DanceSyndrome: award-winning Lancashire charity giving those with learning disabilities the chance to dance

Back in 2009, Jen Blackwell was frustrated. Despite having left school a decade earlier with the dream of becoming a community dance teacher, she was still no closer to achieving her dream because, as someone with Down’s Syndrome, she simply couldn’t find opportunities to train and work in dance because of her learning disability.
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And so she decided to take matters into her own hands and founded DanceSyndrome. Now a multi-award-winning Lancashire charity on a mission to change the way people think about learning disabilities, DanceSyndrome helps support people with and without disabilities to work together to follow their dreams in dance. The charity changes lives every day.

Having realised how much she loved dance at mainstream school, Jen understand the importance of powerful educational role models, and so now offers a service which provides opportunities for people who would otherwise be excluded from dance, socialising through exercise, and the physical and wellbeing benefits of doing so.

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Boasting an equal number of learning-disabled and non-disabled members, DanceSyndrome’s activities give people confidence, respect, value, and self-belief. And, what is more, the charity is always broadening their scope of influence: they recently launched a ground-breaking video project in partnership with NHS England.


A series of six videos demonstrating the many ways people with learning disabilities can live fulfilled lives, contribute to society, and become visible leaders, performers, and advocates, the powerful project presents case studies of people pursuing careers in dance and has been supported by the national nursing directorate at NHS England.

"This has been such an important project for DanceSyndrome,” says Julie Nicholson, DanceSyndrome’s Managing Director. “One of the most important parts of our mission is to change the way that people think about disability and what people are able to achieve with the right support.

"The videos talk about how there is beauty and significance in all movement and the importance of adaptations in making activities truly inclusive and accessible,” she adds. “They show why inclusive activities are important for people to make connections, build friendships, and learn transferable skills which can be used in all aspects of life.”

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The videos have been shared with healthcare professionals in order to showcase the benefits of dancing, with DanceSyndrom’s members all emerging as inspiring leaders in their own right regardless of whether they have Down's Syndrome, quadriplegia cerebral palsy, non-verbal communication, speech impairments, or mental health conditions.

David Darcy, David Corr and Helen Cherry of DanceSyndromeDavid Darcy, David Corr and Helen Cherry of DanceSyndrome
David Darcy, David Corr and Helen Cherry of DanceSyndrome

Members are encouraged to express themselves and enjoy not only engaging in dance, but teaching it, too: participants have all completed DanceSyndrome's unique Dance By Example leadership training, which enables them to co-lead inclusive dance workshops alongside professional dance artists to provide high-quality lessons.

“The aim is to help people to discover the power of creativity and why it is important to see people with and without disabilities collaborating to choreograph and perform high quality dance pieces in an inclusive, supportive way,” says Julie. "DanceSyndrome has always aspired to extend our inclusive practices and impact into society in general.

“We strongly feel that this project will pave the way to a more inclusive future for everyone."

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