The disabled dancers taking centre stage

10 October 2018 | Midlands

SideKick dance

An incredible dance company for people with disabilities is changing lives.

With five star reviews and delighted audiences every night, Fiddler on the Roof at the Curve Theatre in Leicester this summer was a show the whole city could be proud of.

But one group of performers had extra reason to enjoy its success.

The SideKick dance company, for people with disabilities, played a key part in the show.
To help them take part, producers made sure the production was fully inclusive, made everywhere wheelchair friendly, and ensured the lyrics sheet was large enough for everyone to read.

The result was an all-singing, all-dancing example of how when people help people, it’s a good thing for the whole community.

SideKick was set up in Leicester in 2013 by Charlotte Tomlinson, Simon Coopey and Kirsty Clarke to give young people aged 11-18 the chance to express themselves and make friends. It proved so popular than an adult group started the next year and there is an outreach programme in schools, with a further group for younger children in the pipeline.

Charlotte, 34, said: “This is something I’ve wanted to do since I was 14 but it took time to feel confident to start a company. These classes are not just about exercise. They also give the dancers a sense of purpose and belonging, and an opportunity to express themselves. It gives them an outlet and a way of managing emotions. For example, one family told us their child was never confident enough to speak to anyone until she came to SideKick.”

The classes take place on Wednesday afternoons at Curve Theatre during term time and include participants with physical disabilities as well as cerebral palsy, autism and Down’s syndrome.

Charlotte said: “As well as dance training, they get to socialise, as one of our key aims is to tackle isolation. For a number of our dancers, this is the only time they get out of the house, especially once they leave school.”

The teachers are helped by a cast of volunteers, who include ex-students, people studying for dance degrees, parents and those who simply want to lend a hand. Charlotte said: “We have ten who attend on a weekly basis but our annual show was supported by 80 volunteers.”

Primary school teacher Lauren Russell, 32, danced as a child but had to give up as her health declined and she struggled to find a studio or teacher that could accommodate her wheelchair.

She said: “I went to my first SideKick class about two years ago and haven’t looked back. The team helped me develop confidence using my chair and the environment is very supportive. I’m thrilled to now be a volunteer with the youth company each week. It’s also helped my career development.”

The SideKick team has run Bloom Inclusive Dance Festival for the last two years, with 300 people taking part in events over a week, culminating in a choreographed performance in the gardens of Leicester Cathedral.

Charlotte said: “This was a truly heartwarming event where all ages and abilities were able to join and work together. Seeing our dancers perform makes people happy and we have been blown away by the community support.”

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