Big Schools SEND Dance Project

Over the past month the Palace’s Creative Learning has joined forces with the experts at Para Dance UK to provide a series of dance workshops for Special Educational Needs schools across the borough.

Selina Johnson, Children’s Officer at Para Dance, explains more:

What is the Para Dance initiative you are currently running? We were due to hold a competition in 2020 for SEN schools following on from a pilot competition in 2019. However, due to covid-19 this had to be postponed. But we still wanted to provide the students and staff with and an uplifting and exciting experience to really get their teeth into. We all agreed after such a difficult and challenging year it was important to deliver a project that was flexible, challenging and, most importantly, fun.

How does the project work? Starting from the beginning of November we released a pre-recorded dance session each week, a total of four videos in all. Each video would contain a warm up, a routine and a cool down, enough content to provide at least a one hour session. The routines included a non-genre specific, Lyrical, Street and Musical Theatre. We then provided four creative videos including props, set design, costume and make up. The idea is the schools would choose one of the routines and use the creative sessions to help with imagery. Together we would then create a final film, which will be a mash up of all the schools performing.

(A previous Para Dance session held in the Palace)

Who is the initiative for? The project is aimed at SEN schools to help encourage and provide regular physical activity for both students and staff. This year has stressed the importance of having access to regular exercise and fun activities to maintain a healthy body and mind. The project was released on 2 November and will continue until the 18 December.

We saw that one routine the young people were learning was set to ‘Dancing on the ceiling’ by Lionel Ritchie – what other songs and artists are you using to get people dancing? All the tracks are linked in some way with Alexandra Palace. There’s Dancing On My Own by Robyn, Galleon Ship by Nick Cave and Homesick by Dua Lipa, to name just a few by artists who’ve performed at the Palace in recent years. My personal favourite track is Wait for you by Tom Walker & Zoe Wees or Viva Forever by the Spice Girls. So far it seems the schools like Dancing on the Ceiling or A Friend Like Me by Will Smith.

How important is dance to people with special educational needs? It has always been highly beneficial to provide opportunities for students to live a healthy, active lifestyle. The benefits are enormous and the list endless, but to name a few: stamina, flexibility, core strength, increase of breathing capacity, posture, social, team building, emotional, creative, mental well-being and most important FUN!

What is your background? I am a fully qualified dance teacher in Ballet, Tap, Modern and disco freestyle with examining boards ISTD, IDTA, BTDA and RAD and also a qualified teacher in Drama (LAMDA). Once qualified I danced professionally for 10 years. After which I decided to go back into teaching, I teach right across the board including mainstream, older people and inclusive dance. I joined Para Dance around seven years ago where I began my journey with Inclusive dance and I love it! Along the way I have met so many wonderful people and it is a tremendous feeling knowing that dance can make such an impact on so many lives.

Are there any other Para Dance initiatives that those taking part in the current project might benefit from? Para Dance UK are constantly working on multiple projects catering for all ages and needs. I am currently working with children in need and there definitely could be opportunities for schools/organisations in the right location to get involved. We also work closely with organisations to apply for funding for specific projects, so this is something we can link up with schools on.