Our Stories - James Barton

Born on the Wirral, James Barton trained under Alfreda Thorogood at Elmhurst School for Dance in Camberley, Surrey, and joined Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2006; First Artist, 2011; Soloist, 2012. His repertoire includes Petrushka (title role), Romeo and Juliet (Mercutio), Concerto (First Movement), The Dream (Puck), The Shakespeare Suite (Bottom), Swan Lake (Benno), La Fille mal gardée (Alain, Widow Simone), Aladdin (Djinn of the Lamp), ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café (Texas Kangaroo Rat), The Dance House (Third Movement) and Card Game (The Joker.) He has created roles in Jessica Lang’s Lyric Pieces and Wink as well as several ballets by David Bintley including Cyrano, Faster and The Tempest. In 2014 he re-created the role of the Evil Street Urchin in Gillian Lynne’s Miracle in the Gorbals.

Photo credit: DCD Supported Dancer, Tim Cross

“I started ballet lessons at the age of 3 after seeing my sister perform in a local show. From there I became a Junior Associate of the Royal Ballet School, went on to full time training at the age of 11 and then at the age of 18 I graduated in to the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Being a dancer is all I’ve ever known. Like most other people in the profession it is my life and the thought of doing something else never even entered my head.

By the time I was in my mid twenties I had already danced the majority of roles that were on my bucket list and was beginning to feel a bit stale. As I’m quite an organised person and although I didn’t really want to hang up my dancing shoes yet I decided it would be best to start exploring what my options were when I could no longer jump in to the splits! One of the options I wanted to discover more about was Benesh Movement Notation and so I applied to the DCD, who very generously granted me funding to allow me to take a course. A Benesh Notator not only documents the steps and all the relevant information so that a ballet can be revived and restaged accurately, but is also the link between dancers, ballet management and musicians so that everyone is on the same page. Going down this career path would mean that I could continue working in a company that I loved and remain in an environment that was familiar to me. I was all set.

Shortly after being granted my funding, the DCD suggested I receive some coaching from Isabel Mortimer. I have to admit the idea of it didn’t appeal to me - why would I want to sit and talk over my career choices with a complete stranger when I was so certain I had a plan? I kept putting it off, until a colleague and good friend mentioned he had gone for a coaching session and I should try it. Reluctantly I agreed and decided it couldn't hurt.

What happens in a coaching session is deeply personal and confidential, so I won’t announce everything that was discussed that day, but what I will tell you is that I left a changed man! I was amazed at how Isabel, without showing bias or trying to sway my opinion in any way, could allow me to open my mind to viewing things in a completely different way. I answered a lot of my own questions and so many thoughts and feelings came out that I don’t think I was even aware I had. I spoke about many different aspects of my life, many of which had a subconscious effect on my dancing career. I had put myself in a box, had hung myself out to dry long before I was ready and was forcing myself down a career path that wasn’t really right for me and was ultimately making me quite unhappy.

I have since had several coaching sessions via the DCD and also attended one of their ‘EVOLVE’ workshops. Because of my experiences with coaching my life has completely changed. I am still performing and am heading down a slightly different path which is thrilling, exciting and has made me remember why I do this in the first place.

Coaching doesn't have to be used only by the people who are transitioning - In fact it taught me that I wasn’t ready to transition and now wasn’t the right time. It is an incredible service provided by the DCD and I will remain eternally grateful to them for the encouragement and support they have shown me.”

To find out more about how we can help you, please contact Ellen Chambers, Dancer Support and Services Officer on ellen@thedcd.org.uk or 020 7831 1449.

You can support a dancer like James to navigate career transition through the boundless appeal


"Because of my experiences with coaching my life has completely changed."