Rashmi Becker on Dance and Disability

On 9 May, inclusive dance company Step Change Studios will present a dance showcase at Sadler’s Wells’ Lilian Baylis Studio. Founder Rashmi Becker shares her journey into inclusive dance and creating Fusion.

One of my earliest memories is holding my brother’s hands and swinging side to side to music. He has a huge smile of his face. What I didn’t appreciate then was the significance of this simple activity. We were connecting, communicating, being creative, escaping. My brother has autism and he is non-verbal.

As I became an adult, I increasingly began working with disabled people in a social care setting. My love of dance persisted. I was acutely aware of the sedentary lives of many of the people I came into contact with. When I became a Board Member of the English Federation of Disability Sport my observations became fact as I learned about the lack of opportunities for disabled people to be active. 1 in 5 people in the UK has a disability. Disabled people are twice as likely to be inactive than non-disabled people yet 7 out of 10 disabled people want to be more active. With the popularity of BBC’s Strictly and a host of other dance shows, I was increasingly being asked to perform and support disabled people, to dance at one-off events. After every event people would say they wanted to keep dancing and I promised to find opportunities. This proved more challenging than I thought so I decided to try to play a part in creating opportunities.

With a vote of confidence and seed funding from the Dance Enterprise Ideas Fund, which includes Sadler’s Wells among its partners, I established Step Change Studios. The single purpose was to enable people to dance. From grassroots to professional level, I was keen to support people who have never danced to have a go, and to promote talent and leadership that will support the growth and sustainability of a diverse dance sector. I thought things would start slow but the demand has been amazing and reflects the appetite for accessible dance. In the first 10 months over 900 children and adults had participated in dance with Step Change Studios – most for the first time.

Over the past year, I have been struck by the kindness and generosity of dance colleagues. When I was conceiving Step Change Studios I approached a number of artists who were open in sharing their experience and encouraging of my efforts. I have continued to be met with support and enthusiasm by colleagues in the sector. I am therefore thrilled to be collaborating with so many of these artists to present Fusion, the UK’s first inclusive Latin-Ballroom inspired showcase supported by Sadler’s Wells, Arts Council England and the Dance Enterprise Ideas Fund. This unique showcase brings together disabled and non-disabled artists to perform original dance pieces ranging from Tango to Rumba, but also drawing inspiration from genres such as Charleston and Swing. As well as UK talent, the showcase will feature an exclusive performance by the world wheelchair ballroom dance champion and his partner from Poland, who will also lead an open masterclass.

The aim of Fusion is to entertain, engage and inspire audiences and encourage experimentation and collaboration that will open up dance to more people at every level.

My parting wisdom: if you work with good people who share your values, good things will happen.

Step Change Studios present Fusion in the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells on 9 May. Tickets are available now priced at £17 and concessions at £8.50, by calling the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.