Dance UK Conference

Laura talks about her involvement with Dance UK’s event, The Future: New Ideas, New Inspiration.

I had an amazing and jam packed time at the Dance UK, industry wide conference – The Future: New Ideas, New Inspiration, last weekend. I was honored to be asked to compare the online streaming of Thursday’s opening night celebrations along with Sarah Blanc. It was an excellent evening, with inspiring keynote speeches and stunning performances, a fitting start to the weekend.

Then on Friday, I spoke on a panel about the State of Dance in Education, along side Linda Jasper, Lizzie Crump, Ray Oudkerk and Tamsin Fitzgerald. We looked at how children and young people’s dance in and beyond school can be developed. I talked about my experience when I was taking my Dance A Levels and what we are doing currently in Stopgap to create accessible opportunities for aspiring young disabled dancers.  The session certainly sparked some interesting discussions.
You can read my notes from the speech below.

Saturday I was back, this time at Trinity Laban. The quality of presentations was great. I took part in some interesting sessions looking at dancers health, training, and psychology.  And Sunday I took my own advice and watched the online streaming from the comfort of my own home!

It was an excellent weekend full of sharing knowledge and making new connections. Well done to Dance UK for creating it.  I’m very excited to see the policy document that they are putting together from the weekend’s presentations and discussions, which will outline ambitions in the dance world for the next 5 years. And look forward to it helping to shape a healthier dance world of tomorrow.

Notes from my Speech
Dance has always been a passion of mine.  Like many young girls, I grew up taking dance classes, ballet, tap modern.  I got to the point where I wanted to do it more seriously, and enrolled in A-level dance with a view to a career in dance. However, a week into my course, I had a spinal bleed which left me paralysed from the chest down.  I thought that was the end of the dream.  I had no idea there could be a place for me in a world, which, at that age, I perceived as being all about high kicks and splits.
But, with the encouragement of my tutors, I returned to college and completed my A Levels. It was a difficult journey, as not only was I still getting to know my new body, but the course content was not designed with disabled students in mind.
I still have a clear memory of an essay we had to write about the 4 skills you need to be a dancer. They were Strength, Stamina, Flexibility and Coordination.
This only reinforced the myth that you have to conform to a certain body image to be successful.  I find it strange now, looking back on it, to think that even with my markedly different body type, I didn’t question these.
Thankfully, I stuck with the course, and all the hard work paid off and I became the first wheelchair user to compete 100% of the A Level dance syllabus.
I’m pleased to say that now, when leading teacher training sessions, that same question gets a very different answer; Creativity, Knowing your own body, Integrity, Passion, Determination, Presence.

Having completed my A Levels, I chose not to go to university to continue my studies. I didn’t want to spend another 3 years fumbling through a course that was not inclusive to my needs as a disabled dance student.  Instead I chose to explore the dance world, and thankfully found, auditioned for and joined Stopgap Dance Company.
Stopgap has always placed an equal importance on our education work. We are very aware of the serious issue of the inequality when it comes to opportunities for young disabled dancers. So, as well as many outreach and education projects in schools and other organisations, we have developed a cohesive progression of education and training initiatives.
Our newest and most exciting step is to introduce IRIS, our inclusive dance syllabus that gives dance teachers a well-founded framework to develop disabled dancers of tomorrow. The intention of IRIS being that as you progress, you continue with the first strand, Include, and accumulate the different strands, to provide multiple dance sessions and help develop a level playing field.
It is important, not only to support young disabled dancers, but to give their non-disabled peers the skills and confidence to work with disabled dancers in an integrated way.

Dance companies have a very important role to play in providing dance expertise to children and young people in and beyond schools and this work goes hand in hand with audiences development and the development of our artistic programmes.