Tag Archives: inclusive

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.

This World Music Day, record breaking pianist Nicholas McCarthy shares his incredible story

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Nicholas McCarthy is a British pianist. Born without a right hand, he was the first left-hand-only pianist to graduate from the Royal College of Music in London in its 134-year history. 

As part of 30 Under 30 he chatted to us about his journey to success and talks about breaking barriers, his love of music and his advice for other young disabled artists. 

Here’s an extract from the full blog which we’ve shared on Medium, along with some of Nicholas’ music. 

I didn’t play piano until I was 14. I saw a friend of mine play a Beethoven piano sonata in assembly and I just had one of those moments where I thought “Oh my God, that’s what I’m going to do”. I had a small keyboard from years before so I got my parents to get it out of the loft and started really slowly learning. One day, my dad shouted up “Nick, turn the radio down” and it was actually me playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. So I said “It’s not the radio dad, it’s me” and there was a deathly silence from downstairs. Then they said “Do you want piano lessons? You’re quite good actually love!” — and of course I said yes.

After a two years of lessons my piano music teacher said I should go to a specialist school. My friend who played that Beethoven piano sonata had been to a specialist piano school with very high standards and I really wanted to go there. I knew I needed to audition so I rang up the headmistress. I remember it like it was yesterday. She said: “To be honest I haven’t got any time to see you because I don’t know how you can possibly play scales without two hands”. Being a cocky 15-year-old at this point, I replied: “I don’t want to play scales. I want to play music” and she put the phone down on me.

In my head, that was my one chance of becoming a concert pianist and I felt completely shattered. This woman, sadly, couldn’t think outside the box and I thought “That’s it, poor me”. Reality isn’t like that, there are many paths around things. I found a different way.

That wasn’t the only barrier that Nicholas has had to overcome. Head over to Medium to read about the path that he did take, which led to his record-breaking success at the Royal College of Music and performing at the London Paralympics 2012.

To hear more from Nicholas, visit his website and his YouTube channel.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish” – Francesca, the theatre star

Francesca Mills is a 20 year old actor who has achondroplasia, a common form of dwarfism. She is currently on tour with a Ramps on the Moon production,of the Government Inspector where she plays Maria.

As part of our 30 Under 30 campaign, she talks about inclusiveness in the industry and her top tips for breaking into the world of theatre.

Kids who are interested in performing arts and children who have gone to drama school are much more open-minded and much more accepting. They just love anything diverse. So this meant that breaking into the industry was never an issue for me. No-one has ever been like ‘you can’t do that because you’re disabled’, my family and friend are always 100% behind me.

Changing attitudes

I think roles in theatre for disabled people are very important in changing attitudes towards disability.

Audiences are very accepting without realising it. If you’re out on the street just living everyday life, you’ll get stares and people don’t quite understand but if you walk on stage playing a character, it’s different. Maybe in the first two minutes an audience member might be thinking ‘oh that’s a little person’, but then they’ve completely forgotten and they’re completely on board with what you’re doing.

It may also make them think ‘why do I over-think this? Disability really isn’t a big thing, it’s fine’.

It’s also really important for kids to see disabled actors represented in roles of authority. In the show I’m doing now we have a deaf judge, who’s also a woman, which is brilliant.

A group of disabled actors perform on stage. Fran, a young woman with dwarfism, smiles as a man with a cane kisses her hand.

How the industry has changed

I’m growing up in a time where people are starting to realise they should do projects that are inclusive. I’m lucky in a way that I’ve mainly seen the positive. People older than me have memories of a lot more prejudice. They’ve had a much more tough time which is good to know about because people can appreciate how it’s changed and how things are getting better.  It’s on the way up.

From my experience, a lot of casting directors are becoming more versatile and opening their gates to disabled actors for parts that aren’t specifically disabled parts. If they have a brief for a blonde haired girl with blue eyes, they might open it up to someone with an impairment and it’s not an issue.

I think we’ve still got a long way to go but it’s better than what it was.

Advice for others

If you really want to do it, just go for it, even if people question it. My motto is ‘a goal without a plan is just a wish’. If you want to get into acting think about how you’re going to do that.

Get involved in local amateur productions just to get some confidence, like I used to do. See if local theatres are auditioning. If you’ve got an appetite for it just go for it and everything else will fall into place.

Just have fun and enjoy it because it really is the best job in the world.

Top tips for breaking into the industry

Enjoy yourself

Have fun and let people know that you’re having fun, it’s really nice to see! I did Peter Pan in Wimbledon. I was playing Tinkerbell and there were kids playing the Lost Boys. Just seeing their faces when they were in the theatre and how excited they were was amazing. It’s just a really nice quality to have.

Go to the theatre

It’s important to go to actual shows and enjoy shows and see as many as you can.

Learn from everyone

Watch people and learn from them. With the amount of actors that you come across, make sure you ask questions. Watch their technique and etiquette. You can pick up a lot from people.

Never be late!

I’m ridiculous with how early I am. It makes you more relaxed when you get to the theatre and have plenty of time. Never leave anything until the last minute. Give yourself time to settle ahead of a brilliant day.

A large group of disabled actors perform on stage in a theatre. They are looking out to the audience with shocked faces.

Francesca is sharing her story as part of our 30 Under 30 campaign. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Read more from our #30toWatch on our website.

Watch Francesca perform in one of our End The Awkward shorts from last year.