| 12°C Belfast

A giant leap forward for the performing arts in Ulster


James Foote, Ulster Bank, Elaine Bailie, APPA NI, Sarah Durrant, APPA NI, and Neil Towers, dancer, at their new premises

James Foote, Ulster Bank, Elaine Bailie, APPA NI, Sarah Durrant, APPA NI, and Neil Towers, dancer, at their new premises

James Foote Charlotte Fastiggi and Neil Towers, dancers; Sarah Durrant and Elaine Bailie

James Foote Charlotte Fastiggi and Neil Towers, dancers; Sarah Durrant and Elaine Bailie

Brian Thompson


James Foote, Ulster Bank, Elaine Bailie, APPA NI, Sarah Durrant, APPA NI, and Neil Towers, dancer, at their new premises

It has been just three months since The Academy of Physical Performing Arts (APPA) opened its doors, heralding the reality of two years of hard work for Elaine Bailie and Sarah Durrant. In that short timeframe APPA-NI has attracted hundreds of members, aged from pre-school to fifty plus – 75% of them new to the physical performing arts.

It has created 11 jobs with more pending.

"People who are coming through the door are very happy," said Elaine.

"The feedback we are getting is that they can't believe the facilities we have on site."

Although based in Prince Regent Road, Castlereagh, APPA-NI is attracting clients from as far away as Dungannon, thanks to its 10,500 sq ft purpose-built centre.

"Offering professional facilities was vital for us," explained Sarah. "One of our biggest challenges was finding a suitable building which could accommodate the very specific features we wanted to install."

Those include a high ceiling dance studio with a harlequin sprung floor, mirrors, barres, a music centre and a piano.

Weekly Business Digest

Margaret Canning’s selection of the must-read business stories straight to your inbox every Tuesday morning

This field is required

The centre also houses a continental high performance rhythmic floor and an aerial space consisting of six suspended training units, featuring silks, rope, trapeze and hoop, making APPA-NI's facilities among the best of their kind.

Under the vast experience of Sarah and Elaine, APPA-NI provides training for people of all ages and abilities in a range of physical arts disciplines including ballet, contemporary, jazz, aerial, movement, rhythmic gymnastics, acrobatic/tumbling gymnastics, physical boys, barre, plus fitness and pilates.

"There's a gap in the market here which means many young people have to travel to England to receive the level of training required to have any chance of performing professionally," said Elaine.

"We realised that there was potential for us to offer this level of training in Northern Ireland, while also improving access to physical arts for all ages and abilities."

"Northern Ireland's physical arts scene is in a very exciting place right now and is growing by the day," added Sarah.

"More and more people are recognising not only the health and social benefits offered by activities such as dance and rhythmic gymnastics, but are also realising the possibilities of performance and physical arts as a potential career path."

But it's not only the state-of-the-art facilities that make APPA-NI appealing – the CVs of its co-founders are seriously impressive.

With a background in professional performing arts education that spans more than 30 years, Sarah has a string of qualifications.

She also ran her own dance tuition business and has held the positions of teacher, head of dance and deputy principal in a leading vocational training establishment.

Throughout much of her career she has worked as an examiner for the Royal Academy of Dance and recently became a Patron for The London Ballet Company.

Elaine is a Great Britain National Rhythmic Gymnastics judge and is a British Gymnastics coach for rhythmic gymnastics.

She also sits on the British Gymnastics National Education Panel, and is currently on the Gymnastics Northern Ireland management committee .

She also managed and directed the Phoenix Rhythmic Gymnastics Club in Bangor for 10 years.

Moving forward APPA-NI wants to work with schools and colleges to provide training programmes where students will be recognised with formal qualifications.

"As well as offering first class facilities, we wanted to position the Academy close to as many schools as possible.

Training and educating children and young people are at the very core of what we want to achieve," explained Elaine.

For more information visit www.appa-ni.com.

How do we make our cities welcoming homes for quality start-ups?

We have been doing some research into what make cities entrepreneurial. It is fascinating. Cities as the pre-requisite to innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development. As a place where culture, sports, arts, science and business collide.

The combination of just Amsterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, for example, is one of the largest economies in the world — 80 per cent of the global population is expected to live in cities by 2035.

If you wanted Belfast to become a start-up city, where would you start?

  • How do you increase volume and deal flow?
  • How do you stop leakage?
  • How do you make start-ups here more ambitious?
  • How do you make Belfast attractive to live (entrepreneurship is a lifestyle choice)?
  • How do you create a better tax system?
  • How do you get more VC, angels to come to Belfast?
  • Do we face East or West?
  • What role do universities play?
  • What role does education play?
  • What role does design play?
  •  Should we let the hackers loose?
  •  Is Belfast beautiful enough?
  •  What is the personality of Belfast
  •  What role has architecture?
  •  What role does culture play?
  •  How do you compete with Dublin, London, Berlin, Tel Aviv, Copenhagen and Istanbul?
  •  Do you beat them or join them?

Whatever way you approach this, it starts with the quality of the start-ups. Myself and Frank Hannigan had the pleasure of presenting in Belfast to participants of Invest NI’s Propel Programme. And we met some cracking start-ups.

Receet is one of them. A multi-venue loyalty program that rewards shoppers for every purchase they make, regardless of where they shop.

We know of APPA NI Ltd (Academy of Professional Physical Arts) because of our involvement with Ulster Bank who supported the company’s establishment. Great potential!

Invest NI is planning some really exciting initiatives. ‘Lean Lean Start Up Machine’ came to Belfast. Its first ever visit to Ireland. Watch that space.

There are lots of exciting things happening in Belfast.

I fundamentally believe it is not about money, it is about ideas and what you are doing. From what we see from the start-ups we meet in Northern Ireland, the quality of applications for the Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards, and the quality of the initiative, there is every possibility that Belfast can become a true start-up city.

But it starts with a simple metric. As a start up in Belfast, would you recommend Belfast? Let’s find out!