How Northern Ballet scours state schools across Yorkshire to discover dance talent from all backgrounds

Northern Ballet’s most talented young dancers are now back in their state of the art studios in Leeds after overcoming the distinct challenge of coping with the Covid lockdowns.

Unable to train and learn in their normal environment, kitchens and garages became their temporary dance workshops via the near ubiquitous lockdown medium of Zoom as coaching migrated online.

Footage from those make do and mend days won’t feature in today’s World Ballet Day, which is showcasing the work of 50 prestigious dance companies around the globe, but it demonstrated the determination and passion of Northern Ballet’s academy intake.

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Deputy director of the academy Cara O’Shea recalled: “Students would be doing classes in their kitchens and they would have their cat walk across half way through. It was a 'do the best you can' situation but they did really well. I think it really showed that although ballet is fantastic in a physical way in terms of strength and physical posture I think it's really showed what a great impact it could have on their mental health.

“It was a challenge for them during the lockdown but they’ve come out fighting and I think it’s showed that dancing is just great for your wellbeing.”

Northern Ballet’s Centre for Advance Training (CAT) programme, which caters for dancers between 10 and 17 years old, is now in 17th year.

It originally started as an antidote to the requirement that students would have to go to boarding school, typically in the south, to train in ballet. Instead, CAT provides high quality training while allowing young dancers to remain at home and attend their mainstream schools.

Dancers return to the Northern Ballet studios in Leeds

There are around 65 children on the programme in any year, drawn from across the north. CAT also runs an outreach scheme in local primary schools to find talent that might not normally find its way into ballet.

One such dancer is Tim Dutson who was spotted at Bramley St Peter's Primary School in Leeds and who went on to train at English National Ballet School after coming through the CAT programme. After graduating he then joined Birmingham Royal Ballet and is now with Staatsballett Berlin.

Ms O’Shea said: “We've had great success stories with students that were found with that raw talent who maybe would never have tried ballet before if we had not gone into their schools.

“You walk in and the boys don't want to do it but by the end of it they’re hooked and want to do more ballet.”The CAT programme, which is supported by the Department for Education, is also helping to increase access to ballet by providing funding support.

Students with potential are recruited through outreach visits to local primary schools

Ms O’Shea said: “In the classes there's a mix. There are students from all different backgrounds who would maybe not usually mix together all in this room but they've all got this one thing in common - this love of ballet and training.

“It's a mix you wouldn't always put together but it's always quite lovely to see.”

Boys are increasingly interested in the discipline