Magpie Dance’s innovative training programme is helping people with learning disabilities overcome barriers to accessing degree and higher education dance courses
In the UK, higher education and degree level courses accepting people with learning disabilities are a rarity. This is no less true in the dance education sector where talented and ambitious dancers with learning disabilities have far fewer options than dancers without disability for developing their art and pursuing their dreams.
At Magpie Dance, we’ve worked exclusively with people with learning disabilities for 35 years, and we are determined to build real stepping stones to mainstream courses for dancers with learning disabilities. Our pioneering new Intensive Dance Training course is open to 10 students per year and runs for 30 weeks and will tackle the barriers to progress head-on. Taking a multi-faceted and adaptive approach to dance training, we’ll support dancers with talent and potential to attend up to eight core sessions per week, alongside a specialist programme of performance sessions.
Thanks to Leverhulme Trust funding, we’re thrilled to be introducing an additional strand to the Intensive Dance Training course designed to provide the vital access, support and time required for dancers with learning disabilities to reach their potential. The additional strand includes accompanied visits to leading dance companies providing access to performances, rehearsals, workshops and classes by mainstream and renowned companies. Students will also attend weekly learning workshops by industry experts such as choreographers, dramaturgs, dancers, designers, musicians, producers and videographers, all of whom are currently out of reach for students with learning disabilities.
Paving a new pathway to mainstream courses for dancers with learning disabilities, our course strengthens the professional dance sector, making it more inclusive and diverse.
Our inaugural year saw first cohort of dancers develop and progress in multiple ways. The first term revolved around a residency in partnership with the Royal Opera House. The ROH Create and Dance education team attended classes and rehearsals to experience first-hand how their practice could be developed to improve accessibility for participants with learning disabilities. Dancers developed skills in choreography, performance and ballet technique; they watched The Royal Ballet take class, rehearse and then worked intensively with Learning and Participation Creative Associate, David Pickering MBE and former Royal Ballet soloist, Laura McCulloch.
Using Kenneth MacMillan’s original choreography, the group created their version of “Gloria”, performing in the Paul Hamlyn Hall at the Royal Opera House, and at The Place, London. In addition, a rehearsal was livestreamed for World Ballet Day 2019 to a global audience of tens of thousands of people. The dancers have also recorded and shared their experiences in a series of YouTube vlogs.
When lockdown was imposed as a result of Covid-19 pandemic, facilitators Amy and Ella used their expertise and experience as choreographers and performers to restructure the course and begin analysing dance for screen. This area of study along with the photography and videography skills learnt through bespoke workshops with the Creative Pro Team at the Apple store, Bromley, enabled the dancers to switch their focus from creating dance for live performance to producing their own dance films. The ability of the facilitators to swiftly and deftly adapt their approach and delivery, has enabled the dancers to continue their journey of learning and discovery online with amazing results.
You can see the ‘Life In Lockdown’ film they created below.
The start of our second year (Autumn 2020) continues to be delivered online, with weekly Zoom sessions including both practical activities and supplementary sessions (most recently including a question and answer session with Principal of the Royal Ballet, Federico Bonelli).