Shirley Jacobs - Northern School of Contemporary Dance


CertHE Programme Leader, Lecturer in Performance (Contemporary)

MTD (equivalent to MEd / MSc), PGCLTHE, BA (Hons) Dance, FHEA, CPT

Role and responsibilities:

Shirley is a contemporary dance practitioner and teaches Contemporary dance techniques, Embodied Practice and Choreography and Creative Practice.  Other duties include being the programme coordinator and year liaison for the CertHE Contemporary Dance programme. As an experienced member of the teaching team, Shirley teaches across programmes of study at NSCD.

Career History

Born in Yorkshire Shirley became a member of the British National and Elite Gymnastic squads and the National Youth Dance Company prior to training at NSCD.  In 1985 she was invited to become a founding student of NSCD where she completed her professional dance training gaining critical acclaim as an eloquent performer and gifted choreographer.  As an outstanding student Shirley was praised by the Principal (Nadine Senior) for never missing a single day of training in three years.  Shirley went on to become a co-founder, principal dancer and choreographer with the Northern Dance Company, and was also a dancer with Emilyn Claid and Co. She worked alongside professionals such as Graham Lustig, Richard Alston, Darshan Singh Bhuller, Namron and Ruth Barnes (USA) to mention a few, before progressing into an extensive career as an independent artist / choreographer.  Shirley has danced and been interviewed on television and radio both nationally and internationally and was a guest dancer on the prestigious Gulbenkian International Course for Choreographers and Composers on three occasions.

As a professional dance artist, dance educator, choreographer and dance scientist Shirley has over three decades of professional experience within the field of contemporary dance. To date she has choreographed over 45 professional works collaborating with digital artists, film makers, composers and theatre directors. She has created work for professional dance companies, theatre, opera, musicals, dance schools and youth groups.

Achievements include: first prize winner at the Croydon International Choreographic Competition and guest choreographer at the Suzanne Dellal International Competition, Tel Aviv, Israel. Seminal works include: Zen (2016); Lost in Translation (2013); Le Bisou (2006); Landscapes (1999); Memories (solo) (1996); City Slickers (1995); Sweet Gypsy (duet) (1993); Deux Femmes (1990); Silent Cry (1988) and Wonders Untold (1987).

Shirley has been part of the full -time teaching faculty at NSCD since 1993 teaching across programmes of study and contributing to curriculum development. Shirley’s multiplicity of experience and research within the field of contemporary dance has expanded her international profile to the USA, the Far East and more recently to Sydney, Australia.

Approach towards my practice:

As a practitioner / teacher I have been lecturing full-time at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance (NSCD) for over two decades contributing to and seeing it evolve as a conservatoire from FE to HE, working with and alongside a varied and distinguished faculty. Over this period of time I have been curious and proactive about my continuing professional development which led to the achievement of both my Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching (PGCLTHE) at the University of Leeds and more recently to my Masters in Teaching Dance (RAD) validated by the University of Surrey, both whilst on the job. These challenges have led to an in-depth analysis, reflection and enhancement of my personal practices as a dance artist, scientist and teacher, resulting in practice-based research that has transformed my knowledge, thinking and how I work both technically and creatively with dancers.

My interests as a professional practitioner are in dance and science and the pedagogy, analysis and creation of dance. When working with dancers in the studio in contemporary technique I view each dancer as an individual and aim to help each to develop a sense of self as they become aware of their own individual structure, habits and predispositions – thinking dancers. Reflecting upon the cultural turn and the expansion within the scope of the profession it is evident that the dancer needs to be even more creative, versatile and adaptable than ever before with a multitude of skills and competencies. Therefore when working creatively with dancers in the studio I look to develop through improvisation and play: embodied awareness; decision making; playful interaction with others; consider the use of time and space and apply a multidisciplinary approach to creating and performance. The acculturation of dance is widening the range for interaction, research and the social expansion of dance and the body across many disciplines (Adshead 2003), which is both exciting and challenging. I embrace change and grow ever more excited about the transformative power of dance education which drives my practice, pedagogy and research.

Embodied Practice:
My interest in embodiment and somatic practices stem back to the beginnings of my professional journey, initially with my first person experience of working with Mary Fulkerson in the 1980’s, secondly working with Emilyn Claid in the 1990’s and thirdly by attending my first International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) conference in 2003, London. These experiences together with practitioner based practice-based research have led me to change practice and develop pedagogy that supports the development of the nervous system and the brain in learning.

Professional Activity and Research Interests

Dance, Fitness and Science:
Individual professional member of the IADMS (current), presenting internationally in Seattle, Washington, USA and Wanchai, Hong Kong.

Certified Personal Fitness Trainer (Dist) 2015 qualified in; Exercise and Lifestyle Psychology; Bio-mechanics; Exercise Physiology; PT Skills; Functional Training; Business.

A Sense of Anatomy project 2013, collaboration between the University of Hull, Hull York Medical School and NSCD. Part of the NSCD team working with the year 3 BPA (Hons) students, resulting in performances at the Hull University and the Riley Theatre, Leeds.

Pedagogy / Research:
Recent action-based research into habitus (Bourdieu 1993) and the theories of embodiment in contemporary dance training led to curiosity about the brain and the nervous system in learning. The tension between the scientific model of knowledge and behaviour (neurology) and the cultural perspective (habitus) requires further investigation. Also case study research ‘Can innovative teaching contribute to the raising of standards in learning and teaching?’ brought about supportive evidence that it can, evidencing both creative and critical skills in students. Furthermore, cultural studies in dance as part of MA research led to examining the challenges of traditional hierarchies, the influence of new theories of power and knowledge and the potential impact of the cultural turn.

Past research includes investigating ‘Computer technology in dance: can it aid the pedagogy, analysis and creation of dance?’ thesis.

Professional Activity (selected)

  • Appointed as External Examiner, 2015, Buckinghamshire New University for the BA (Hons) Dance and Performance degree (current).
  • MA module creator (2013) ‘Somatic Expression’ part of the Master of Arts in Professional Practice programme for ISTD, validated by Middlesex University.
  • External Examiner, Buckinghamshire New University for the Foundation Degree in Dance Teaching and top up BA (Hons) Professional Development, 2006 -2010.
  • Extensive internal moderator experience across programmes of study within NSCD, Foundation, BPA (Hons), MA.
  • Staff Governor NSCD 2000-2008

Key Publications, Papers and Conferences

Jacobs, S (2016) How might the concept of habitus and the theories of embodiment inform vocational contemporary dance training, Research paper presentations at:

  • Dance Teaching for the 21st Century: Practice and Innovation Conference (RAD) 10/12/16, Sydney, Australia
  • Dance HE: Sustaining the Discipline, 29/10/16, NSCD, Leeds, UK
  • 26th International Association of Dance Medicine and Science Conference 22/10/16, Wanchai, Hong Kong. Abstract book IADMS 122.

Jacobs, S (2016) Facilitator at the Accelerate CDD Conference: Injury Preventions and Management Sharing Resources and Research, 01/05/2016, London Contemporary Dance School (LCDS).

Jacobs, S (2016) Dance and Science: Practice-based Research Enhances Practice. International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, Newsletter, Vol 23 (1), Jan 2016, 10 [online].

Jacobs, S. & Field, S. (2013) The Power of Ten: A Nerve Mobility Movement Session. International Association of Dance Medicine and Science Conference 2013 18/10/13, Seattle, Washington, USA, Abstract book  IADMS 43- 44, Solomon, R. & Solomon J.(eds)., 43-44.

Performance Artefacts (from 2012 only)

Jacobs, S. (chor.) (2016) ZEN, Dancers FCCD students, Riley Theatre (Summer), Leeds, UK.

Be still like the mountain. Move like the roaring river” (ndg Wang T’Sung Yeuh). In Japanese culture the crane or tsuru is seen as a symbol of longevity peace and good luck. This piece was inspired by cultures of the East meets West and incorporates elements from Tia Chi.

Jacobs, S. (chor.) (2015) Counterpoint, interactive performance model devised in collaboration with Smith J. & Whitney, T., NSCD. Riley Theatre (Spring), Leeds, UK.

An interactive one hour performance designed for Key Stage 2 pupils including dance text, images, questions and answers.

Jacobs, S. (chor.)(2014) Magnetism: Forces in Action. Dancers FCCD students NSCD, Music created and performed by students from the Leeds College of Music (LCoM), BA (Hons) studies, in collaboration with the choreographer. Riley Theatre, (Spring), Leeds, UK.

Jacobs, S. with NSCD Students (chor.) (2013) Lost in Translation. Riley Theatre, Leeds, UK.

This work explored ‘culture’ and includes the use of spoken text, projection and sign language.

Jacobs, S. (dir. chor.) (2012), Lecture Demonstration. Riley Theatre, Leeds, UK. Working in collaboration with a musician, 30 dancers, and performed with live music on stage.