Disabled students inspired to dance

Students dancing from The Vale School, Haringey

Students dancing from The Vale School, Haringey

Demand for dance classes from children with learning and physical disabilities soared in the months following the Paralympics, according to figures released the Royal Academy of Dance.

Nearly four hundred students with varying degrees of disability signed up for Step into Dance, the largest sustainable community dance programme in the UK.  Operating in over 200 schools throughout London and Essex, Step into Dance provides free, quality dance teaching to students of all abilities aged 11-18 years old.

Over six thousand students are taking part in the 2012-2013 programme, of which 1,137 are students with special needs, representing an increase in demand of over a third.

Sue Goodman, Artistic Director of Step into Dance commented,“Prior to last summer, many disabled students would not have considered taking part in dance lessons. However, the Paralympics has motivated them to see beyond their physical restrictions, and to be inspired by the possibilities that dance can offer.”

According to Sue Goodman, the Paralympics had a dramatic impact on students and was the catalyst for positive change:  “The Paralympics gave young people role models and a chance to see what is possible. Students can only aspire to greatness if they see it in front of them.”

Disabilities need not restrict a child’s participation in dance, as the skills learnt are many and varied:  “Dance helps children to express themselves, gain leadership skills, build confidence, communicate better and interact with others in a non-verbal way. Young people with learning or physical disabilities will gain these skills in exactly the same way as their more able-bodied counterparts.”

The Vale School, Haringey, which caters for children with special needs, has been on the Step into Dance programme for four years.  Twelve-year-old student and new dancer Jhonattan Goncalves, who has Cerebral Palsy and Left Hemiplegia, said of the Paralympics, “I now see that there are other people in the world like me [with disabilities who can dance].” When asked why he enjoys dancing with the Step into Dance program Jhonattan said,I like to dance because it makes me stronger and I can dance without my crutch. It makes me feel excited.”

Head of Expressive Arts at the Vale School, Richard Tharpe, commented: “Providing extra-curricular dance sessions with specially trained teachers – who understand the demands of students with special needs – means that we can offer a highly enjoyable and fun physical activity which boosts the confidence and self-esteem of our students.  Without access to activities like dance, the experiences and ultimately the life chances of many of these young people would be limited.”

Between 2011 and 2012, the Step into Dance programme provided 41 SEN (special needs) schools with both dance teaching and performance opportunities. Since the Paralympics, an additional twelve SEN schools have joined the programme.

Step into Dance is a partnership project between The Jack Petchey Foundation and the Royal Academy of Dance. The Jack Petchey Foundation gives grants to programmes and projects that benefit young people with the aim of raising their aspirations and helping them play a full part in society. Find out more about the project at www.stepintodance.org.

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