Class is a place where we try out and practice skills that we want to acquire. This is very different to performing a rehearsed, choreographed piece. The footage in the training resources is true to a real class setting: the dancers are working the material out, make mistakes and self-correct.
We deliberately selected dancers with varying degrees of ballet training, some with little or no former ballet experience. This reflects the reality faced by most ballet teachers and the fact that many disabled children (as well as others) will not have had the opportunity to train from a young age.
In order to explore and model accessible teaching, it was important that we worked with a diverse group of participants in each set up.
Non-disabled participants and dancers with a range of different disabilities were present, making the process and material relevant to their movement range and possibilities. We did not aim to, for instance, develop ballet for wheelchair users as a specific group.
These are individual solutions (individualising) that can’t and shouldn’t necessarily be directly copied or replicated, as each individual dancer has their own movement range and possibilities to explore and develop.
The Researcher is grateful to the dancers who put themselves in a potentially vulnerable position, remaining open to learning and supporting the aims of Dance Unstuck.
The resources featuring the professional dancers were developed through referencing a range of ballet exercises which may be included in a usual professional company class. The resources featuring the children were developed through referencing the Grade 2 RAD Ballet syllabus.
We explored a range of exercises that enabled us to find approaches that worked for the diversity of dancers in the studio at the barre, in the centre and with travelling exercises.
The dancers all have different backgrounds; two with a disability, two without. They have different levels of experience in ballet, dance and disability; working with formal, set or improvisational, exploratory teaching formats.
It is important to view the material of each of the dancers with their different backgrounds in mind. By necessity, they made different choices, worked with different levels of complexity and came up with different solutions.
Robbie trained at Graham Academy of Dance, Ballet Theatre Australia and completed training in the Pre-Professional Program at the Queensland Ballet, Australia. Professionally, he has performed with Melbourne Ballet Company, Eliot Smith Company and in all of Ballet Cymru’s productions since joining in 2014.
Robbie experienced dance and disability practice through the GDance production Stuck in the Mud and through subsequent professional work with Suzie Birchwood.
During the research week he was working with accessible teaching methodologies for the first time.
Vicky trained on Candoco’s second one-year Foundation course in contemporary dance for disabled people (2005/06), which included a weekly ballet class. She had no other former ballet training (when taken to a ballet lesson age 5, her mother was told not to bring her back!), albeit certain elements of ballet have been incorporated in warm-ups and professional classes she has taken over the years.
Vicky has danced professionally with Blue-Eyed Soul Dance and Candoco Dance Company. She has delivered educational and creative projects for both companies. Vicky is now an independent artist; performing, making and teaching her own work, and is currently finishing an MA in Creative Practice.
Vicky has a physical impairment but does not use a mobility device. Her left and right side have different movement ranges. Rather than imposing a normative symmetry, we were interested in consciously working with these different possibilities. With years of experience in integrated and contemporary dance, Vicky tailored her set material to work with the appropriate level of complexity.
Krystal, originally from Devonshire, Bermuda, trained at the Somerset School of Dancing before joining Ballet Cymru in 2012. In the 5 years she has been living in South Wales she has also performed in her own choreographic projects as well as with Ransack Dance Company and Citrus Arts. Along with performing, Krystal teaches dance for Ballet Cymru’s education programmes, the Arts Council Wales Lead Creative Schools Programme and is an Associate lecturer for the dance degree at the University of South Wales.
Krystal experienced dance and disability practice through the GDance production Stuck in the Mud. During the research week, she was working with accessible teaching methodologies for the first time.
Suzie trained vocationally in ballet and other dance genres at London Studio Centre before acquiring a physical disability. She became a GDance Associate Artist, having performed in two productions including Stuck in the Mud under the artistic direction of Marc Brew. Suzie has also been a company member for Ballet Cymru, Scottish Ballet, Candoco, Stopgap and Amici Dance Theatre. She was the Founder and former Artistic Director of Silverbirch Dance Company (formerly ActOne ArtsBase) and Artistic Director and dancer for her own company Suzie Birchwood Dance. Suzie has worked extensively as a choreographer, teacher and consultant in accessible dance.
Suzie uses both crutches and a manual wheelchair in everyday life. For the research period, developing and filming material over only five days, we took the joint decision to focus Suzie’s exploration to working with her manual wheelchair. Suzie developed and worked withher full movement range with this particular device, which for her includes articulations and supports in her legs.
With only one of the disabled dancers having substantial prior ballet training (at Primary level), we deliberately selected non-disabled dancers who were also not yet familiar with RAD Grade 2 syllabus exercises and pitched the teaching at an introductory level for this grade.
The fact that we found virtually no disabled dancers with previous ballet experience is not surprising and highlights the challenges to access as well the validity and necessity for this research.
Criteria for participation were:
Despite all the participants being new to the RAD Grade 2 syllabus, it is self-evident that there is a division in the group in terms of previous ballet training which, by and large, also translates into a division between disabled and non-disabled participants.
Dancers that have gone through the RAD syllabus are familiar with the class format and their previous training prepares them specifically to acquire the set material. This speaks both to the clarity in which the RAD syllabus has been developed and the need for early and continued access to dance classes.
Ballet experience: Sienna is a pupil at Linda Virgoe Dance Studios; she was doing weekly ballet classes at Grade 1 when she joined us. She also does modern, tap and acrobatics. Sienna had worked with the team previously on the primary ballet project in February 2016.
Access considerations: Sienna is non-disabled. She was involved in the primary ballet project as part of Dance Unstuck in 2016 where she’d already worked with accessible teaching methodologies.
Ballet experience: Amber Rose has been a pupil at Linda Virgo Dance Studios since the age of 3. She was in the process of preparing for her RAD Grade 1 exam when she joined us.
Access considerations: Amber Rose is non-disabled. She was involved in the primary ballet project as part of Dance Unstuck in 2016 where she’d already worked with accessible teaching methodologies.
Ballet / dance experience: Kitty had no former ballet experience except for having done our 3-day Primary level course during the 2015-16 Dance Unstuck phase 1 project. However, she has engaged in other activities regularly including gymnastics and swimming.
Access considerations: Kitty has a physical impairment and uses a Kaye walker. Indoors she occasionally uses elbow crutches or uses walls and furniture as support, and when travelling long distances she uses a wheelchair. She was involved in the primary ballet project as part of Dance Unstuck in 2016 where she’d already worked with accessible teaching methodologies.
Ballet experience: Chloe has been going to weekly ballet classes at Linda Virgoe Dance Studios from age 3. She has passed her RAD Pre-Primary exam and recently took up Modern classes.
Access considerations: Chloe has a physical impairment and uses a Kaye Walker. She is in the process of transitioning to crutches both in her everyday life and in ballet class. Having recently undergone a neurosurgical procedure, Chloe was wearing a walking brace on her right leg during the week of filming. She was involved in the primary ballet project as part of Dance Unstuck in 2016 where she’d already worked with accessible teaching methodologies.
Ballet experience: Emilia has no former experience of ballet. Before this project she had done one term of urban youth dance sessions with GDance, where she heard about Dance Unstuck.
Access considerations: Emilia has a physical and hearing impairment. She uses a hearing aid and a number of mobility devices (wheelchair, prosthetic leg, crutches and sticks) for various activities in her day-to-day life and was open to exploring her dance practice with and without these different mobility aids.
Ballet experience: Jorja has been studying ballet for 3.5 years, taking weekly classes with Linda Virgoe Dance Studios. She was preparing for her RAD Grade 1 exam when she joined us for the project.
Access considerations: Jorja is non-disabled. During the research week, she worked with accessible teaching methodologies for the first time.