Little Butterflies

11 December 2019 | West and South West England

TSB Pride - Flamingo Chick

Groundbreaking dance community goes on Christmas tour

They stole hearts and minds at the Mirror’s Pride of Sport awards in 2016, and now a groundbreaking dance community are going on tour to bring more light and love to children across the nation.

Flamingo Chicks opened to just 15 pupils in Bristol in 2013 but now welcome 3,000 pupils a year across the country. The classes give poorly children and those with disabilities the opportunity to enjoy ballet alongside their friends. Youngsters undergoing treatment for cancer, those with autism, cerebral palsy and Down’s syndrome all take part.

Flamingo Chicks were honoured when they won the TSB Community Partner award at the 2016 Pride of Sport at a glittering event at London’s Grosvenor House.Now this Christmas they are going on tour around the UK - with visits planned to ten children’s hospices all aiming to create treasured memories for families.

Katie Sparkes, who was inspired to start the dance group locally because her daughter Poppy, 13, has cerebral palsy, explains: “The tour is a ‘making memories tour’ with a unique twist on The Nutcracker. We have called it ‘The Little Butterfly’, because we want to celebrate short and precious lives, and butterflies are emblematic of that.”

Two teachers will go into each of the hospices and bring along sensory equipment like ribbons, silk roses and wrist bells, so that children - and crucially their siblings - can take part and bring alive the dance.

“The great thing about Flamingo Chicks is that we can work with all children, even those who are paralysed from the eyes down to make very special memories.”Classes boost strength and flexibility, and increase social skills and self-esteem. They provide a place for parents to bond, too.

They also have a new project, Hatching Chicks, which brings new mums and their babies into the Flamingo Chicks family. At Hatching Chicks parents ‘wear’ their newborns in a sling while performing traditional ballet moves such as plies, tendus and rondes de jambes.

You don't have to be a dancer, and everyone is welcome. Parents can benefit from gentle exercise which builds muscle strength while babies get to enjoy the movement and music, said to emulate the swaying and motion they felt in the womb.At the moment there is only one - already oversubscribed - class in Bristol, but the plan is to roll out more classes.

“When we first started, we worked with children and then progressed to working with adults which now has its own ‘Flamingo Dance’ brand,” says Katie. “But we realised we were missing the early years and that is how ‘Hatching Chicks’ was born. It now compliments all the classes we offer.”

Following the Flamingo Chicks ethos, Hatching Chicks is open to all parents and babies and those with additional needs are especially welcomed. “We wanted to create a supportive environment for parents. It’s a gentle, non-intensive way to get moving. But the primary aim is to support mums and help them make friends and boost confidence. Two thirds of the mums we have in our sessions have never done ballet before.

“When my baby son Kofi was younger, we attended for a year - we both absolutely loved the class but now that he’s bigger, he’s moved up to Flamingo Chicks classes. The babies love the music, and it’s so calming. The relationships I made with the other mums was incredible. There was one mum who had had a stroke after birth, so the class was about her regaining her confidence and her sense of balance.”

Katie adds: “Winning the Pride of Sport Award has had a phenomenal impact and opened so many doors for us. We have met so many people, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.”

For more information look online at localgiving.org/appeal/littlebutterfly.

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