Large group of dancers practising a routine in a studio

Inclusive dance at Beaumont College

Sarah has worked at Scope’s Beaumont College since 2007 and was originally employed as Dance Artist in Residence. She was blown away by the students, their ability and potential, so she studied to become a tutor and is now a Pathway Coordinator for Independent Lifestyles and Vocational Skills, with a focus on creative arts.

She teaches and makes sure the students are maximising their opportunity at Beaumont as well as having plans for when they graduate.

Part of my challenge here in Lancaster is to develop more opportunities for young people with learning and physical disabilities within the arts. I do this by developing links with arts organisations, which is how I became involved with The Big Dance.

Here at Beaumont, we’ve taken part in The Big Dance since 2012. A group of students from the college who have since graduated, learnt and then performed The Big Dance choreography. They were invited to perform it in a short film at the Olympic Village in London, and it was played across the world as the dance premiered.

This partnership led to further discussions with Richard Parr, the Producer from People Dancing, to think more about accessibility. These changes could really be seen in 2014’s choreography, where a broader range of people were included in the launch film.

Every year, here at the college we’ve adapted and interpreted this fantastic opportunity to dance and it has brought the community together to enjoy sharing movement. We have worked with local schools, community centres and brought a little bit of sparkle to the everyday grind in corridors at the college too.

This year, I was invited to be a Guest Artist Adviser as part of the creative process, in which they choreograph the Big Dance and the Schools Pledge. You can watch Akram Khan, internationally acclaimed choreographer talk about why he wants everyone to embrace dance. Amran Khan talking about the Big Dance

“I work in an outstanding college”

Fortunately I work in an outstanding college that supports and values innovation. I sit amongst many ‘Change Makers’, so I was supported to be able to impact on this national campaign. I hope also that it will help others who don’t identify with being a ‘dancer’ to get involved and have a go at expressing themselves.

On 6 November, after a 4am start, three trains and a long walk in the rain, I arrived at the dance studio in Roehampton University where I met Akram Khan and 30 dance students. They insisted that I participate in the warm up which was a great way to break the ice and fortunately not any of my muscles! After the warm up, I was able to watch The Big Dance choreography for the first time. It was a very rare treat.

But what could I offer? Well, that’s what I worried about to begin with. I’m a dance tutor at a specialist college in little old Lancaster and I’m not disabled myself. However, I could advocate for all the young people I’ve adapted choreography with and for. Young people who are unable to voice their own passions and needs.

Young people who explore their own physical capabilities, explore techniques and develop their creative and physical voice every day. I’ve learnt so much about dance through working at Beaumont, about the value and power of all movement and the contribution of all bodies as different, but equal.Sarah sitting with other people in a dance studio

I talked to Akram Khan about this and asked about what was important in his choreography.

I saw a change of emphasis from the creative team as they moved from specific movements being of great importance, to them considering and discussing what the significant points of the choreography are. They discussed what was more important: the convention of exactly mirroring the movement by these non-disabled dancers or the intention behind each movement being explored and interpreted.

They acknowledged the value in all responses to the choreography. Thankfully, my presence in the room was a significant development that showed a real shift in approach.

I’m excited to see how they’ve taken our input on board. I’ll continue to drive forward change for the young people I work with, and make sure their voice is heard to create new, exciting opportunities that provide rich and meaningful life experiences.

The Big Dance Pledge is now available,  with a worldwide performance day on 20 May. The Big Dance Week is 2-10 JulyFind out more and sign up!

Interested in Beaumont College courses? Visit their website and find out about inclusive dance