We'll put you in the mood for dancing

FROM Little Mice to the elder generations, Scottish Ballet is making sure everyone can become involved in dance.

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Guest dance teacher Alan Greig takes an over-50s ballet class and shows Floss Ross, Moira Kerr, Irene Kelso, Elizabeth Martin, Mary Yacoob, Kathleen Mulhearn  and Mary Ross some techniques
Guest dance teacher Alan Greig takes an over-50s ballet class and shows Floss Ross, Moira Kerr, Irene Kelso, Elizabeth Martin, Mary Yacoob, Kathleen Mulhearn and Mary Ross some techniques

Despite being home to some of the world's top professional dancers, bosses at the Glasgow-based company run dozens of schemes for all ages and abilities.

Parents and children can take part in Little Mice while would-be professionals can become Associates.

Regenerate is for the over-50s, while The Close takes dance to young people excluded from school.

There is the Youth Collective, schools workshops, an Up Close Tour to take ballet into communities and the Ballet Cafe, with taster sessions for adults.

Together, the projects saw more than 177,700 participations last year - and are on track for the same again this year.

Behind all of these projects is Catherine Cassidy, the company's associate director of education.

She said: "We want to get as many people involved in dance as we can and show that ballet is not elitist or out of bounds for anyone.

"For us, it is about letting people access the work in a lot of different ways. Our creative work is based on different aspects of the piece the company is currently performing.

"We have done all sorts, such as a visual art project with National Galleries of Scotland and woodlands outdoor performances.

"And we always use live music, which is a bit of a luxury."

Ms Cassidy, who has been with Scottish Ballet for four years, cites Christmas production Hansel and Gretel as a good example of the company's work.

For 18 months, the education department worked with schools and community groups to get them involved in the ballet.

As the first ballet choreographed by new artistic director Christopher Hampson, the aim was to start a conversation about dance.

Ms Cassidy added: "We ran an 18-month initiative for Hansel and Gretel, called Hansel & Gretel And Me and invited schoolchildren to tell the story in their own way.

"Christopher was really keen to get out and about and find out how that story was relevant today.

"As well as giving an insight into the ballet, he took ideas from the pupils and the people getting involved.

"It let people put their own stamp on the performance and relate it to their lives."

Wee Mice, which sees children and parents take part in dance classes together, also sees the group linked in with current performances.

Ms Cassidy added: "For Wee Mice we link it in with the repertoire, such as Alice In Wonderland or The Nutcracker or Hansel And Gretel.

"Everything is tailored to what their bodies need to do and what they want to do.

"The parents and children dance together, with the little ones using their imaginations - they could be making forests or climbing through woodlands or travelling through different worlds.

"It is all based on their own imaginations and own ideas."

Ms Cassidy got into dance when she was a pupil at Perth High School.

She then studied in Birmingham and set up her own company before working with The Space, a contemporary dance centre in Dundee.

Having previously worked with a broad range of people, The Close is an important part of her work.

THE Close invites young people with additional needs or who have been excluded from school into a theatre - often for the first time.

From there they are involved with dance workshops.

"I have worked in psychiatric units and with the homeless and have seen the way that dance can bring confidence, self belief and the way it builds ideas," said Ms Cassidy.

"When you work as a group to create something it is such an empowering feeling for these people.

"The health benefits are secondary."

One of the most popular schemes is Regenerate, for dancers aged over 50. Some in the class are in their 80s.

From one class a week, Regenerate has grown to four classes per week with waiting list of more than 80 to take part.

Ms Cassidy added: "We find now that older people have a real interest in doing something healthy and artistic. We have ex-dancers teaching them.

"We create a piece based on them and we invite new choreographers in to work with the class.

"You find children are excited and full of ideas but when you become an adult you suppress all of this creativity. Regenerate is about bringing that back and letting people have a voice."

Scottish Ballet has also choreographed this year's Big Dance Pledge.

Big Dance was founded in 2006 and is a nine-day festival of dance and dancing that happens every two years.

The Pledge sees groups around the world learn a specially-choreographed dance and then perform it at the same time.

A work created by Scottish Ballet - which incorporates a variety of dance styles - will be showcased by thousands of participants around the world.

"Our dance is a four-minute work that contains a lot of different cultural references in it because there are 21 countries taking part in the Big Dance Pledge.

"It shows how committed Scottish Ballet is to making dance accessible to all people. It is about having a go, being active and having fun.

"We even worked with a group of taxi drivers who filmed themselves performing the dance.

Dancers are also part of the education programme, with the Dancers Education Group set up 18 months ago.

The scheme allows the dancers to learn about teaching and take a course at the Royal Conservatoire Of Scotland.

They are allowed in to teach Wee Mice and Regenerate classes, among others.

Ms Cassidy added: "The dancers are really embedded in the work we do and that is a vital part of our education process as well - you have classes where Sophie Martin, one of our principals, is dancing alongside you.

"It is wonderful for people to have that direct access to the dancers. They are getting such a rich experience.

"And the dancers are getting a rich flavour of what it means to work in a dance teaching environment.

"It is a magical experience for everyone involved."

catriona.stewart@eveningtimes.co.uk

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