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Wheelfever Projects Community Interest Company 49 Ernesettle Crescent, Plymouth, PL5 2ET www.wheelfeverprojects.co.uk Tel: 07815285208 Email: wheelfeverprojects@live.co.uk

Pathways to the Profession for Disabled Dance Artists; Opening the Pathways. By Paula Hocking January 18th, 2012

Introduction Wheelfever Projects is a community dance project based in Plymouth. It was set up because we noticed there was a gap in the connection between the professional dance world, which was moving in inclusive practices and opening up the platform for disabled dance artists, with the reality that disabled young people and their families didn’t know that could be involved in dance. Background We started in 2007 when I was working as a Community Dance Practitioner in Youth Dance. My social circles included families with disabled children because my son is physically disabled … It is through these connections that I became aware that disabled kids felt excluded from dance as an art form. Although some of the kids that attend Special Schools had experienced some provision there wasn’t opportunity for them to be part of a dance group outside of the institute and therefore they weren’t experiencing the social, mental and physical benefits that are attributed to being part of a dance group that is readily available to their peers … and the stark truth for those in mainstream education was total exclusion from dance for reasons such as wheelchairs being a health and safety

risk or people/ teachers perception that a dancer is someone who needed to be able to walk or jump to take part. Because of their cultural view of dance, the parents that I spoke to couldn’t see how their kids could participate in dance but at the same time they felt uncomfortable that their young people were accepting that dance was something they weren’t included in. At this time there were no local Inclusive practices visible in the area to sign post these families to, so in response and as a point of research I offered a series of three Saturday workshops for exploration and creative play.

The young people,

predominantly boys, wanted to perform and so we choreographed a piece and I organised The Company is registered in England and Wales as a Community Interest Company limited by guarantee, reg no. 7518233.

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a showing. I invited Sue Smith to share some films, bringing the families and professionals together, with the intention to inspire the families and young people through the exposure of professional work … the whole experience opened a new world of creative possibilities. Using the momentum of the success of this event I rallied the skills and experience of Sue and Kuldip Singh-Barmi (both of the original Candoco), and developed a program that provides opportunities for disabled and non-disabled children and young people to explore dance together. My goal for Wheelfever was to provide a consistent regular class so that disabled young people have provision equal to their peers and I am pleased to say that we are managing to stay on track! Our Current Provision We have been joined by Jane Castree, a young choreographer, and as a team we are providing a spectrum of activities including; monthly access workshops and holiday clubs that focus on developing young peoples confidence as they explore their creative ideas and where enjoying movement is the emphasis … and we now run weekly sessions that are more disciplined to encourage the progression of the dancers who are keen to develop their movement and choreographic skills … out of this consistency some participants who have been nurtured through our work have formed a performance company, Crossing

Tracks…. And news hot off the press is that the Company, along with other youth dance companies, will be performing in ten schools in Plymouth as part of the Cultural Olympiad. Ethos Our ethos has grown from our collective experiences and values… 

As a community practitioner I enjoy facilitating the opportunity for people to participate in dance.

As a youth worker, I understand the value of relationships that develop within the group, my efforts are rewarded when I observe a young persons growth in confidence or when I notice how the transferable skills learned through a choreographic process makes a difference to how they may evaluate a situation … I am pleased when they begin to work towards their goals and when they believe they can achieve.

The Company is registered in England and Wales as a Community Interest Company limited by guarantee, reg no. 7518233.

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As a mum I understand that families deal with extra pressures and that at times life can feel like a battle in respect to a child’s situation, so where we can, we support families to find solutions to access our program, e.g. we promote independence by employing inclusion workers so the young people can be dropped off at the studio in the same manner their peers would be.

For the other lead dance artists it is all about the movement... which determines the quality of the work we deliver and the value put on the young peoples dance and creative voice … we have expectations and invite the young people to rise to the standard by affirming their efforts but continuously stretching them to raise their own game. The dancers respond to these expectations because they want to be taken seriously … if we created an environment that only says “thats lovely” with no challenge towards development then we create a patronising environment … one that, in my opinion, doesn’t care about their creative voice or their potential… potential is what might be possible … we are curious to see what is possible in the creative space and in the bigger picture when the chance is given.

We trust our art form and we acknowledge it is transformative and empowering. What happens in the space is valid and valuable to each individual and therefore to each other. Many young people are empowered through their involvement … but it is not therapy just equality.

We listen to what the young people want. We have a youth steering committee; they have ownership, they chose the name, designed the website and logo. They discuss how they want to change their bit of the world... they talk to each other about how they want to go in to the schools where they were excluded from dance to show them what they can do! They are leading our agenda for change and as we listen we are providing the platform for them to outwork their aspirations.

We supporting pathways to the profession. We have 3 students who currently have aspirations to spend their lives continuing to develop as artists. Each has a different inclination. 

One is at Plymouth University; we are able to support her development, through coaching and helping her with the academic learning gaps.

The Company is registered in England and Wales as a Community Interest Company limited by guarantee, reg no. 7518233.

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The second wants to be a dance teacher; we have spoken to her school and we are taking her through a Dance Leaders Award, she’s learning at her own pace, building confidence and developing the skills to plan and lead sessions and to reflect on her own practice.

A Connexions youth careers officer told a third student, that there was no point in him trying for the Btech in Performing Arts. We are making connection directly with the dance department at the college to pursue a conversation that at least explores the possibility.

Concluding thoughts By providing Young People with an Equal Opportunity to participate in practice and access training, we open the possibilities for the next generation to be skilled and confident artists. I bring your attention to Amelia, 5 … she will grow up knowing that she can dance!

The Company is registered in England and Wales as a Community Interest Company limited by guarantee, reg no. 7518233.

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Paula Hocking presentation  

was total exclusion from dance for reasons such as wheelchairs being a health and safety risk or people/ teachers perception that a dancer i...

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