No matter what your disability, you should be able to take part in dance classes. It’s a great way to keep fit, meet new people and socialise with old friends. Our writer Tom Housden talks to Rashmi Becker, who set up Step Change Studios, a dance company that does exactly that – helps people of all abilities dance.
Step Change Studios caters to different ages and abilities. Can you explain more about the people you support to dance and how they find the experience?
I established Step Change Studios in response to a lack of inclusive dance opportunities for disabled people. Having worked in social care, and being guardian to my older brother who has autism, I was acutely aware of the limited opportunities for disabled people to be active, especially in Latin and Ballroom dance.
Around 10.7 million people watch BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing and there are 11.2 million people in the UK with a disability – 1 in 5 of us. So I wanted to enable more disabled people to dance.
In just over one year, Step Change Studios has helped almost 900 disabled people to dance, having delivered 220 hours of inclusive dance and created platforms for inclusive dance performances in front of more than 5,000 live audience members.
Participants have been as young as 4 years old, right up to people in their 90s. We have provided dance for people of all abilities. Participants have included those with learning disabilities, autism, Down’s Syndrome, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, paraplegia, sensory impairments, dementia, and life-limiting conditions.
Their disabilities might be different, but what they all have in common is a desire to dance. The feedback from participants highlights their enjoyment from dancing. It also shows the benefits, including making friends, building confidence, helping with balance, concentration and improving fitness. You can watch our video to learn more about what we do.
Dance can benefit health and wellbeing. In the case of people who are non-verbal, do you find that it serves as a form of communication?
Growing up with my brother, who is non-verbal and had challenging behaviour, music and movement was a way for us to play and connect. It also helped us to manage his anxiety and made him smile.
I have also seen the power of dance in my professional life through Step Change Studios. Feedback from participants, parents and carers has been resoundingly positive about the engagement and benefits being able to dance gives them. It is always personally rewarding when someone begins a class apprehensive and tentative, and then blossoms over time, sometimes over the period of the same session.
I have found that giving participants a focus and something to aim for, such as a performance, helps even more. This might be something informal, that they just do for themselves at the end of a programme. Or it might be something more ambitious, such as performing at a public arts festival.