The Royal Ballet School is widely known for offering opportunities for young people to train in classical ballet at its studios in London. But the School also extends its dance training provisions across the UK through its Primary Steps programme, which encourages younger children to pursue their passion for ballet. Most importantly, the programme provides primary school children of all backgrounds with dance opportunities that otherwise might not become available to them, opening doors to further ballet training.
The Primary Steps programme offers ballet classes for children aged 7-11 (years 3-6) in 28 participating schools across Blackpool, Bury St Edmunds, Dagenham, Mansfield, and Swindon. The Department for Education and other generous supporters fund the national programme, making it possible for thousands of children to enjoy ballet training.
Children can partake in the Primary Steps programme either through its autumn workshops or through its after-school classes.
During each academic year’s autumn term, year 3 teachers from the Primary Steps programme’s participating school attend a continuing professional development (CPD) day at The Royal Ballet School, and their students take five creative ballet workshops led by specialist teachers. These workshops can contribute to Arts Award Discover through student participation and documentation of their progress.
Each school then receives a further five creative ballet workshops for all year 3 students, CPD resources to support dance classes, and an interactive demonstration of ballet training from the School’s Upper School (aged 16+) and Junior Associate (aged 10-11) students.
The Royal Ballet School also works with national dance agencies, a host secondary school, and several primary and junior schools to offer after-school classes throughout the UK. A classical ballet specialist runs a weekly class in each location, accompanied by a professional musician. For a small weekly fee, children receive:
· A dance uniform and shoes.
· Weekly creative classes taught by a Royal Ballet School teacher.
· Opportunities to see Royal Ballet School students in training and watch professional dancers perform.
· Visits to local and regional dance providers.
· Opportunities to perform locally and at The Royal Ballet School.
Similarly to the autumn workshops, the after-school classes can contribute towards Arts Award Explore.
Children can take Primary Steps classes until they reach age 11, at which point The Royal Ballet School signposts graduating students towards local and national vocational and pre-vocational dance opportunities. Last year, two of the Primary Steps programme’s students gained places on the Royal Ballet School’s Mid Associates programme. Other Primary Steps graduates are studying vocationally at Centres for Advanced Training at Moorland International Ballet Academy and Elmhurst Ballet School and pre-vocationally at Swindon Dance, DanceEast, The Place, The Lowry, and Dance4.
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, The Royal Ballet School transitioned from its in-person Primary Steps classes to online sessions, offering virtual workshops themed around ‘The Nutcracker’. The School also created weekly e-newsletters, which featured inspiring dance videos, activities set by the Primary Steps team, and contributions from the children themselves. Although in-person sessions have now re-opened, the newsletter has proven so popular that the Primary Steps team is continuing to produce a termly newsletter.
Usually, Primary Steps students celebrate their achievements at a Royal Ballet School graduation ceremony when they finish the four-year programme. Sadly, this hasn’t been possible under the COVID-19 lockdowns. Instead, the Primary Steps team has created a yearbook for its graduating students, filled with class photos and inspiring messages from their teachers.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the Primary Steps programme expanded in Blackpool last spring, welcoming Boundary Primary School to The Royal Ballet School’s list of participating schools. Boundary Primary School has enjoyed its first year of offering classical ballet training.
Blackpool’s Primary Steps ballet community saw further success last year when two students received places at Preston Youth Dance Company, which offers dance opportunities to young dancers in Preston, Blackpool, and the surrounding areas. Sarah Hall, Preston Youth Dance Company’s director, has worked with Primary Steps children on many occasions.
The Royal Ballet School’s Primary Steps programme connects children and their families to local dance infrastructure and opportunities so that children throughout the UK get the chance to practise classical ballet. The programme opens doors for many children to undertake long-term ballet training and even secure places at the School itself.
Children can apply for places at The Royal Ballet School through an audition process, which doesn’t take personal circumstances or academic ability into account. As a result, 84% of students receive financial support to attend the School. Successful candidates embark on an eight-year course, starting at age 11, that blends classical ballet training with a thorough academic curriculum. Students also receive comprehensive physical and psychological support through the School’s Healthy Dancer Programme.
Many of those who train with the School go on to perform for The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, and other globally acclaimed dance companies. The Royal Ballet School has shaped some of the world’s best-known ballet dancers and choreographers, from Darcey Bussell, Margot Fonteyn, and David Wall to Francesca Hayward, Edward Watson, and Christopher Wheeldon.