working on the same aim and objective. We didn’t focus too much on these and therefore it was noticeable who needed them. They felt a little left out. We have found that we didn’t use our props so much as only showing them once or twice. We would like to interact and collaborate with these props more. They should become more than only an image. Maybe even an experience.  

To close this reflection I would like to mention that is was a delight to work with the group and teachers in a different way and be able to reflect, observer and raise questions. Some will never be answered, good or bad. However, others might be clearer for us. All questions have brought us further in our exploration towards a new methodology.  

Joop and Partners

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.

Welcome to the SHIFT blog!

Welcome to the SHIFT blog!

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.

Mia & Tessa
Mia & Tessa

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

Charlotte and Sophie
Charlotte & Sophie

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

Joop & Manouk

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

Ruben and Ramon
Ruben & Ramon

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.”

Gabriela Martin

“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.”

Ramon Marcos.

Top image: Joop & Ruben