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Zoom screen split into 12 panels each with a person with MS doing a ballet dance move at the screen.

MS ballet group take their rehearsals online

Our MS ballet group has taken to Zoom after they had to stop face-to-face rehearsals because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group of 12 people with MS started a community residency with the Royal Opera House in January. They worked with choreographer Bim Malcolmson and members of the Royal Ballet to find their own response to Cathy Marston’s new work for The Royal Ballet The Cellist.

The ballet was inspired by the life of celebrated cellist Jacqueline du Pré who also lived with MS. This 10-week project was planned to end with a ‘Live at Lunch’ special performance at the Royal Opera House on Friday 27 March, but this was cancelled after lockdown.

Sensing the disappointment from the group, dance choreographer Bim Malcomson decided to volunteer her time to teach the group with a virtual ballet class on Zoom every Saturday morning.

Taking ballet online

Sarah Carnet lives with relapsing MS, and attended the weekly ballet workshop at the Royal Opera House. She’s now having to self-isolate in France after she found she was unable to get home to Parson’s Green, London, once the lockdown had set in.

Sarah says: “I was heartbroken our final ballet performance at the Royal Opera House was postponed, so when I found out Bim was volunteering to teach a virtual class I was thrilled.

Hurrah, I get to dance today!

“Since the lockdown I have been feeling down. Both my husband and I have no work, and we’re having to watch our savings go down. It’s hard not to think ‘what are we going to do?’, but the ballet classes are giving me a much-needed lifeline.

Every Saturday I wake up and think ‘hurrah, I get to dance today!’ I love hearing the beautiful ballet music, seeing everyone in the group, and it’s great to move my body – even in a small, confined space. Bim is great at seeing the person behind the disability, and the class is the thing I look forward to the most every week.”

Read Sarah's story of ballet in lockdown

Challenges of choreography on Zoom

Choreographer Bim Malcomson, who has volunteered to continue supporting the project, said: “It’s important for all of us to contribute however we can at this time, and for me it didn’t feel right not to continue with this project so I decided to volunteer my time to support the MS Society and this fantastic group.

"Some of them live alone and don’t get to see anybody else all week, so it’s really important for that reason. But it’s also just such a nice bunch! Before we started I didn’t know what to expect and then all these amazing people rocked up. I really wanted this class to carry on and I’m so pleased we were able to find a way to make it work.

“Choreographing on Zoom is extremely different and can be tricky, but it’s also quite inspiring, because it has different challenges and potential. And we’re still having a lot of fun.”

No one has to face MS alone

Ed Holloway our Director of Services says: “Classes like the virtual ballet are invaluable for people living with MS, and we’re incredibly grateful to Bim and her generosity in volunteering for us to continue to teach the group during this challenging time.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure our community never feels alone, including creating new online services – virtual meets ups and webinars – so people can stay in touch from home. But we know there is a lot of uncertainty, and encourage anyone who needs us to call our free MS Helpline, or browse our up-to-date information on COVID-19 and MS.”

Looking forward to working together again

Jillian Barker, Director of Learning and Participation at the Royal Opera House, adds: “We were terribly disappointed that the final performance by the MS Society couldn’t take place at the Royal Opera House as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic.

"It’s been a truly wonderful experience working with the MS Society and all of the participants. We’ve all learnt so much from the project, not least the amount of joy and wellbeing that dance can bring to everyone, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with the MS Society in the future.”

Try ballet online

If you'd like to try ballet, the Scottish Ballet are live streaming classes for people with MS every Tuesday.

Visit the Scottish ballet Facebook page to join in and watch videos of ballet for people with MS