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Dancestars "We're not just a dance group but a supportive community"

Dancestars offers classes and performance opportunities for young people with disabilities in Sheffield. They told us more about what the group does – and why.

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Members of Dancestars performed at the Special Olympics opening ceremony in 2017.

Dancestars.

Starting life as a project of Activity Sheffield in 2013, Dancestars was taken over by parents in 2016 when the funding was cut. It continues to flourish today.

Since September 2022 dance teacher Carly has taken over managing the group and works with parents to find opportunities for the group to perform, as well as looking after their social media accounts.

Dancestars provides an inclusive and supportive environment where young people of all abilities can enjoy the benefits of dance. It has grown to include a diverse range of members with different disabilities, ages and dance experience levels. The group has performed at numerous events and venues, including the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics in 2017.

(Questions answered by Janet Chelliah with input from Lucinda Froggatt, Nikki Chowdry and Carly Winter)

Can you tell us a little about your dance group and how it supports young people with disabilities?

It gives our young people an opportunity to be physically active, to socialise and to build confidence. Families feel supported too, as families of similar age children and interests are able to share their experiences.

Friendships have developed in the group – they look forward to their Monday sessions. They have a dance teacher who believes in them and who encourages them. It's not just a community group – it's a family.

How do you promote inclusivity and make sure everyone feels welcome in the group?

We're not just a dance group but a supportive community, and we have a teacher who is able to create a great rapport with the kids. The dancers themselves are welcoming to new starters and we have two groups based on age, allowing each child to progress independently at their own pace.

Tell us about the Breaking Glass Ceilings film.

‘Breaking Glass Ceilings’ is a 30-minute short film made just before the pandemic. We worked with two Sheffield filmmakers, Matt Glaz and Joe Tonks, and the film was directed and produced by four mothers who have children in the group. Since its release, it's been selected by two film festivals, 4theatre selection and the Kurdistan International Independent Film Festival, enjoyed private screenings at the Showroom and Sheffield Children's Hospital to health professionals, and featured as part of a course for nursing students. We don't miss a chance to promote awareness around disability. We want to continue to encourage people to watch this film.

We’ve also made another film for World Down Syndrome Day with filmmaker Michael Strachan Brown.

We choose to make films because we are proud parents – we want to raise awareness and educate society. It’s great for our dancers to be seen in a film while telling their story and we want to encourage similar groups to be formed.

What are your hopes for the impact of Dancestars?

Our dancers are out in the community dancing, showing people they are talented and know how to have fun. They are role models for the younger generation. Having a disability doesn’t mean they are worthless, doesn't mean they have sad lives, doesn’t mean they don’t have a family who love them so much, doesn’t mean they can only bring about negativity, doesn’t mean they don’t have a social life.

Is there anything you wish more people understood about your dancers and your work?

We want you to know and understand what life is like for people with disabilities and their families. It can be challenging in certain aspects. The challenges may be different to a typical family but also it’s possible for us to live a family life like most families do.

We also know that siblings do not see disability but see each other as individuals. They enrich each other’s lives and many siblings of a disabled person go into the health profession.

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"Our dancers are out in the community dancing, showing people they are talented and know how to have fun"

Dancestars.

People with a learning disability tend to take longer to learn and may need support to develop new skills, understand complicated information and interact with other people. However, individuals with Down Syndrome can experience the same feelings as anyone else. There’s a lot of misconceptions but people [with Down Syndrome] can read, write, count and tell the time, work, have hobbies, be responsible for their own self care and form close friendships, have sexual relationships and find long-term partners.

What our young people need is for society to treat them as respectable human beings. To talk to them, not at them, to listen to them, to give them time to understand what you may be saying to them, to ask them what they want.

How can people get involved?

We want to continue making films as our dancers move on in their lives and are currently raising money for our next film. Follow our social media sites or get in touch if you want to donate money or help us fundraise. We’re on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook and we’d love to hear from you.

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