MindLeaps - Reflecting Back, Looking Forward

Tier 1 Training - New York

Six months on from the first part of my MindLeaps training in New York, I am excited to be heading out to the second part of training in Conakry, Guinea, West Africa. I can’t wait to meet the children and see how the MindLeaps programme runs in the field!  

Here is a round-up of aspects I loved most about training so far:

  1. Being inspired

Two types of people inspire me: brave people and kind people. The founder of MindLeaps, Rebecca Davis, is both. She exemplifies how one person’s small seed of an idea can grow into an enormous fruitful tree from which many benefit. Rebecca’s initial involvement in Rwanda has now spread to Uganda, Guinea, Mauritania and Kenya, directly improving the lives of hundreds of children and young adults. It is one of the best examples of positive change I have ever witnessed. If that alone is not enough to motivate one to action their own ideas, nothing is! (Unbelievably she also led our dance classes in Kinyarwandan, Ugandan, Swahili and French to prove that dance is international, unrestricted by language differences!) 

  1. Meeting like-minded people

It’s a gift to find people with the same passion and outlook on life. All six of the professional dancers on the training programme shared a very clear goal to empower children using dance. We were from different corners of the world and came together to train and share our experiences. For that union, I am grateful. 

  1. Tracking child development 

Previously when teaching my dance classes, I had a rough awareness that a child may be improving in confidence or technique, but it was only really a personal observation and often a generalised view of several lessons over time. 
The revelation for me in the MindLeaps training programme was definitely regarding child development and the cognitive & social/emotional skills to look out for….in EVERY single class…with EVERY single child.

The key skills we learned how to observe include: 
  • memorisation
  • language
  • grit (determination) 
  • teamwork 
  • self-esteem
  • creativity 
  • discipline

This will undoubtedly be the most challenging aspect to assess whilst leading open-air dance classes in a foreign language to 50 excitable teenagers over blaring French hip-hop music! It’s not the ‘perfectly placed pirouettes’ MindLeaps is bothered about; Dance is just the fantastic tool, a clever hook, to engage children in learning. The main focus is getting a child to the developmental level where they are eventually able to handle themselves in a formal classroom setting at mainstream school. 

The beauty of this framework is that it actually interchangeable with other art forms, for example music and drama can also challenge these skills brilliantly. Yet another shiningly obvious example of why we mustn’t let Arts in our UK schools suffer/disappear from the national curriculum. 

  1. Working to fatigue

The physical dance training in the studio in New York was fiercely intense. Aside from marathon running, I hadn’t felt this level of fatigue since my dance college days and muscles ached that have never ached in my entire life! I can only presume the rigorous training is to physically prepare us for leading back-to-back classes in the African heat!


Already a firm belief of mine, but even more so in countries where  resources are scarce and education is the only means in which to break a family's circle of poverty. The many incredible success stories of the African students on the MindLeaps programme reiterate this importance. Hundreds of youth (who have experienced not just one type of trauma, but several degrees of intense trauma) are now flourishing in school and carving a positive future that would otherwise have been denied to them without the opportunity to receive an education.

Watch this space for part 2 of the training in Guinea!


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