Ten disabled people who entered a local dance competition never expected to be attending their film premier at the famous Odeon Leicester Square. But on Thursday 15th July at 10am they will see themselves dancing on the big screen at the home of world’s biggest blockbusters.
Dance Westminster is the City’s annual dance competition designed to encourage disabled people to be active. The initiative is a partnership between inclusive dance company Step Change Studios and Active Westminster. The ‘Strictly’ inspired competition pairs disabled people with professional dancers to learn a routine which they then perform in a Grand Finals. This year’s finals takes the form of special film screening of their performances, which will premiere at the Odeon Leicester Square.
This initiative is particularly important in promoting physical and mental wellbeing this year. Disabled people are twice as likely to be physically inactive compared with those without a disability. COVID-19 has exacerbated this, with disabled people at three times greater health risk from the virus and 56% being worried about leaving their home during this time to be active.
Rashmi Becker, founder of Step Change Studios and recently recognised with an MBE for services to disabled people said: “It is really heartening to see how disabled people in our community have adapted and brought such enthusiasm to learning in a very different way in light of the Covid-19 challenges. Participants have embraced learning to dance online and managing the different restrictions with real-life lessons. This makes it all the more impressive how well they have developed and how much fun they have continued to have being creative and active.”
Finalist Adrienne Armorer, from South London who has Multiple Sclerosis said: “For me, dance is a way to express myself. This outlet was particularly important for me during my career as a software engineer and I’m grateful that losing my mobility in 2007 has not stopped me from dancing. It’s great exercise, challenges my memory and boosts my confidence. I’ve never entered a dance competition before. I could never have imagined I’d be able to do such a thing using a wheelchair and I hope this is the first of many. Set your sights high and never give up”.
Dance Westminster is only in its second year but the organisers recognise that disabled people, many of whom had to self-isolate for extended periods of time, value the positive physical and mental benefits that dancing brings. Building on the success of the initiative, Westminster City and Step Change Studios are setting up three permanent dance programmes for disabled people so that more people can enjoy the benefits of dance.
Councillor Melvyn Caplan, Deputy Leader of Westminster City Council said: “Dance Westminster is an initiative that we are all very proud of. After COVID-19 lockdowns, it has been so important to find ways to boost physical and mental wellbeing. This unique initiative requires dedication and brings joy to participants, their families and all those involved”.