Access Fund in focus: MeshDance

Access Fund in focus: MeshDance

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BY: Guest Writer
28 Sep 2020

WeAre Inclusive Youth Dance Company is a project run by MeshDance that provides dance opportunities for young people with additional needs. Their successful application to the Arts Award Access Fund, together with funding received from Leeds Inspired, has supported young people working towards their Bronze Arts Award. Karen Bartholomew tells us how, prior to lockdown, the funding enabled them to undertake the majority of Part B of the award in one evening.

Our successful application to the Arts Award Access Fund enabled us to create a new hybrid theatre experience, somewhere between a touch-tour and a relaxed performance. Relaxed performances are a fantastic way of making theatre more accessible; however, there are still young people that cannot attend performances due to sensory processing issues, not being able to stay out late, financial reasons or lack of transport, for example. By bringing the performance to the group itself, within their regular session time, all of our young people were able to access the performance without being restricted by circumstances beyond their control. They were also able to experience being on the stage, with sound and lighting, completely on their own terms within a safe and supportive environment.

We made a call out to interested companies and choreographers and presented the options to the young people so that they could vote for which piece they'd like to see, ensuring that their voice was heard throughout this exciting opportunity!

Dancers from Lisa Simpson Inclusive Dance leapingThe performance chosen was Migratory by Lisa Simpson Inclusive Dance. Lisa holds a unique position in dance as the only choreographer and workshop leader with quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy and no verbal communication. We were pleased to welcome the company to the Riley Theatre on Friday 19 January 2019. The event made accessing a performance possible in an environment that the young people were already familiar with and is tailored to their specific needs.

The young people explored the theatre and met Lisa and her team, including the cast. We learnt about how Lisa worked with her dancers to choreograph the piece using her Simpson Board, a choreographic communicative tool that is accessible to all. Then came our opportunity to watch Migratory. The young people really enjoyed the performance and were inspired by the experience. WeAre dancer Emily said:

I feel empowered, inspired and excited for my own future performances.

Staff also noted increased levels of engagement and excitement from our dancers who are non-verbal. It’s fantastic that the event had such an impact on our young people; I’m not sure that a traditional theatre trip would have been as accessible and inclusive to the needs of our group.

We were able to join the dancers on stage after the performance and the young people asked them questions to aid them with writing their review of the performance. The whole evening was a highly tangible experience, which helped the dancers make sense of the performance. We completed the reviews whilst sat on the stage, which removed that performer/audience barrier that can be quite alienating or distancing for young people at the theatre.

WeAre dancers learn about Lisa Simpson Inclusive DanceWithout the Arts Award Access Fund, we would not have had the budget to create such a tailored and accessible event. Our young people were really engaged with the experience and so inspired afterwards. Their reviews were insightful and well-informed because they’d had such an exciting and engaging evening. All of our young people were successful in achieving their Bronze Arts Award later in the year.

MeshDance celebrates difference and diversity and are passionate about raising aspirations about what is possible for young people within the world of dance and beyond. For more information on our work, please check out:

The Arts Award Access Fund is currently open to applications and the deadline for these is Friday 9 October 2020.

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