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How the SB Youth Exchange changed my outlook on dance

Last summer the Scottish Ballet Youth Exchange made up of 8 young dancers, spent an exciting week in New York collaborating with our Exchange partners, MOVE|NYC|. The young dancers had the opportunity to take daily classes with co-founders and artistic directors Chanel DaSilva and Nigel Campbell, as well as work intensively with choreographer Maleek Washington from Broadway Dance Center to create a bespoke commission, performed at UDANCE Festival 2022 (organised by One Dance UK). These rising stars are truly inspiring and demonstrated an incredibly high standard of talent and artistry. We are already looking forward to welcoming them back.

Shannen – one of the participating young dancers took the time to share her experience of the programme and their time in the USA. Find out how SB Youth Exchange has prepared her for a career in the dance industry whilst meeting dancers from all over the world.

My name is Shannen, I am 16 years old and one of the lucky dancers who was chosen to be a part of the 2021/2022 Scottish Ballet Youth Exchange Programme. I first learned about the existence of the programme through a poster on the Tramway walls when I was 9 years old as a Scottish Ballet Junior Associate. I remember being so excited reading about an opportunity to travel with dance and turning to my mum, saying “I’m going to do this as soon as I am old enough.” And after lots of hard work, here I am.

Being a Youth Exchange member means being presented with a whirlwind of unforgettable experiences and once in a lifetime opportunities. My dreams were made true with an incredible trip to New York City in collaboration with a company bursting full of talent, MOVE|NYC|. Scottish Ballet filled our time in the States with everything on our bucket lists and more; we got to tour the city as if we were in a movie; dance at Center; see the Broadway production of Chicago (which lives up to every expectation); and take some amazing workshops including one with Kamille Upshaw – the dance captain of MJ the Musical. We made friends for life with the MOVE|NYC young professionals as we learned, created and worked together on our piece Co-Lab, choreographed by renowned choreographer Maleek Washington. Maleek is one of the most inspiring people I have ever met, it was so interesting to witness him developing movement and generating ideas which were completely unique and always true to himself. We had great opportunities to show this piece multiple times, performing it at sharings held at both companies’ home turfs – one at the Gibney Studios in lower Manhattan and one at Scottish Ballet’s studios in Glasgow. We were also able to put it on stage in Birmingham as special guests at the UDance Festival, where the piece received a standing ovation from an extremely warm and supportive crowd.

The element of the programme which I most enjoyed was Scottish Ballet’s encouragement of self-exploration and creativity. I loved how free and open each of our weekly sessions in the Tramway studios were in the lead-up to the trip. Even while we were in New York, we were given the space to share our own ideas and self-choreographed pieces. I truly felt that each dancer involved was able to develop their own individuality through the experience by always being welcomed to be themselves.

I truly felt that each dancer involved was able to develop their own individuality through the experience by always being welcomed to be themselves.

Dancer reaching backwards as if falling.

Shannen McCormack dancing at the Scottish Ballet Youth Exchange collaboration with Move|NYC|

Collaborating with my fellow artists from both Scotland and New York has definitely changed the outlook I carry for my own dancing. It has opened my eyes to the extent of impact that the influences from everyone’s lives have on their own unique style. It has taught me that the environment around me is a tool to be used for inspiration and therefore branching out is important as it allows my environment and inspiration to grow. Collaborating has also certainly acted as a reminder of the importance of maintaining individuality in dance. I feel that sometimes as dancers we can get so lost in the desire for perfection and improving technique, that we get to a point of forgetting why we dance in the first place – to express ourselves. This programme has allowed me to focus purely on my love for being creative and enjoying the sensation that is dance. It reignited the feelings I had as a young girl who didn’t care about exact positions and simply loved moving to music. It is an experience I wish every young dancer can have. To those who have the chance to go for it – I recommend grasping the opportunity with both hands. It has changed my life forever.

A group of young dancer wearing black. On various levels striking poses.

About Scottish Ballet Youth Exchange

SB’s Youth Exchange is an ambitious dance programme for young dancers aged 14-24.

This programme aims to prepare young dancers for a career in the dance industry and offers the chance to meet dancers from all over the world whilst travelling and working together as a company.

Youth Exchange