Throwing shapes with Stepping Stones – exploring architecture with dance

Throwing shapes with Stepping Stones – exploring architecture with dance

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BY: Guest Writer
16 Apr 2018

In March this year, a group of young people with individual learning requirements came together to complete a human shape dance performance as part of their Explore journey. Arts Award adviser Michael Appleyard writes about how the group collaborated with professional artists to choreograph a final performance, and broaden their understanding of what art is.

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 We started off with the intention to explore the work of Russian Functionalists, looking at how their work drew on geometric shapes commonly used in architecture with the ‘function’ of supporting factories and other buildings. Working in The Soapworks and being part of the old Colgate/Palmolive Factory supported this wonderfully. The group identified geometrical shapes in the artist’s work and loved the idea of ‘jobs’ for these shapes. The group were then introduced to choreographer Bettina Carpi and took part in a rehearsal inside The Soapworks. A local company, LSE, contributed to the project by supplying a variety of different sized cardboard boxes which were to be used as props.

Our group from Years 5 and 6 at Acre Hall Primary School had previously completed Discover, so this wasn’t their first Arts Award experience. We began by exploring ‘time’ and ‘space’, investigating how we see and use space around us. For instance, one pupil drew a girl dancing on Saturn while others drew diagrams of how space was used in school while discussing which space can be used creatively. We prepared pupils for their rehearsal and performance in a large and open rental space inside The Soapworks. Some of the group were highly autistic and we saw this as a form of reducing stress, in creating a familiarity with a new space. But we also wanted to extend the group’s view on where we can be creative.

Bettina’s emphasis was on facilitation using scaffolding activities which had been introduced in the classroom. Young people represented their chosen shapes, using their bodies, before individually positioning themselves around the props while moving to the rhythm of the Chemical Brothers as factory workers. The Soapworks had kindly e-mailed all their tenants informing them of our performance during their lunchtime. So, over forty individuals wandered down to our space and settled into watch the children’s performance. One of the girls presented the piece to the audience, with moral support from her peers. The group then took the lead and organised themselves to produce a wonderful five-minute performance, met with resounding applause from their audience.

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The performance was filmed by their class teacher Sarah Pitchon and will be streamed for other schools in The Dunham Trust, a potential audience of over a thousand people.

In the evaluation, all pupils gave the experience ten out of ten, and the group recognised that any space can be creative. Comments included “(Art can happen) anywhere, at a place, outside, places like hotels and bars, in a house, it can happen anywhere you want”. A magical moment took place during the evaluation. The group had a dominant male leader and the question was asked by the adviser, “Did the leader listen to you?” One boy with autism shouted out, “(He) is a good boy, he helped me”. His teacher ran round the room to hug him, as it was the first time he had communicated directly and personally to a class friend. He then continued his jig of enjoyment around the classroom. Several parents who attended said they felt so proud their children were performing in a real community setting to an adult audience.

The group picked out several highlights, notably working with Bettina in The Soapworks space. They also enjoyed colouring in the different shapes they found and were proud of the applause from a different adult audience.

Michael Appleyard is an Arts Award adviser who worked on this project in collaboration with Stepping Stones Creative. For more information about delivering Arts Award to groups with individual requirements, visit, or email the team on


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