How can a company develop an inclusive environment?
In today's blog post I am going to be touching upon the experience working with different companies, the experience of inclusion within the dance industry and also sharing my thoughts about what is needed to continue to develop an inclusive environment within a company setting. It is important to note that each person's experience is unique. What one person may find helpful may not suit another. All my views are my own and based on the experiences I have faced. I am coming from the perspective of having a lived experience of a disability. However there are many different facets that come under the umbrella of inclusion that are equally as important as making a company environment inclusive to dancers with disabilities. I feel that it is important to acknowledge this.
I am still learning what works for me and what doesn't. Having the opportunity to be able to have a voice is key, otherwise how is change going to implemented not only for your own benefit, but also (hopefully) making steps to challenge stereotypes and develop opportunities for others too.
Paralympic GB homecoming ceremony 2021 with the Royal Ballet. Photography Getty Images.
When people think of dancers, everyone has a specific and often wrong stereotypical view of what a dancer does and what a dancer looks like. I therefore believe that it is important that the whole dance industry makes a conscious effort to challenge these stereotypes and make sure that dance can and will become accessible to all. I feel there is so much potential and from the recent experiences I have had, I believe that organisations and companies are agreeing with me.
The first and most important step to making a company an inclusive environment, is to have the will and the want to make it happen. There are going to be challenges along the way. I think that something worth doing well is always a challenge. I have been very lucky to have worked with organisations that acknowledge that these challenges exist, but they do their very best to make sure they assist in working round these challenges. This has made my working experience with them stress free and that one important step closer to true accessibility.
In rehearsal for Giselle with Ballet Cymru 2021, with Sanea Singh.
I think that one of things that dancers who do not experience the same accessibility challenges as I do, may not realise, is that I have had to always advocate for myself. That can be difficult and tiresome, sometimes. Some of the time when bringing up certain challenges, I personally felt that some of what I was trying to say was taken as negative personal criticism. This was never and never will be my intention. Some of these conversations could become quite uncomfortable and tense and that was never how I wanted the outcome to be. I simply wanted to share my experiences and hope that by sharing these insights into the challenges I was facing. My hope was that strategies would be put in place to make things easier and also move that one step closer to making dance accessible to dancers with difference. It is my belief that by having these conversations and addressing the challenges head on, is only going to continue to forge a more positive outcome for inclusive dance. There is absolutely a gap in the classical ballet world that can and will be filled by dancers with disabilities. I am so grateful to the companies that I have had the fortune of working with (and hope to continue to) who have recognised this and are making steps to develop more opportunities for me and other dancers in a similar situation, is not only incredibly humbling and extremely exciting!
The one nugget of advice I wish to offer anyone looking or starting the journey in classical ballet/dance with a disability, is to never be afraid to speak up and communicate your challenges.
This has taken me a while to recognise the importance of having a voice and communicating and finding a way through challenges with the help of others. I have sometimes kept quiet for an easy life, for fear of organisations turning round and saying that having a dancer with a disability is too difficult and cannot be done. That constant worry kept me quiet, however when I knew that keeping quiet was not only damaging me but also not contributing to progression for inclusive dance, I made the decision to use my voice more. As I said there have been both negative and positive reactions to conversations I have had addressing challenges. I did have someone verbalise my own constant worry. I wasn't sure how I was going to react to this, but I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised, I started to feel like the dancer I was before acquiring my disability, the younger version of me who was not afraid of being told no and was going to succeed in achieving his no matter what. Being told no, lit that fire inside of me to prove them wrong and that is exactly what I hope I can continue to do.
To conclude this blog post I want to leave you with this. Pursuing a career in dance can be extremely hard at times. However when you find the right place and feel like you can soar, it is the best feeling. Never give up and keep reminding yourself why you love what you do. There will be days that are difficult but if you keep reminding yourself of what you love about dance surely that is going to help you push through any obstacles you may face. Once again I want to thank all who have given me opportunities and believed in me up until this date.
That's all for this blog post. In the next blog post I am going to share more about my recent work with the Royal Ballet, which has been a complete dream and I have enjoyed so much! Hopefully there is more to come....