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A woman wearing a black top dances with a boy in a wheelchair wearing a blue school uniform, musicians can be seen playing in the background

Introducing Rise & Shine

This week we launch Rise & Shine in three Yorkshire schools. Supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Rise & Shine is a health and wellbeing project for pupils in Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) schools. For the last year, we have worked closely with one school to pilot our approach. Here’s what we’ve been up to so far… 

Initial research  

We first hosted consultancy events with teachers from across West Yorkshire, where we could find out how Northern Ballet could support their goals. Teachers from John Jamieson School had some brilliant ideas for how we could work with pupils with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD). These are children who don’t often get to take part in activities with arts organisations because they’re considered ‘too hard’.  

Having worked with John Jamieson School on our START project in 2018, we wanted to make sure our programmes were accessible both to their students and others like them. We had been delivering our Rise project for a number of years, reaching children in Year 5 with weekly dance and music sessions that focus on health and wellbeing. This provided the perfect opportunity to adapt the model for different educational settings. 

Pilot programme

In September 2022 two Community Dance Artists and a Music Therapist went into John Jamieson School to deliver 10 weekly sessions, exploring stories from Northern Ballet’s repertoire.

Focussing first on Merlin, pupils worked with the theme of magic. They explored what their individual magic would look like with and without props, how it would change shape and size, and how it would make them move. The children had opportunities to initiate and lead movement for everyone in the group as they took turns to ‘use’ their magic in the form of conducting everyone around them to move and pause – gathering and then sharing their magic. Having the power to make their own choices was visibly exciting for the children. 

"they grew more independent... before, Pupil 2 would just expect you [the TA] to do everything...he’s started moving himself around more.... and he’s started doing it more around school as well"


In just 10 weeks, we discovered a number of benefits for the pupils, including increased agency in make their own decisions both physically and artistically, and improved self-confidence. New relationships were also formed with peers and school staff.

"[The project] gave the staff the ability to communicate with children who are non-verbal" 


Performing at Expressions 

We knew there was more to be done to have a profound and long-lasting impact on the pupils. Supported by school staff, we spent time evaluating what worked and what could be improved. We realised that our annual festival of inclusive dance Expressions was a perfect opportunity for SEND pupils to see other disabled-led dance and could give them a moment on stage to shine. 

In Summer 2023 we went back into school to work with the same pupils to create a piece to perform at Expressions. Sessions focused on colours and we made movement and music to this theme, such as the yellow rising sun, the hot red fire and cold blue rain. Pupils took to the stage in July 2023 to share Season of Colours in front of nearly 200 people in the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre.  

A group of children perform a wheelchair dance routine with their support workers on purple lit stage
A group of children perform a wheelchair dance routine with their support workers on a red lit stage
A young girl in a wheelchair throws her arms up in joy as she performs on a stage lit with green light

What’s next for Rise and Shine? 

After using the summer holidays to reflect, evaluate and plan, we’re now starting the journey again with John Jamieson School, Greenacre School and Springwater School. We can’t wait to tell you more. 

"It gives them the opportunity to be in a different environment, work with different people, have a totally different learning experience than we can offer them...We had great hopes for it and it hasn’t disappointed us at all.... the kids have just absolutely loved it" 


Header image by Gavin Joynt Photography. Gallery images: pupils performing Seasons of Colours at Expressions 2023, photos Anthony Robling.

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