Jen Blackwell has always loved to dance. However, when she left school with aspirations of becoming a dance leader, she was disheartened to find limited training opportunities for her and others like her. Jen has Downs Syndrome and saw this setback as an opportunity. She got to work creating DanceSyndrome, a charity providing accessible dance classes. Her idea took off and DanceSyndrome is now celebrating its tenth year running.
At its core, DanceSyndrome aims to create a space for young people to come together as a community and enjoy the benefits of dance, regardless of disability. Jen’s specific vision when developing it was of a dance company attended by and run by people with learning disabilities. Inspired by the power of dance to encourage healthy living and confidence in the young performers, Jen explains;
“Dancing is my life, I am passionate about dance and about supporting people like me to have opportunities in the dance world.”
DanceSyndrome has blossomed and become much more than just dance classes. It also offers dance leadership training for young people with disabilities to improve their skills in leadership, communication and health and safety.
One participant is Becky Rich. Becky also has Downs Syndrome and has had a passion for dance from an early age. After joining and thriving in a number of DanceSyndrome’s classes, she has recently completed the Dance By Example leadership course. Now, she’s been given the opportunity to become an ambassador and spokesperson for the company. For Becky, it’s been the personal benefits that have made the biggest impact on her. She explains;
“The best part is the friends that you make. We call it our dancing family because we all care about each other so much and we spend time together outside of dancing, too.”
While DanceSyndrome may have started out as a fun pastime to bring people together, over the ten years the charity has been running they have gained increasing recognition. Not only have they performed at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival in 2018 they have also made appearances on ITV. Members of the team have been nominated for a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service and Jen was recently awarded a Point of Light Award, which recognises outstanding UK volunteers.
With the talented dancers earning accolades and recognition across the UK, 2019 looks to be their busiest year yet. Dawn Vickers the managing director of the dance troupe has no doubts that the only way is up for the community of dancers. She said;
“The people who work with us are inspiring, and demonstrate that they have skills, talents and abilities – they are so much more than the label that comes with their disability.”