COVID-19 Made The Dance World Accessible

I'm a huge campaigner for making the arts accessible, particularly the dance industry. Being a disabled dancer, teacher and choreographer I strive to make opportunities for people who would love to also take part in the art. My journey has certainly not been easy. But during the Coronavirus pandemic, I have definitely seen the industry change and I can only hope it's the start of a continuing process.

Photo by Hannah Todd Photography. Myself and Tilli Conway

The Barriers 

The barriers I've faced re-entering the dance world, but as a disabled person, are phenomenal. Getting adaptations for teaching exams are the least of the concerns when out in the 'real world', the industry is just not ready. 

Accessing a dance studio which is accessible is nearly unheard of. One which has the correct facilities which involves disabled toilets, changing, easy parking and no stairs. Currently, at the studio I teach at, I have a parent carry my wheelchair up some stairs then help me up. It's demoralising. Not to mention, the 3 days it puts me in bed. It's not the studio's fault; it's simply because there aren't accessible studios or easy modifications available. 

Becoming a disabled teacher & dancer was always extra difficult too. You are constantly judged because you are in a wheelchair. I went to cover a class and I had a manager say she needed to 'shadow' my session to make sure everyone was enjoying themselves. No-one else that day had this treatment. Thankfully, where I teach now fully trusts my abilities and the fact I've danced on TV helps back me up in any situation which may arise. But, I shouldn't have to justify myself. I have the same qualification everyone else has.

I have to invest in thousands of pounds more of equipment, mainly being a sports wheelchair to teach. I'm currently saving for a new one, as my current one isn't safe, but if disabled people want to dance and are over 18 there is little (or no!) funding to access suitable wheelchairs for both dancing or teaching. Other equipment I need that others may not is a bluetooth system, a phone stand for my wheelchair, a headset and a PA for each session. 

Finally, many classes are just not accessible. People contact me daily and say 'do you know if there's a wheelchair ballet class in Manchester' and there aren't many specific disabled classes set up. So, I always advise going along to an able bodied class and adapting it yourself. But, that requires the studio being accessible and the teacher allowing it. I've had many people being turned down because they are in a wheelchair and it's just not right. If you have a class and an accessible studio, with a disabled dancer who wants to join, please allow them to come. You can always contact me about how to adjust classes.

The Coronavirus and the Dance World

I started off putting inclusive dance sessions online on Instagram every week, then saw big studios like Base had their regular choreographers providing free sessions every day on their own feeds. I've always wanted to take a class at Base, but the fact it was now online, free and I could do it from home was amazing. The beauty of this is that the live videos are saved for 24h too, so if you aren't feeling well when the Live class is taking place, you could always take part the next day. I've took part in a few classes now, including The Greatest Dancer star Ainsley Rickett and it's been incredible for me. I wouldn't usually have access to things like this, as there are very limited classes in my area, so I've had a brilliant week.

Dance stars such as Darcey Bussell and Oti Mabuse are streaming online sessions. More children, and adults, are now able to access professional dance sessions and are making it part of their daily routine. Theatres such as Sadler Wells are providing full length performances, workshops and even virtual tours. This isn't just revolutionary for people who have chronic illnesses who can't leave the house to attend things like classes or productions. This is ideal for those in poverty too, who couldn't afford to see multiple (or any!) theatre productions or pay for dance classes. 

I had now switched all my 'normal' sessions to online ones. These are all Live and online, but I have the option to pre-record if I'm not feeling well. The ability to pre-record sessions is something which I wouldn't be able to do at a studio, so is a nice 'fall back plan' for me if I'm not feeling my best and allows me to make more sensible decisions about my health. I'm also able to keep in touch with more students, as one of my students I train requires an hours drive to a studio whilst linking up via video call takes seconds, so again this saves me so much energy. Of course, it isn't the same as teaching in person and there is a massive issue of space, but I'm enjoying adapting (yet again) to a new situation.

The Future

As the pandemic carries on, I predict the dance world will continue to grow more online. I wouldn't be surprised if there are more events, festivals, workshops and performances streamed throughout the next few months. My hope though, is that after this is over, organisations and instructors consider making their sessions accessible for all. Whether that's welcoming all abilities to class, streaming a session a week so people can join in at home or helping those with disabilities access the arts in your area. There is a clear need for this and I hope the dance world will see this.

Kate x

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