Meet Newcastle’s most exciting young dancers. balletLORENT Youth Academy, a pilot project of balletLORENT, a mainstay of contemporary dance theater in Newcastle, strongly believes that creativity and potential come in many shapes and sizes.
The 11 boys and five girls, aged 6 to 13, meet weekly at the John Marley Center in Benwell to practice their craft.
James MacGillivray, Education and Projects Manager, balletLORENT, said: “We have been working with schools across the city for several years on a community casting program to identify the talents of children who could join our professional company on stage.
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“We had tried to find a way to work with children formally outside of shows and had already organized ad hoc summer schools. So the Youth Academy is a push to have a consistent level of training for children who would otherwise not have an opportunity to develop.
“We are looking for raw talent and creative energy. We don’t just train kids in dance techniques and we don’t work through the rating system. What we do is give kids a platform to exploring creativity through dance.
“One of the things that is very different from other dance schools is that everything is free. The Academy also includes escorted transport, food, healthy snacks at all sessions and a sensory zone where children can sit, relax, draw and take It was very important to us to have a space that was welcoming and available to everyone.”
BalletLORENT staff met young cousins Grace, 8, and Dara, 9, during the Covid lockdowns. During a number of online sessions, James said the pair immediately came across as very engaged, emotionally intelligent and confident in sharing their ideas. They are now both regulars at the Youth Academy.
Grace, who lives in West Denton and attends St Paul’s Primary School in Elswick, said: “My favorite thing about the Academy is the creative dancing. Moving your body a lot makes you happy and gives you the I feel like you’re really having fun My favorite style is freestyle because I can express myself in my own way and it’s above all a question of well-being.
“I feel more confident now because I’ve done a lot of shows for other people, so I don’t feel so shy anymore. My friends think I’m very good at ballet and creative dancing and I do shows for them and shows the steps. Many of them also want to start dancing now. I want to work in the theater doing dance, ballet or singing.
Cousin Dara, another student from St Paul’s in East Denton, said: “My favorite thing about the Academy is that I can express myself better and go with the flow. I feel wonderful because now I’m much more confident to dance in front of everyone.When I’m not sure, I have an inner voice that tells me I can do it.
“My friends think ballet is for girls, but I tried to explain to them that it’s not ballet, there’s so much more to it, and it involves a lot of creative dancing. I want to work in the theater as a creative dancer or singer or be an astronaut.
“I want to say thank you to Ballet Lorent for helping me express myself and challenging me to become better. Sometimes I think I don’t have good dance skills, but I think it’s important to express yourself as you can”.
Among the participants are children with ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome and other additional needs, whom the company fully supports in their creative ambitions. Each of the 16 children was invited to the program when balletLORENT held creative workshops at their school and noticed their potential.
The majority come from schools in Newcastle’s most deprived areas. The company prides itself on spotting the creative talents, skills and flair that schools and teachers may miss in the busy classroom environment. In fact, they say teaching staff are often surprised at which children the company selects, sometimes steering them toward “wiser” options.
When balletLORENT spots a kid he thinks would benefit from joining the Academy, he’s sent home with a note in his bag. Education and Projects Manager James MacGillivray then speaks to parents to convince them that this is a real opportunity – and it won’t cost them anything.
In addition to the weekly after-school sessions, balletLORENT also organizes “intensives” during the school holidays, where families are relieved to learn that healthy meals and snacks are provided free of charge throughout the day. Funding for the project, from the Newcastle Culture Investment Fund, Curtin PARP and the Three Monkies Trust, also enables balletLORENT to provide accompanied transport for families who cannot save time or afford travel costs to and from sessions.
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