In 2017, Dr Anja Ali-Haapala worked with Queensland Ballet to lead Ballet Moves for Adult Creative Health, a project to investigate recreational ballet classes for active older adults.

The 10 month project was supported by Queensland Government’s Advance Queensland initiative which supports innovation and collaboration in business, industry and research.

We spoke to Anja about her experiences working on the project.

How did the project come about?

The project was sparked by Queensland Ballet (QB) who have a growing portfolio of engagement activities with communities across Queensland. Part of this engagement work is their Ballet for Seniors program, which sits within the seniors stream of their weekly public dance classes. The company wanted to understand this practice further and look for ways to expand this offering to people who are not able to attend classes at their company’s home, the Thomas Dixon Centre in West End, Brisbane. 

What did the project involve?

There were two main components. Firstly, it was about undertaking empirical research to better understand dance practice. This meant investigating the motivations and wellbeing outcomes experienced by participants of the seniors ballet classes, as well as understanding which teaching approaches worked best for this type of dance class. Since QB already had their Ballet for Seniors classes running, it made sense to incorporate this particular program within action research cycles and to include teacher and class participant perspectives within the research design. 

The second component was the consideration of the potential business applications of the knowledge gained from the research project. As a state level arts organisation, QB looks to engage all of Queensland, so this component of the project sought to determine how QB might be able to provide access to Ballet for Seniors classes across the state. This involved mapping seniors ballet offerings in Australia and overseas, as well as considering various business models within the context of QB.    

What came out of it?

Recommendations for the two main components of the research we were undertaking. Firstly, for teaching practice. And secondly, for QB’s next steps for pursuing a farther-reaching seniors ballet program…which the company is already looking into!  

I am also really pleased that we were able to publish a report that outlines the participant motivation and wellbeing findings. Ballet had previously received very little attention from researchers interested in dance’s health and wellbeing outcomes, so the ability to identify and share these findings was an important contribution to the field of research and well as a useful document for industry. 

An unexpected outcome was the significant level of global media attention that the report received, and the consequential media it initiated. For a couple of months, the Ballet for Seniors program had news crews in almost every week to report on the program and research findings. As word spread, demand for the Ballet for Seniors tripled and additional classes are now offered on a regular basis. For me, it is very cool to see such tangible research impact so quickly.

What did you learn from the process?

It was a good challenge to move my academic research skills and methods into an industry environment. There is a lot to be gained from university-industry collaboration and exchange, however it does require time and care to bring these two models of operating together. 

I learned a lot about the business of ballet and the strategic thinking, conversations, and connections that support projects. As a result, I see a lot of potential for research thinking and approaches to be incorporated within everyday operations of arts organisations.  

The project sat within Advance Queensland’s Knowledge Transfer Partnership category, which required three partners. Firstly,­ an industry organisation: QB. Secondly, a knowledge partner: Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Partnering with QUT enabled me to work with Professor Gene Moyle of the Creative Industries Faculty and Professor Graham Kerr of the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, both bringing a wealth of experience to the project. The third partner was a recent graduate of the knowledge partner (i.e., QUT): that would be me! 

As a recent doctoral graduate (2016) whose research is within the dance field, this was a very unusual and exciting opportunity to undertake a substantial research project so soon after graduation. Also worth noting was that my PhD focused upon dance audiences, so to shift into pedagogical and health research was a whole new domain for me! 

Any advice for others considering this kind of research partnership?

When reflecting upon the project retrospectively, a really important moment that became evident was the consideration regarding which elements of the research findings needed to be retained by the company for future business endeavours, and which elements could be shared with the broader community.

In academic contexts, sharing the complete set of research findings is the norm. This approach is paramount to the research field, as the more that is shared, the more a field of research can grow as researchers from across institutions and countries working on similar problems can learn from each other. Therefore, by sharing some of the QB project’s findings the results can inform and support other ballet practitioners and organisations working with older adults, particularly in providing support for advocacy for these types of programs. As mentioned earlier, the published findings have also led to tangible outcomes for QB, too.

To find out more about Ballet Moves for Adult Creative Health, please visit



About the Author

Dr Anja Ali-Haapala
Audience Researcher / Dance Practitioner

Anja is an Audience Researcher and Dance Practitioner based in based in Brisbane, QLD.