The theme of this year’s celebration is Every Body Can Dance, a mantra that is firmly entrenched within the Company’s core belief system and nothing more so embodies this than its Dance Track outreach programme.
Run by the Company’s Learning, Engagement, Access and Participation (LEAP) team, Dance Track is a talent identification programme that works with over 40 schools across the north, south and centre of Birmingham delivering dance workshops to all Year 1 pupils.
Those who show a talent for dance are then invited to join the programme, with the participants, who often wouldn't otherwise have an opportunity to participate in dance, given free weekly ballet lessons taught by Birmingham Royal Ballet staff.
Director of LEAP Pearl Chesterman shares what it is the team look for in a potential Dance Track student.
“A potential DT student will have a well-proportioned body with flexibility in the hamstrings and hips, feet that stretch well. Good musicality, focus and are able to take instruction and correction but most of all show enjoyment when dancing.”
Throughout the year the students are invited to Birmingham Royal Ballet to have a look behind the scenes and to meet Company dancers and are offered tickets to see Birmingham Royal Ballet performances at Birmingham Hippodrome. The activities offered are designed to introduce the young participants and their families to ballet and to incite an interest in the art form.
A common misconception is that ballet is only for the ‘posh and elite’, an idea which Birmingham Royal Ballet are keen to quash.
Pearl continues, “We see over 2500 children in schools each year and with free training and uniform it breaks down the access barriers for many. We also encourage parents to attend performances with their children, so they also have an understanding of what ballet is.”
“For many it is a totally new concept, many don’t know what ballet is and certainly wouldn’t have chosen to take their children to lessons, particularly boys, and many don’t have an income that could facilitate going to ballet lessons. The team work hard to support parents to access and enjoy ballet, and to learn more about the Company in order that they can support their children.”
American journalist Lara Spencer hit the headlines earlier this year when she made controversial comments about Prince George taking ballet lessons highlighting the common misconception that dance is not for boys and spurred the hashtag #boysdancetoo on social media.
Pearl says, “Of course, there is still a perception that it is not for boys but our classes have equal numbers of boys and girls – as does Birmingham Royal Ballet. Once the boys start they love the physicality and challenge that it brings.”
One young Birmingham dancer who credits Dance Track with kick-starting his love of ballet is Jakob Myers. Originally scouted by the Dance Track team at his school King David Primary in Moseley, Jakob joined Elmhurst Ballet School in 2011 and is now in his final year of training.
“Without the opportunities that arose from Dance Track I would not be doing what I love, and that is training full-time at Elmhurst Ballet School and working towards a professional career in dance. Outreach programmes like Dance Track allow often unseen talent to be discovered, nurtured and honed. It not only opens up a new world to the participant but often to their families and friends too. My dance journey has gone from Dance Track to Head Boy at Elmhurst and now a member of the Elmhurst Ballet Company. I don't think I'd have discovered my passion for dance without Dance Track."
“It is a very proud moment to see the young man and wonderful dancer Jakob has become”, says Pearl.
“Remembering back to the day we spotted him in the school workshops, he showed so much potential. We are delighted that he took the Dance Track opportunity and decided to make ballet a career.”
Elmhurst Artistic Director and former BRB Principal Robert Parker also agrees that without Dance Track young dancers like Jakob may have never had the opportunity to explore the world of dance.
“Jakob’s love for dance was first spotted with thanks to Birmingham Royal Ballet's Dance Track initiative. Without it his talent could have been missed and an opportunity to enter the dance profession might never have happened.”
“Now in his final year of the school, the graduate year, or Elmhurst Ballet Company, the year that bridges the gap between school and professional life, he'll be performing in Birmingham and at London's Sadler's Wells in February 2020, and auditioning for professional companies. And it all started with Dance Track!”
Birmingham Royal Ballet Artist Tim Dutson is living proof that outreach programmes can work, and that participants can go the distance into a professional career. Tim who has been with the Company since 2016, credits Northern Ballet’s outreach programme with introducing him to the world of ballet, something which he would have never considered before.
“Northern Ballet’s outreach programme enabled me to try a skill I would have never normally had access to”, says Tim.
“Not only that but after seeing I had talent for it they helped get me into training and put me on the path to the career which I now love.
I think dance outreach programmes are important to give children the chance to try something different and who knows maybe you could find a potential star. But at the very least it’s a lot of fun for them to be involved in.”