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Meet the Staff Team

Karen is standing in front of a ballet barre. She has her right hand to her ear and appears to be mid sentence
Image © Adam Perry 2017

Karen Bartholomew - Co-Director

Karen has worked in inclusive and accessible dance since 2007, and has delivered projects for companies such as Phoenix Dance Theatre, Yorkshire Dance, North Yorkshire County Council, First Floor (Leeds Playhouse) and Northern School of Contemporary Dance, amongst others! Karen is also currently Associate Artist: Dance and Engagement at Mind the Gap. Mind the Gap is England's largest learning disability theatre company and most recently Karen was a co-creator of the company's first physical theatre show A Little Space, in collaboration with Gecko which toured nationally to critical acclaim.

MeshDance started when Karen and Mia felt that there was a gap in dance provision for young people with learning disabilities in Leeds. Starting and developing an inclusive youth dance company has been a career highlight for Karen, and seeing dancers progress on to other opportunities such as further training at Mind the Gap, work placements with Northern Ballet and being selected for Talent Hub have been some (but not all!) particularly exciting achievements! Karen is also very passionate about playing a role in diversifying the dance sector, by supporting learning disabled artists to find their voice and their own pathway into dance as a career. 

Mia is crouching and hugging herself as if trying to make her body as small as possible. Her eyebrows are raised, looking at someone in the distance.
Image © Adam Perry 2017

Mia Nielsen - Co-Director

Mia’s passion for working with people is what drives her work as a dance artist, NeuroPilates teacher trainer and assessor, and Z-Health neural performance specialist.

Since starting her journey in inclusive and accessible dance in 2006, after gaining a BPA (Hons) from Northern School of Contemporary Dance, she has worked with dancers, athletes, and health and dance organisations across the UK and abroad. She has enjoyed working with companies such as Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Yorkshire Dance, Mind the Gap, CandoCo, Z-Health, NeuroPilates Dubai, and Northern Ballet where she is currently part of Shift Dance, an international collaborative project developing new teaching practices which aim to raise the profile and skills of dancers with additional learning support needs and enable each individual dancer to fulfil their potential.

In 2010 Mia and Karen started MeshDance with a focus on promoting and celebrating diversity in dance because they were passionate about inclusive dance and wanted to provide opportunities for young dancers, as well as help shape role models for the future. Mia is continually amazed and inspired by the achievements of the dancers, and loves seeing them grow as people, performers, leaders and artists.

Katie is pictured from the side. She is smiling slightly with her hair in a bob with a fringe.
Image © Adam Perry 2017

Katie Aynsley - MeshDance artist and WeAre Assistant

Katie has assisted MeshDance's youth dance work since 2013 and is a valued member of the team. Katie now works for a heap of great organisations such as Sunshine and Smiles, Mind the Gap, Leeds Mencap and Leeds Playhouse’s First Floor. She also does a brilliant job as a 1-2-1 support worker for young people with learning disabilities.

Katie says ‘MeshDance challenge the perception of what dance should be. They give young people the space and opportunities to explore what it means to them to be a dancer, choreographer and teacher. Their approach to teaching has given me the skills I need to put into my own practice as a teacher as well as giving me back my confidence as a dancer. I couldn't think of a better way to spend my Friday evening than dancing with everyone at MeshDance.’

In the front of this image there is half an out of focus face and in the background, Melissa can be seen smiling and looking to her left.
Image © Adam Perry 2017

Melissa Jackson - MeshDance artist and WeAre Assistant

We first met Melissa via the wonderful Mind the Gap and quickly invited her to join us at MeshDance after spotting her talent and potential as a dance artist. 

Melissa works full time at Mind the Gap as Academy Support Worker and she also leads the dance strand of their popular Youth Academy. Melissa was also a long standing member of the team that delivered Illuminate sessions for young people with additional needs at Phoenix Dance Theatre. 

Melissa says ‘Meshdance and WeAre provide a space for dancers to explore their abilities and creativity in a supportive and engaging environment. Not only does this inform my practice at Meshdance and WeAre but also in my other work as a support worker and tutor. The dancers are at the forefront of all the planning and creative outcomes ensuring we are challenging perceptions and exceeding expectations.’

Emily is pictured from the side in this close up and is standing behind another dancer who can just be seen in shot. Emily wears glasses and has her dark hair pulled back in a bun
Image © Adam Perry 2017

Emily Kent - MeshDance artist and WeAre Assistant

Emily started out as a dancer in our youth dance company and a number of years ago approached us to ask about taking on more responsibility in sessions. We were more than happy to support Emily to transition to being a volunteer assistant and now thanks to funding from Arts Council England, Emily is now a paid member of our staff team.

Emily trains in dance at Mind the Gap and Northern Ballet. Emily has been developing her dance facilitation skills further by undertaking a supported work placement at Mind the Gap with their Part Time Dance course. At MeshDance, we supported Emily to apply for her own Developing Your Creative Practice grant from Arts Council England in 2019. As part of this project, we have supported Emily in developing her facilitation and choreography skills whilst working with our youth dance company. Emily choreographed a piece on WeAre, which was chosen for FRESH 2020. Although sadly postponed for now, we look forward to supporting Emily further as part of the DYCP project.

Emily says ‘I like working with MeshDance because I like to see all new faces and because it helps with my choreography skills. I have enjoyed inspiring people to dance and be their best so that they enjoy it as much as me. I am more confident at choreographing on different people, researching ideas before choreography, and planning lessons. I like helping people overcome their struggles and be confident in themselves. I like watching and learning from how others use their bodies to move.'

Ellie is pictured in a close up, side on to the camera. She is smiling slightly and has her hair tucked behind her ears.
Image © Adam Perry 2017

Ellie Smith - MeshDance artist and WeAre Assistant

Ellie works term time in an independent school in York, overseeing enrichment activities and trips and manages the outreach programme, working with local charities and communities. She also runs inclusive dance sessions in local respite centres for young adults with learning and physical disabilities and assists with seated dance groups for older people who may have health and mobility issues.

Ellie says ‘I love the supportive, caring atmosphere that surrounds every MeshDance session and rehearsal, which allows all the dancers, including myself, to learn new dance skills, explore improvisation and different, creative avenues in choreography. The balance of weekly inclusive, relaxed sessions that young people can take part in for creative engagement, exercise and the social aspect, alongside the vast performance and film opportunities, additional workshops, rehearsals and theatre trips for the dancers who want to further their dance experience really does mean there is an opportunity to suit everyone’s needs, ambitions and interests through MeshDance’s work. Working with MeshDance and the dancers is an absolute pleasure and something I look forward to every week!’

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