Step Change Studios breaks the barriers to Ballroom

Inclusive dance company Step Change Studios recently premiered Fusion, the UK’s first inclusive ballroom showcase, in partnership with Sadler’s Wells. The show featured 20 disabled and non-disabled dancers, creating a synthesis of dance that aimed to redefine the genre. Audience members were resoundingly positive and described Fusion as ‘dance at its best’ and ‘incredible; produced a profound effect’. In this first-hand account, cast Member Amy Trigg shares her experience of working with the show and the wider world of the inclusive dance community. 

In 2006, I was sitting outside the staff room waiting for my dance teacher. I was the only wheelchair user at my school and Lisa, my dance teacher, was reaching out to the GCSE exam board to find out if I could be a GCSE dance student. I already knew that Lisa wouldn’t be taking ‘no’ for an answer. In September 2006 I became the first wheelchair-using GCSE dance student at my school – and I hope I’m not the last.

I’ve often been the only disabled person in the room. I never thought that was a problem until I started working in rooms where I was no longer ‘other’. It is a wonderful thing to be surrounded by people who have shared the same human experiences. It’s one of the reasons why I loved being part of Fusion at Sadler’s Wells – the UK’s first inclusive ballroom show, produced by Step Change Studios.

I hadn’t worked with Step Change Studios before Fusion. I’d heard of their work and read about them online. The inclusive arts community is small. If we don’t know each other, then we know of each other. Perhaps we don’t immediately recognise one another, but we can always discover common links and threads. Imagine going to a massive family barbeque where you don’t know anyone’s names, but you know that you’re all cousins.

I worked with the wonderful choreographer Ivana Ostrowski on my rumba solo. I had never done this style of dance before and was a little apprehensive. I come from a musical theatre background; I trained at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts and have mainly worked in plays, TV and musicals. Recently I’ve done some more lyrical work but rumba? Nope. Ivana was brilliant at breaking everything down for me. We made the dance quirky and full of character to compliment my style and make the transition into rumba less abrupt. Ivana hadn’t worked with a wheelchair-using dancer before so it felt like we were both baking the cake together.

Everyone at Sadler’s Wells was welcoming and enthusiastic about Step Change Studios and their work. Sometimes it’s a risk being a disabled artist in a show promoting inclusive work. Will it become a pity party? Will it become inspiration porn? Well, if you were at the show then you’ll know that it was neither of those things. Yes, it was inspiring, but not because we were disabled people who’d managed to integrate ourselves into the muggle world. It was inspiring because the standard of the work was good. Very good. And I’m not tooting my own horn, I’m tooting everyone else’s. I got to watch the show on a screen backstage and the whole time I was thanking the Inclusive Gods that so much thought, time and talent had gone into making the show.

Being a part of Fusion has encouraged me to look into other dance styles. For most of my training and early career I was the only wheelchair dancer in my little bubble.  I created my own vocabulary and adaptations, but I realise now that I don’t always have to do it alone. Many dancers have adapted and refined their work before me, and now I feel in a position to take advantage of that.

In the future I hope that we don’t need inclusive dance shows. I hope we just have dance shows. Until then I’m going to relish in championing companies like Step Change Studios, Candoco, StopGap, Graeae, Ramps on the Moon, Birds of Paradise Theatre Company and many more who are creating quality, accessible work with disabled and non-disabled artists. Thank you Step Change Studios for including me in Fusion. What an exciting time.

A trailer for Fusion can be seen below:

Photo credit: Stephen Wright Photography.

Film credit: David Kaplowitz.