Head and shoulders shot of Jess looking up at the camera, resting her chin on her hand, on a wooden floor

With dance you’re free to move the way you want. You don’t think about being disabled.

It’s International Dance Day so we chatted to Jess, a 13-year-old dancer, who was born with Bilateral PFFD. In this blog she talks about how she got into dance, what she loves about it and shares a couple of her performances. 

I was born with a condition called Bilateral PFFD. It means that my thigh bones didn’t develop in the womb. I am also missing the fibula, one of the bones in the lower leg. I was born with feet but they were amputated when I was two and a half. I’ve also had a couple of other surgeries to fix a problem with the bone in my right leg.

I got into dance when I was about 11 because I’d been watching a TV show called The Next Step. I really enjoyed the concept of dance and how it impacted on people’s lives. So that was the start of everything. We have a dance hall at my school so during breaks and lunches I’d go in there. We also had dance classes in year 7 and 8, which I really enjoyed. I don’t have dance classes now that I’m in year 9 but on a Tuesday after school I go to a break dance club, then I go to a contemporary dance club. That’s really fun as well.

I don’t think about being disabled

With dance I like the way that you’re so free to move the way you want to and it’s just a really nice, free environment. I really like hip hop and break dance because that’s fun to mess around to. I like contemporary dance because you can show emotions through it and it’s easy to let your anger out or let your sadness out or whatever. I really like Candoco which is a dance company of disabled and non-disabled dancers. I’ve done a couple of things with them.

When I’m adapting my dancing, I just kind of figure it out as I go along. Like, when people are fully using their legs, I might mimic that with my hands or cancel that bit out and carry on with the arms. I’m pretty good at moving across the floor. Practice helps too. Once you’ve done it, especially when you’ve been at a club for a while and you know the choreographer’s style of dance, you can adapt the moves. A lot of my dance moves are improvised – I just move with the music.

I also do wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball. When I find a sport that I really like or I find that I can move really well with it, I stick with it. It’s nice because you don’t think about being disabled, everyone’s just the same.

Jess Dowdeswell 2

Focus on what you can do

My school is pretty good in terms of inclusivity. They helped me get into sports and accommodated me. It might have been a little bit difficult getting involved in dance at first because I have to adapt it but all the people I dance with are really kind and nice so I’ve been quite lucky.

My advice for other disabled kids would be: focus on the stuff that you can do, not what you can’t do. I haven’t really experienced any negative attitudes but I’m sure there are people who have their doubts. A couple of years ago one of my friends from church, who’s a teacher, was having a conversation with her class about sport and the kids were saying “oh disabled people wouldn’t be able to do sports” that kind of thing. So I  went in with my mum and had a conversation with the kids. It was good to be able to give them a different perspective.

If you have a story you’d like to share, get in touch with Scope’s stories team.

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