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Pioneer celebrates decade of dance

Posted on January 21, 2021

Lisa Simpson pictured with dancer Kate Threlfall.

Lisa Simpson, who holds a unique position in dance as the only choreographer and workshop leader with quadriplegic cerebral palsy and no verbal communication, has celebrated a decade of her dance company Lisa Simpson Inclusive Dance (LSID) with an Arts Council-funded project and a new role as leader in residence at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston.

Simpson, who’s based in Kirkby, Liverpool, has been recognised for her pioneering work with an Alison Steadman Award for active citizenship and a Merseyside Women of the Year Award. “When I was 12, my class was invited to an event at the mainstream school near the special school that I attended, and it was there that I found myself wishing I could dance on stage. However, deep down I thought it wouldn’t ever be possible,” Lisa explains.

She choreographs using the Simpson Board; using her eyes or by pointing, she indicates where she would like the dancers to go and the movements they should make; an assistant reading the board then speaks instructions to the dancers. The Simpson Board was created by the co-founder and joint artistic director of CandoCo Dance Company, Adam Benjamin, who was inspired by the way Lisa produced her GCSE artwork.

Choreographer Lisa Simpson and dancer Kate Threlfall using the Simpson Board

Choreographer Lisa Simpson and dancer Kate Threlfall using the Simpson Board.

“As we developed the Simpson Board, my drive to choreograph increased considerably and my enthusiasm to create a tool enabling me to achieve it led to the board being named after me,” she says. “I never thought I would be able to choreograph, so it was a tremendous feeling when I did it for the first time. I felt like Adam had opened up another world for me and my dreams suddenly changed.”

Simpson has choreographed with disabled and non-disabled dancers, and when the COVID-19 lockdown threatened to stop her latest work – Branching Out – in its tracks, she adapted and moved the Arts Council-funded research and development project, which explores pattern through movement, online. She and the team intend to develop Branching Out so it can be performed publicly once venues can re-open.

From her Liverpool base, she communicated to dancers from the Midlands-based Rosie Kay Dance Company who performed the movements. These were filmed for an online documentary, which can be seen at simpsonboard.co.uk/news. Lisa has also been commissioned by complex disabilities charity, Sense, to deliver online sessions which their service users at the Touchbase Pears centre in Birmingham can do while at home. For more information about Simpson and her company, simpsonboard.co.uk.

Pictured: Lisa Simpson pictured with dancer Kate Threlfall. Photographs courtesy of Lisa Simpson Inclusive Dance. 

Nicola Rayner was editor of Dance Today from 2010 to 2015. She has written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Independent and Time Out Buenos Aires, where she cut her teeth as a dance journalist working on the tango section. Today she continues to dance everything from ballroom to breakdance, with varying degrees of success. Her debut novel, The Girl Before You, was published last year in paperback, ebook and audiobook.

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