MDI Merseyside Dance Initiative
Inspiring people through dance

Supporting Lisa Simpson

MDI and DaDaFest supported Simpson Board Training workshops and continue to support Lisa Simpson Inclusive Dance by sitting on the Advisory Board and providing support for future projects.

Lisa Simpson is a Liverpool based choreographer/workshop leader with quadriplegia cerebral palsy and non-verbal communication. A trail-blazer in Inclusive Dance, Lisa recently won Knowsley Business and Regeneration Employee of the Year.

The Simpson Board is a systematic approach to choreography involving the choice of various words, pictures, music and straightforward movement instructions to relay to a dancer. It is a flexible A3 sized laminated board covered in the words, diagrams and symbols needed to create a dance. It allows the choreographer to indicate using their eyes or by pointing where, on a virtual stage, they would like the dancers to go and how they would like them to move. An assistant (translator) is trained to sit alongside the choreographer, interpreting the instructions and relaying them to the dancers.

It first came about when Adam Benjamin, former director and co-founder or CandoCo Dance Company watched how Lisa created a number of pieces using stones, directing them by looking at where she wanted them placed. This sparked a thought: “Can this be done with bodies?”. He arranged a five-day residency in Coventry with both disabled and able-bodied dancers, and the Simpson Board began its creation.

A collaboration with (non-disabled) independent dance artist Louise Katerega led to them co-leading dance summer school sessions at Theatr Clwyd, Mold, North Wales. These were well attended by 9-11 year olds who learnt how to use the Simpson Board. In turn this led to the development of a simpler version of the Board called the Micro Board that children or those with learning difficulties can use to choreograph.

The idea for this pilot course evolved after Lisa was selected to attend Ignite, organised by GDance (formerly Gloucestershire Dance). Ignite is a five day Choreographic Lab and professional development programme, offered to the UK’s most promising emerging disabled dance artists.

Initially Lisa worked with an untrained Board translator, who was later replaced by a translator with basic training. This drastically increased the speed with which choreography could be completed, allowing for clearer more precise communication with performers.

It became apparent that there was a strong need for specific translator training. Not just for Lisa as an aspiring dance professional, but to support and empower anyone  struggling with spoken communication who wanted to create dance work on others.

Two pilot training courses for translators and choreographers were held at MDI in autumn 2013 and spring 2014. 

You can read the full evaluation report here.

Lisa Simpson's website