Ballet Hoo!

An intensive period of work leading to the performance of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet by young people aged 15 – 19 years who were considered to be disadvantaged and/or ‘at risk’

About the Ballet Hoo! project

Ballet Hoo! was the beginning of the story for Leaps & Bounds. The organisation was created to manage the project, and the model for our work grew from this pilot scheme.

The journey started in October 2003 when Roy Ackerman of Diverse Productions and Neil Wragg, CEO of Youth at Risk approached Birmingham Royal Ballet to partner them in the making of a television documentary involving a programme of personal development and ballet with a group of disadvantaged young people. 

The documentary would film a group of young people involved in Leaps & Bounds over 18 months and witness the extraordinary and inspirational changes they made to their lives. Jan Younghusband of Channel 4 agreed to commission four television programmes, three of sixty minutes and one of ninety minutes to document the project. The four programmes, screened in September 2006, reached 4.5 million people.



To deliver Ballet Hoo! Leaps & Bounds forged a partnership with Dudley MBC, Sandwell MBC and Wolverhampton City Council. The Chief Executive of Dudley briefed the Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council (BCC) and Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) introduced Youth at Risk (YaR) to senior managers from BCC.  In October 2004 the four local authorities agreed to participate in the project and that it should be led by Dudley MBC. Surprisingly, these neighbouring partners had never worked together before.  



There was no blueprint for the project; it was designed for young people aged 15 – 19 years who were considered to be disadvantaged and/or “at risk”.  The project was to mix a personal development training programme with preparation and training for a full length ballet performance in which the young people would perform alongside the dancers of BRB.  It would last for around 18 months.   At the outset the definition of disadvantage was never agreed by the partners, which allowed for individual interpretation by the local authorities when selecting the young people.  The young people were referred from a number of sources: Connexions, Looked After (ESS and 16+), Youth Offending Services, PRU’s, Barnados, Youth Service, individual schools’ ‘at risk’ pupils, including excluded pupils, at risk of exclusion, suspended, ‘tagged’ young people, those with mild autism, those in hostels, teenage mothers, and young people with deep seated personal issues, health issues such as bulimia and poor home backgrounds.   Most of the young people selected had never taken ballet classes, some had never performed on a stage and most had never worked with a professional dancer or attended a theatre to see a ballet.



The project’s ambition was to recruit, train and develop 300 young people supported by 300 volunteer life coaches. 220 turned up for the Youth Intensive Training Courses, a 4 day training programme led by the charity Youth at Risk.  Following this training 150 committed themselves to a journey of personal discovery, dance and related arts. 

At enrolment all the young people were required to devise three life goals for themselves; one had to be about a healthier lifestyle. They would try to achieve these goals during the project.  They had a dedicated life coach who would help in achieving their goals.                     

The project was remarkable for its vision, complexity, length, and levels of risk. What can be said is that in some way it changed the lives of all of those who were closely involved in the project and even some who watched from a distance.