The Evolution of The Royal Ballet School’s Primary Steps Programme

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In 2005, The Royal Ballet School launched Primary Steps, a national junior school programme for students aged 7 to 11. Still thriving today, the programme represents part of the School’s commitment to broadening access to the study of classical ballet and dance in the UK, with a focus on social, economic, and cultural diversity. By providing a positive introduction to the art form, children who may not have otherwise had the opportunity can experience ballet training of the highest quality.

Funded in part by the Department for Education, along with other generous supporters, for almost 20 years, Primary Steps has given thousands of children a taste of a creative ballet education through its in-person classes. As well as inspiring future generations of ballet dancers, the programme helps children make new friends, expand their horizons, and develop their skills and confidence. Just as its young participants have grown and evolved, so too has the programme. Today, Primary Steps continues to widen its mission to engage more children and spark a lasting love of ballet.

Here, we’ll explore the programme’s evolution, its leap into the online world, and what the future holds for its keen graduates.

What Does the Primary Steps Programme Offer?

The Royal Ballet School developed the Primary Steps programme to introduce primary school children to classical ballet and to nurture young talent through access to regular dance classes. The programme delivers in-person workshops, after-school classes, and additional dance and creative opportunities to students in school Years 3 to 6.

Thanks to strong partnerships with national dance agencies, The Royal Ballet School works in various areas across the UK, collaborating with chosen secondary schools that play host to select participating pupils from a cluster of primary and junior schools. The programme in England has 5 centres in Blackpool, Bury St Edmunds, Dagenham, Mansfield, and Swindon that bring Primary Steps to a total of 28 local primary schools.

The programme consists of two parts: autumn term workshops and weekly after-school classes.

Autumn Workshops

Each academic autumn term, Year 3 teachers from participating schools attend a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) day at The Royal Ballet School. Meanwhile, their pupils receive five creative ballet workshops from specialist teachers. Once completed, each school enjoys:

  • Five more workshops for all Year 3 pupils.
  • CPD and resource materials to support further classes.
  •  An interactive demonstration of ballet training by students of The Royal Ballet School, performed locally by Upper School students, aged 16 and up, and Junior Associate students, aged 10-11.

After-School Classes

Until the age of 11, groups of selected Year 3 pupils can attend regular creative ballet classes at their host secondary school for a small weekly fee. A classical ballet specialist and a creative dance specialist co-lead these classes, with a professional musician playing live. For no additional charge, pupils also receive:

  • Dance uniforms and shoes.
  • Opportunities to see Royal Ballet School students training and professional dancers performing.
  • Opportunities to perform locally and at The Royal Ballet School.
  • Visits to local and regional dance companies.

Primary Steps on Demand

The next stage in the Primary Steps evolution saw The Royal Ballet School launch Primary Steps on Demand. With the in-person programme making such a difference to so many Year 3 pupils and the COVID-19 pandemic forcing a global change in the delivery of teaching, it was a logical and very welcome move from The Royal Ballet School to take Primary Steps online. With classes from Royal Ballet School staff accessible through a video on demand (VOD) platform, schools and teachers now have greater flexibility when it comes to deciding when, where, and how to deliver premium dance content.

Primary Steps on Demand has all the tools, materials, and support schools need to offer their pupils a comprehensive, stimulating introduction to ballet, including:

  • A video library of classes introducing core ballet and movement concepts with strong cross-curricular links.
  • Movement guides, such as warm-ups and cool-downs.
  • Footage of Royal Ballet School dancers and other Primary Steps students to provide inspiration.
  • Access to CPD webinars and live virtual workshops to help primary school teachers optimise their use of the online programme.
  • Lesson plans, accompanying class resources, tutorials for teachers, and more.

Extending the programme’s reach has meant a creative ballet education at The Royal Ballet School’s exceptional standard is now available to more children aged 7 to 11 across England than ever before. Like the original Primary Steps programme, the online offering takes a creative approach to teaching ballet, emphasising the importance of building creative and independent thinking skills.

Victoria Collinson, Associate Programme and Primary Steps Manager at The Royal Ballet School, believes that “rounded, whole-person development” is one of the greatest gifts that dance, and subsequently the Primary Steps on Demand programme, can give to children.

Collinson adds that due to the programme’s uniquely physical and interactive approach to teaching and learning, it’s a “particularly exciting prospect” for children who may find traditional classroom environments challenging. Also worth noting is the gender-neutral and accessible approach that the online programme takes to education, with inclusive language and adaptable content for children who have physical disabilities, sensory impairments, or additional learning needs. 

Primary Steps in Wales

The next big leap for the Primary Steps programme has seen its expansion into schools in Wales. The Royal Ballet School and Rubicon Dance have partnered to launch the first Primary Steps centre in Cardiff. This centre will work with 6 local primary schools, bringing the total number of schools participating in the Primary Steps programme in the UK to 34.

Rubicon is a social arts organisation in Wales that provides exceptional dance opportunities in Cardiff, Newport, and Penarth. With an impeccable international reputation and a focus on reaching those typically excluded from the arts, Rubicon is an ideal partner for The Royal Ballet School’s Primary Steps programme. The organisation provides local expertise, strong links to Welsh schools, and a comprehensive understanding of the new Curriculum for Wales.

Rubicon also offers great progression pathways for future generations of Primary Steps graduates, such as an Advanced Training Scheme for young dancers aged 11. This partnership is an exciting expansion for the School’s programme, meaning that even greater numbers of children have the chance to access high-quality ballet training.

After Primary Steps

Starting in Year 3, the Primary Steps journey takes four years to complete. Having developed as dancers and creative thinkers, Year 6 pupils then graduate from the programme, their accomplishment recognised with a special ceremony.

This year, the Primary Steps Graduation ceremony took place on Saturday, May 28 at The Royal Ballet School’s Upper School in Covent Garden. As well as giving graduating students a chance to celebrate their achievement with friends and family, each of the programme’s five centres performed pieces based on Simon Jeffes’ ballet, Still Life at the Penguin Café. Pupils explored topical themes such as climate change, deforestation, and extinction through their thought-provoking pieces.

Instilled with a passion for ballet, many students continue their dance journeys after completing the Primary Steps programme. The Royal Ballet School does much to point graduates to further opportunities at local and national levels. Many Primary Steps graduates are currently studying vocationally and pre-vocationally at various dance centres and ballet schools, and, sometimes, a lucky few are even offered places to train at The Royal Ballet School full time.

What Do Pupils Make of Primary Steps?

It’s clear from the participating children themselves how much of a profound impact Primary Steps has on their lives. Recent graduates of the programme, Izzy and Nancy, have said that taking part has increased their confidence and helped them learn new skills, including how to work well with others.

But it’s not all about serious development; the children also speak about the fun and happiness the programme has given them. Kiera, from Blackpool, and Thomas, from Mansfield, have enjoyed making new friends on the programme and loved spending time with their teachers each week. For Thomas, the trips to London and to the theatre were particularly “amazing.”  It’s easy to see how Primary Steps has provided positive experiences many children would otherwise never have encountered.

Learn more about The Royal Ballet School’s Primary Steps Programme.

About The Royal Ballet School

The Royal Ballet School, based in London, is a preeminent dance institution that has been providing outstanding classical ballet training since 1926. Some of history’s ballet greats are alumni of the School, such as Margot Fonteyn, David Wall, Anthony Dowell, and Darcey Bussell. Today, the spotlight is shining on a new generation of ballet stars, including Lauren Cuthbertson, Steven McRae, Marianela Nuñez, and Christopher Wheeldon.

Students who gain admission to the School embark on an eight-year journey through White Lodge and Upper School, with the goal of graduating as well-rounded performers or choreographers who will go on to enjoy careers in The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, and other leading dance companies around the world.

Students progress through a carefully structured dance course and an extensive academic programme, supported by exceptional pastoral care and the Healthy Dancer Programme, which boasts a dedicated team of 20 healthcare professionals who look after the well-being of each student from the age of 11. This unique journey prepares students for futures in the world of classical ballet and beyond.

The School is continually broadening access to its unparalleled expertise and experience for talented young dancers outside of the full-time course, with dedicated programmes available to primary schools, dance teachers, and the general public.


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