DanceSyndrome helps those with learning disabilities to follow their dreams in dance and leadership roles, offering specialist training for those who need it.

The charity was founded in 2009 by Jen Blackwell, who has Down’s Syndrome, and her mum Sue. 10 years before, Jen had just left public school, but she found herself unable to fulfill her ambition of becoming a community dance leader because there was no suitable training for a person with a learning disability.

DanceSyndrome was formed to change this pattern and give opportunities to people like Jen who want to get into the world of dance. In addition to performances and events, the group provides five fully inclusive community workshops, allowing anyone of any race, gender or disability to participate. Each workshop is designed and co-led by a learning-disabled Dance Leader, and supporting Dance Artist.

The organisation conducted research with its participants, and found out that many report improvements in their lives. This includes feeling physically fitter, improved mental health, a better social life and having a sense of belonging and being included.

Inspired by the positive response to the workshops, DanceSyndrome developed a training course called Dance By Example which provides unique dance leadership opportunities for people with learning disabilities, or anyone who wants to support those with similar needs. The course empowers people by developing their skills and confidence, enabling them to deliver dance workshops and work with people with a variety of different needs.

All of this activity has grown since 2009. After 10 years of unsuccessfully searching for the right training, Jen and Sue took matters into their own hands, and formed DanceSyndrome.

The following year, Jen placed an advertisement looking for dancers and got over 100 enquiries back. She selected 14 dancers to work with, half of whom had learning disabilities. Over the years, the group has grown into a dedicated, and inclusive group of learning-disabled Dance Leaders and performers , regular community workshops and training others to become dance leaders.

Peter holding his Lifetime Achievement Award

Peter Pamphlett, 40, from Salford, was one of those original 14 dancers and has been a vital member of DanceSyndrome ever since.

As a child, Peter had a speech impediment and was unable to communicate what he was thinking and others found it difficult to understand him.

Although frustrating for Peter, he and his dad worked hard and created a technique of breathing, filling his lungs and then speaking. It showed great results, and to this day Peter uses this technique to coach others.

“What we are doing hasn’t happened before, it’s unique.”

School was challenging, until he moved to Claremont Primary in Salford, a special school that nurtured and supported him. This support continued through secondary school, and Peter’s confidence grew after securing a place on the school council, where he set up drama group, ‘So Many Words Theatre Company’.

He stated that: “Before I joined DanceSyndrome, I did bits of dancing with the youth club that I volunteer with, but not much. I did some drama too but I couldn’t find a good, regular dance activity until I saw DanceSyndrome advertised.

“What we are doing hasn’t happened before, it’s unique.”

Years later, and Peter is striving to be the change he wants to see in the world by leading a busy life. On a weekly basis he volunteers at YouCan Community Club and also goes to a disability social night called ‘Top Club’ in Salford where he runs activities, supports trips out and even DJ’s for discos. Peter also volunteers for the Ring And Ride Service in Salford, where he supports individuals with transport to youth clubs.

In DanceSyndrome, Peter is a dance leader and helps leads workshops, attend core company rehearsals, co-delivers training and even delivers presentations at conferences.

He said: “Thanks to DanceSyndrome I have done so many things I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. We performed on Comic Relief in 2013, we have been to the Edinburgh Fringe twice (2017 and 2018) and have performed to hundreds of people at big conferences and awards ceremonies.

“The performances are always really moving for the audiences and it’s an amazing feeling to hear people cheering loudly and giving us standing ovations!”

Peter has incorporated his own experiences with his students, to make sure they get the help he had when he was younger.

“There are times when I feel very proud of myself too. When I was leading a training session in Nottingham a professional Dance Artist said to me that I had made the instructions so clear and explained it in a way she had never thought to do. It’s a great feeling to know that you can help people who have been professionally trained to learn new things and see a new way of doing things that includes everyone.”

For more information on DanceSyndrome, check out their official website.

Photo Credits: DanceSyndrome

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