UK Disability History Month 2019

UK Disability History Month 2019It’s UK Disability History Month and for 2019 the focus is on disabled leaders throughout history and their struggle for acceptance. We wanted to write a blog about how DanceSyndrome empowers people with disabilities to be leaders through dance.


UK Disability History Month 2019 will examine how the leaders of the disabled peoples movement managed to change the way disability was seen as a personal burden to a human rights issue through using the social model of disability from 1970 to the present. The celebration will look at earlier examples of individual and collective resistance to the oppression disabled people have faced at work, in education, in their local community and at home. It will also examine the struggles of disabled people from earlier times for fairness and equality and a life worth living.


At DanceSyndrome we are proud to be disability led, with people with learning disabilities being involved at all levels of our organisation, including on our Board of Directors.


Our approach to disabled leadership has been recognised on a national level, with our Dance Leader team winning several high profile accolades including:


  • Winner of The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Services 2019, the voluntary group equivalent of an MBE
  • Included on the Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List 2019 (Dance Leader Team) and 2018 (Becky Rich as an individual leader)
  • Winner of The People’s Choice Award at the National Learning Disability and Autism Awards 2019
  • Winner of Charity of the Year at the E3 Business Awards 2018
  • Winner of the Not-For-Profit Award at the Red Rose Awards 2017
  • Sporting Chance Award winners – The National Learning Disability and Autism Awards 2016
  • DanceSyndrome Founder Director Jen Blackwell won Inspirational Woman of the Year at the EVA Awards 2015, was included in the Shaw Trust Power 100 2018 & 2019, The Lucozade Sport Movers List 2019 and was chosen as the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Point of Light Award in October 2018.


DanceSyndrome believes in true inclusion. Our opportunities empower participants to focus on their abilities, rather than their disabilities. For inclusion to be successful, it is necessary to work closely with people as individuals to find out their hopes, dreams and passions and then to work  to enable and empower people to fulfil their goals.


Our unique Dance By Example Leadership Training empowers people with and without learning disabilities to become Dance Leaders and to gain the knowledge, skills and ability to co-deliver their own inclusive dance sessions. There isn’t training like this available elsewhere in the UK for people with disabilities!


At DanceSyndrome, inclusion starts with dance, but it can be applied to so many more activities. We try to put inclusion into action in all aspects of our work.


Perhaps the best example of DanceSyndrome’s inclusive approach was the formation of our Select Team.


We work with a lot of talented individuals, with and without disabilities, who have lots of amazing ideas for driving the charity forward and lots of skills that we want to enable them to develop. We decided to set up a regular forum for our dancers with learning disabilities to share information, ideas and feedback. We know it is important for people to have their voices heard and we wanted to make sure that all of our dancers had that opportunity.


Dance Leader Becky Rich suggested the name of “Select Team” for this group and the group agreed on it. Becky also took the role of Co-Chairperson for the first meeting and for future meetings the role of Co-Chairperson will be shared between any group members who would like to take a turn. This group was formed to help inform the decisions made by the charity trustees but the group also wanted to publicly celebrate and share their ideas, so we started by blogging about each of their meetings and this evolved into them creating their own video messages which summed up their meetings.



The outcome of these meetings is that the dreams and needs of the Dance Leaders are made clear to the Board of Directors and the team of people who co-ordinate DanceSyndrome’s activities and funding. This has resulted in some incredible projects, including two trips to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, TV auditions, participation in UDance Festival at a national level, an Arts Council funded choreography project and the forthcoming DanceSyndrome showcase event. It has also changed the shape of our dance provision, as the following example shows.


Another example of DanceSyndrome being disability led is the formation of our street dance crew. DStreet Crew came into being after some of our regular participants voiced their opinions in a focus group that was held to allow their voices to be heard and drive the charity forward. They wanted more variety in the types of dance offered to them, and in particular, they wanted to do some street dance. The DanceSyndrome team took this on board and planned a series of 6 workshops in late 2017 that would introduce participants to the basics of street dance. The response to the sessions was incredibly positive. The participants loved the content of the sessions, and Donna Harrison the Dance Artist running the sessions was impressed with the participants’ natural talent for street dance. But that wasn’t enough for the group, they wanted to perform too! They decided that they wanted to form a proper street dance crew and arrange some performances. They worked as a team to chose a name and develop their own logo. They were all asked for their ideas and they decided on colours, styles and fonts that they liked and the final design was printed onto uniform chosen by the team. The DStreet Crew has gone on to perform at several high profile events and even auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent! The model that they requested for street dance has been replicated with other dance styles and as a result DanceSyndrome now also offers Jazz, Ballet and Contemporary sessions – great leadership from our Dance Leaders!



We think that this is a great example of inclusion, which is why we are proudly sharing it to demonstrate why inclusion and disabled leadership matters. Participants with and without disabilities worked together at all stages of this project, all being given equal chance to participate, to share their opinions and to influence the future of their shared team. We are incredibly proud of what they are achieving together, following a shared dream and achieving their own goals!



If you are inspired by the work we do and would like to find out more about how you can become involved, please visit the Support Us page.


We no longer have major funding to support our core activities, so donations are vital to our future. If everybody who has been inspired by our work could spare £1 a month to support our work, we would be able to fully fund our work.


If you can spare £1 per month to help us, please text DANCE to 70201 or you can donate directly using the form below:


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