Step Change Studios

A Fairy Tale for The Greatest Dancer

Step Change Studios returns to the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells to present Fairy Tales: a ballroom-inspired show which brings together 20 disabled and non-disabled artists from the UK to present original dance. New to this year’s cast is Andrew Self. Passionate about ballroom dance, Andrew came to public attention on BBC’s The Greatest Dancer. Andrew tells us about preparing for his Sadler’s Wells debut and shares his passion for dance.

Hi Andrew, could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a 22 year-old student at The Orpheus Centre, which is a specialist college for young disabled adults with a passion for the performing arts. My love of ballroom dance began when I was 11 years old and I started watching the TV show Strictly Come Dancing. I thought it was brilliant and would copy all the moves from the telly.

Tell us about your dance experience.

I absolutely love dancing, especially performing. I dance wherever I can find the opportunity. I learn different styles of dance but mainly focus on ballroom and contemporary. Dancing makes me feel happy, fit and free. I have Down’s Syndrome but I like to call it Dance Syndrome. It can mean that I sometimes find things a bit tricky to learn and have to work harder but it doesn’t stop me doing anything. I have found that the best teachers are people who support me to learn by taking things slowly, being patient, giving me visual prompts such as using video to help me learn, and making sure I’ve understood what I have to do. Most importantly, I love to be challenged.

Andrew Self. Image: Sophie Mayanne

You auditioned for Fairy Tales – what was that like?

I was really looking forward to auditioning for Fairy Tales. I wanted to do something different and the opportunity sounded exciting. I was delighted to show Rashmi, the Producer of Fairy Tales, my moves. We danced some waltz and cha-cha together and then I was invited to show other dance styles, so I demonstrated some foxtrot and a paso doble. When Rashmi told me I was going to be in the show I was very excited – it was Fairytaletastic!

How are rehearsals for Fairy Tales going?

I couldn’t wait to start rehearsals. I am learning a duet and will be dancing with a professional ballroom dancer Clair to the song Someone to Watch Over Me. For me, the story is about an angel looking after me. Sometimes we dance the same moves apart and sometimes we dance together. I adore the music because it reminded me of my Nan. It makes me feel peaceful and emotional and a little bit thoughtful.

Andrew Self. Image: David White

My rehearsals have been going well and I am really enjoying preparing the piece. Clair is the best dance partner. The choreography is challenging and I am finding the turns quite tricky but I improve in every session. I practice with videos taken during the rehearsals. Rashmi also sends me written tips of things to practice and think about in between. I am feeling very excited about the show and can’t wait to get on stage with a live audience! My Orpheus dance teacher is coming to see me and is looking forward to seeing how I do with my ballroom holds and steps.

What advice would you give to disabled people looking to start dancing?

My advice for people with disabilities that want to dance but might be nervous or think it is not for them is to just go for it, have fun and be resilient. It’s amazing what can happen when you follow your passions. My absolute dream would be to dance on Strictly Come Dancing but the fairy tale for me is to keep dancing.

Image: David White

Step Change Studios present Fairy Tales in the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells on 27 June. Tickets are available now priced at £17 and concessions at £8.50, by calling the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

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.