Northern Ballet: making dance accessible for all

Photo: Lauren Godfrey

Photo: Lauren Godfrey

Northern Ballet, one of the UK’s leading dance companies, is committed to making ballet accessible for everyone, whether it is participating in a workshop or watching a dance performance. Offering programmes for children and adults as well as specific projects for those with learning difficulties or physical disabilities, Northern Ballet reaches more than 50,000 participants annually with these projects. With around 9.4 million disabled people in England (Census, 2011), the specialist projects that Northern Ballet provide for disabled people play a vital role in enabling more people to access dance.

On Wednesday 15 July Northern Ballet hosted Expressions at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre based in their Leeds city centre headquarters. The sharing brought together 75 participants from 9 different inclusive dance groups from across the North of England and gave talented disabled dancers the chance to showcase their skills to an audience of over 150 people on a professional stage. As well as participants from Northern Ballet’s programmes, there were performers from TIN Arts, based in Durham, Yorkshire Dance, Phoenix Dance Theatre and ME2 from Leeds and Greenacre School in Barnsley.

Dancers from two of Northern Ballet’s pioneering programmes, Ability and in motion, performed in Expressions. Ability is a programme specifically designed for adults aged 16+ with mild to moderate learning difficulties, delivered by Northern Ballet’s expert Dance Education Officers. The course helps participants to improve their dance and performance skills, develop their communication and social interaction skills and enables creativity and expression. Northern Ballet’s in motion is a specialist programme created for 8 – 19 year old self-propelling wheelchair users, which explores movement in and out of a wheelchair and aims to develop strength, flexibility and creative expression.

Northern Ballet’s Director of Learning, Selina McGonagle, said: “Expressions was a wonderful opportunity for people to come together and showcase their dance work. It emphasised the importance of making dance accessible to all by providing opportunities for disabled people to watch and participate in high quality dance. Our programmes for disabled people provide the support and remove barriers to engagement for people with specialist needs.”

Northern Ballet is unique in the breadth and variety of opportunities that the Company offers, which are tailored to allow anyone to get involved in dance.

The Company has paved the way in creating opportunities for visually impaired audiences to engage with dance. On tour, Northern Ballet offers audio described performances for visually impaired people which are accompanied by a touch tour insight, enabling audiences to feel the props and costumes, and giving an insight into the movements from the production, assisted by Company dancers. The day of activities for visually impaired patrons enhances their enjoyment and understanding of the ballet. Since 2005, Northern Ballet has offered 79 audio described performances in 13 venues.

At their state-of-the-art headquarters in Leeds, Northern Ballet offers Relaxed Performances for their ballets for children, which are aimed at people with autism and sensory or communication disorders to provide a welcoming and non-judgemental theatre experience. For their latest ballet for children Tortoise & the Hare, premièring in September 2015, an additional Relaxed Performance has been added due to popular demand.

For more information on Northern Ballet’s Learning projects, visit For more information on audio described performances visit

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