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Learning to Dance in Leeds

Nadine Senior MBE

In Leeds in the 1970s and 80s there was a very special teacher called Nadine Senior (1939-2016) who was working in Harehills Middle School. Nadine was born in Scarborough in 1939 and moved to Leeds to teach. Like today, Harehills had students from a wide variety of ethnic groups and it was regarded as one of the ‘poorer’ areas of Leeds.

Black and white photo of Nadine Senior
Nadine Senior and Students

Nadine was a PE and athletics teacher but had a very special skill in teaching dance to children who had never had the opportunity to learn to dance before.

She inspired both girls and boys to take part in creative dance classes and performances not just in school but in venues all over the UK and even abroad. Her revolutionary approach developed the student’s natural ability and recognised their talents in movement.

What was so special about Nadine’s approach?

  1. She was a PE teacher and so had a deep understanding of how the body moves (biomechanics).
  2. She encouraged athleticism and always challenged the students to make their movements precise. She challenged them to make the best of their own physicality and to express themselves how they wanted to.
  3. She used storytelling through dance to make the experience meaningful and enjoyable.
  4. The stories for performances were chosen with the students. They were drawn from Classical literature such as the epic 17th Century poem by John Milton called Paradise Lost, to Jesus Christ Superstar which is a famous musical of the 20th Century. Students learnt in this way about other art forms and other artists.
  5. She offered creative ideas and then allowed the students to create their own movements.
  6. The dance movements were never completely set for the performances. The students knew the part of the story they were dancing and improvised movements that felt right to express the characters and the feelings they were portraying. They learned through their creative classes to make their movements ‘interesting’ using the body, the space and the timing to give variety to what they created.
  7. Students learned how important it was to be well-disciplined and considerate to their fellow dancers in order to produce the best dance work.
  8. Being in a performance was seen as a privilege in the school and students were rewarded for hard work and commitment by being given parts in the performances. Through practice and refining their dance movements under Nadine’s guidance they became better and better dancers and many of the students joined the Harehills Youth Dance Group after leaving the Middle School to go to High School. This Youth Group performed at youth dance festivals at home and abroad and became renowned for its excellent work.