Words by Smiley Team
A ballet academy is breaking down the barriers between children and their desires to pursue dancing.
The balletLORENT Youth Academy is a pilot project from Newcastle contemporary dance theatre that refuses to let a child’s postcode, background or additional needs get in the way of their passion.
Weekly dance sessions at the academy offer entirely free training to kids whose talents had been spotted at school.
"We’ve worked with various schools across Newcastle and Gateshead for a few years," says James MacGillivray, the education and projects manager at balletLORENT. "Our 'community cast' programme talent spots local children to join our professional company on stage.
"The Youth Academy is looking for raw talent and creative energy. We’re not just training children in dance technique and we don’t work through the grade system. What we’re about is giving children a platform to explore creativity through dance.”
During creative workshops hosted in schools by balletLORENT, a selection of children that stood out as having potential, or just huge enthusiasm for dance, were picked out.
The majority of children are at schools in Newcastle's most deprived neighbourhoods and the company prides itself on spotting the creative talent that teachers may miss in the busy classroom environment.
When balletLORENT spots a child who they think would benefit from joining the academy, they are sent home with a note in their bag. James then chats to parents, and often has to convince them that this is a genuine opportunity, and that it won't cost them anything.
Most of the children have never danced before and would not be able to afford lessons at a standard ballet academy.
"One of the things that is different from other dance schools is that everything we offer is free," he adds. "We also provide chaperoned transport and healthy snacks at all sessions. It was very important to us to have a space that’s welcoming and available for everyone, including children with additional needs."
Amongst the current 16 young dancers are children with ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome and other additional needs.
Eleven boys and five girls, aged between six and 13, meet weekly for lessons and training, without the pressure of an expected 'an end result'.
“My favourite thing about the academy is creative dancing," says 8-year-old academy member, Grace. "My favourite style of dancing is freestyle because I get to express myself in my own way and show that it’s all about feeling good. I feel more confident now because I’ve done lots of shows for other people so I don’t feel as shy anymore.”
Some of the dancers have appeared in the balletLORENT’s professional productions, but ultimately the academy is about giving them the space to explore a new creative skill for free.
"Grace’s previous teacher used to tell me she didn't ever put herself forward or ask questions in class," says Grace's mum. "But now I have been told she has come out of her shell more, makes up dances creatively, and even gets some of her friends learning the moves so they can present in front of the whole class.
"It’s really boosted her confidence, helped her to think outside of the box and that’s a skill that is going to help her for her whole life.”
DONATE: You can donate to the academy to enable them to continue offering these classes for free.