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Wheelchair Dance project in Leeds

Published on Thursday 3 March, 2011

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The Learning department is running a Wheelchair Dance project in Leeds, and Dance Education Office Caroline Burn tells us how the first session went.

Photo Brian SlaterThe first of three taster sessions has taken place at our previous home in West Park. This is our second wheel chair dance project in partnership with Artforms. The taster sessions have been set up to give young wheelchair users in Leeds an opportunity to be creative and experience the freedom of movement and dance in a safe environment. We hope that the young people will be inspired by the sessions with Northern Ballet and want to come back for more. If they do catch the dance bug then they will have the opportunity to work with us to create a performance piece accompanied by live music that will be performed at the Wharfedale festival in Ilkley later in the year.

It was a very strange feeling this morning returning to West Park as a visitor, as the building had been base for me and the Company for the past seven years. It was lovely however to see lots of familiar friendly faces that welcomed us back with open arms. We were expecting 6 young wheelchair users to come along for an introduction to dance. Unfortunately a flat battery on their minibus meant four of our young dancers were not going anywhere! We were all very disappointed but the group are able to attend next week instead so won’t miss out! I was very pleased that two young dancers who took part in the project last year have returned to develop their skills and inspire other young people. Both girls have grown in confidence since the last project, and it was great to be able to have a whole morning to explore technique and play creatively with elastic in and out of their chairs. We first introduced the elastic to help the dancers find their centre by using its residence. As the session developed and we became more daring we slowly dismantled the girls’ chairs so that they didn’t have backs or sides to lean against. We used the elastic to support each other and connect us. After experimenting with exercises and quality of movement the session developed in to creative play. We left the chairs to one side and found exciting ways to roll, slide and travel pulling and pushing the elastic. At times we managed to get ourselves into some spectacular tangles, which led to laughter, and some incredible movements we didn’t know were possible.

At the end of the session I had a spin in one of the electric chairs - the girls thought my driving skills needed some extra tuition and have agreed to help me out. It is really important to experiment with movement in the chairs and to be able, through trial and errors to develop technique exercises that will build the dancers’ strength and stamina in the chair. The day-to-day electric chairs can be very heavy and difficult to interact with. We are very lucky because next week we are going to be using a set of lightweight sports chairs from a local basketball team. This will give us much more freedom as they have very low backs, no sides and due to the design and their lightness we will be able to spin and create new moves. We will dance and teach in the chairs along side the group. I will let you know how we get on at the next session!

It is not too late to join in one of the taster sessions.  If you are or know of any young wheelchair users who might be interested, please contact Diane Patterson on 0113 230 4074 or email

Caroline  Burn
Dance Education Officer

The views expressed in blogs are those of the author and not necessarily of Northern Ballet.