History - Northern School of Contemporary Dance

Northern School of Contemporary Dance (NSCD) was founded in 1985 as the first conservatoire dance school within the public sector. Nadine Senior was founding Principal, and she established the school to give the young people of Leeds vocational dance training following the success of her earlier teaching work at Harehills Middle School.

Since its inception in 1985, NSCD has produced some of the UK’s leading contemporary dance artists including Akram Khan, Tom Roden, Robert Hylton, Benji Reid and Fleur Darkin.

NSCD moved into its permanent home of a former synagogue in Chapeltown in 1987 and since then it has grown into one of the UK’s leading dance training institutions. Nadine Senior MBE retired in December 2001 and was succeeded by Gurmit Hukam as Principal in January 2002.

In 2012, Janet Smith left her position of Artistic Director of Scottish Dance Theatre to become Principal of NSCD. Well known for her inclusive dance practice and passion for developing young artists, this marked the beginning of an exciting new phase for the school.

Sharon Watson MBE, formerly Artistic Director of Leeds-based Phoenix Dance Theatre, succeeded Janet to become the fourth Principal and the first CEO of the School in 2020, bringing with her a strong commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.

30 years of NSCD



Leeds City Council establishes the Northern School of Contemporary Dance as the first dance school within the public sector, with Nadine Senior as the school’s founding Principal. Alison Beckett and Namron join Nadine as founding staff members.

Following a short period housed in the buildings of the former Sacred Heart Primary School in Kirkstall, NSCD moves to its permanent home, a Grade II listed former synagogue in Chapeltown (built in 1929-1932 and closed in 1985). Between 1987-1997, a series of phased developments are carried out which develop the site.

The first cohort of students graduate from the School.

The School’s Dome Theatre opens its doors to contemporary dance audiences.

The first NSCD graduate company is formed in Leeds, Northern Dance Company, by three founding graduates.  The company is housed in the Dome Theatre, creating, staging and performing contemporary dance works, in the local community, nationally and abroad.

NSCD becomes affiliated to the University of Leeds to develop the Bachelor of Performing Arts degree programme.

NSCD establishes the Dance Foundation Course.

On Friday 13 November permission is granted for ‘alterations and extension to form dance studios’ in Brandsby Lodge which sits adjacent to the synagogue on the site. The lodge is also Grade II listed.

NSCD becomes a designated Further Education College.

The Dome Theatre is renamed The Riley Theatre in memory of Jeff Riley, the theatre’s first technician.

NSCD achieves designation as a Higher Education Institution (HEI).

Building work starts to develop the site, following a successful bid for funding from the National Lottery. The work is completed by the summer of 1997 and overseen by local architectural practice Allan Tod.

The standard of education provision at NSCD is awarded 23 out of a possible 24 points by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

Minister for the Arts, Mark Fisher, officially opens the £3.2 million re-development of the School with funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England and the Foundation for the Sports and the Arts.

Following the Hosier review of HEFCE funding for performing arts institutions, the School receives enhanced funds in recognition of its specialist status.

The Bachelor of Performing Arts degree award is upgraded to Honours status. The Graduate Diploma course is introduced.

NSCD’s founding Principal, Nadine Senior MBE, retires.

Gurmit Hukam is appointed NSCD’s Principal.

NSCD becomes affiliated to the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama (CDD).

NSCD establishes Yorkshire Young Dancers Advanced Training Scheme in partnership with Northern Ballet Theatre.

The school’s affiliation with the University of Leeds ends and NSCD transfers its programme validation arrangements to the University of Kent.

VERVE, NSCD’s postgraduate performance company, is launched.

An additional studio is created within Brandsby Lodge, bringing the total to eight large dance studios.

VERVE receives an ITS Guest Award for Best International production.

On 31 August, Gurmit Hukam leaves the school. The school undergoes a period of restructuring, guided by Kathleen Tattersall OBE who becomes Chair of Governors.

Janet Smith (formerly Artistic Director of Scottish Dance Theatre) is appointed NSCD Principal in February.

NSCD graduate, Akram Khan choreographs for the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, with a number of the school’s graduates as performers.

NSCD is represented at the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) 23rd Annual Conference in Seattle, Washington.

Chair of the Governors, Kathleen Tattersall OBE, dies on 23 January.

The school’s Foundation Course is awarded Outstanding by Ofsted.

Janet Smith is recognised in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list and awarded an MBE for Services to Dance.

The Conservatoire for Dance and Drama is judged to be world-leading in an independent HEFCE review.

NSCD graduate Jamaal Burkmar receives the Matthew Bourne ‘New Adventures for Choreographers’ award

Founding Principal, Nadine Senior MBE, dies at the age of 79 (04 October 1939-28 January 2016). A memorial service is held at Lawnswood Crematorium Chapel led by the Reverend Roger Quick. John Travis, Alison Beckett (former Vice-Principal of the school) and Tanya Cusan-Espinosa (one of the school’s early pupils) also take part in the service. Representatives from across the dance world attend.

National Student Survey (NSS) ranks the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama joint No. 1 performing arts conservatoire for student satisfaction.

NSCD 30th Anniversary Celebration Event held at Riley Theatre, including a photographic exhibition and performances by Namron, graduates and guests.

NSCD secures Erasmus funding to set up international exchanges.