Phrases by Katie Hagan.
Propel Dance is on a mission. Fashioned in 2022 Propel Dance, spearheaded by Helen Mason, is the primary all-wheelchair consumer skilled dance firm of its type.
Though a comparatively new firm, Propel Dance as an idea was within the pipeline for for much longer and is a fruits of Helen’s years of data and work within the inclusive dance discipline.
We sat down with Helen to search out out extra about why she created Propel Dance, its first sold-out R&D tour of The Snow Queen across the Midlands and the way Propel is offering extra jobs for wheelchair dancers of the longer term.
DAJ: Hello, Helen! Inform us about your self.
Helen: My identify is Helen, and I’m the inventive director of Propel Dance. I’m additionally a dance trainer and artist. I’ve labored in incapacity or inclusive dance for a few years and have collaborated on commissioned work and choreography for all audiences in numerous areas. I’ve made inclusive work with collaborators in museums, fields, even prepare stations!
DAJ: Why did you resolve to create Propel Dance now in your profession?
Helen: A part of my work over the previous six years has been with Freewheelin Dance which I arrange in 2017 after working with neighborhood teams. While working with completely different neighborhood teams I felt like I personally needed to develop the best way I approached making choreography for wheelchair customers….
DAJ: Is that due to a niche in your information?
Helen: It was completely a niche in my information. I believe loads of dance academics like me, at the same level of their profession, really feel the identical. Sometimes, and traditionally, inclusive dance wasn’t a part of our coaching. Our schooling was primarily based on instructing non-disabled standing dancers.
So, a couple of years in the past I went to coach at Para Dance UK and did their wheelchair instructors course and have become a member of Para Dance and learnt about choreography particularly for wheelchair customers. From right here Freewheelin was created.
DAJ: Freewheelin Dance fills an enormous hole in offering neighborhood dance courses for wheelchair customers within the Midlands. You may have additionally gained nationwide dance competitions. Do you recall fascinated with creating alternatives for the dancers to change into skilled?
Helen: Myself and the dancers felt they had been able to go on to be skilled both by an apprenticeship or diploma programs. There was and continues to be a scarcity of provision right here within the Midlands until you go to London to work with the likes of Candoco or Stopgap. For lots of disabled artists travelling to those courses from elsewhere within the UK is a barrier.
So, I assumed to myself, Can I arrange a coaching programme? And that’s the place it began. I chatted to different wheelchair dancers to see what their suggestions could be. They had been onboard with the thought and that it’s nice. However additionally they questioned the place the roles can be on the finish as, when you concentrate on it, there are 3-4 firms within the UK that make use of wheelchair dancers particularly. Of these firms there are 1-2 spots.
DAJ: Did this inform your determination to create Propel Dance?
Helen: Completely, if it wasn’t for my Freewheelin group and their actual world lived experiences, I wouldn’t have began Propel Dance. There was a must create apprenticeships and jobs, and that is the place Propel got here from.
We established real curiosity in an all-wheelchair firm from audiences, performers and venues. It began round two years in the past now and has snowballed into one thing means greater than we anticipated.
Throughout our R&D interval, we had 4 skilled dancers and one apprentice and going ahead we wish to improve the variety of apprentices.
DAJ: What does choreography seem like for wheelchair customers?
Helen: The Snow Queen choreography, which we’ve simply taken on our first R&D tour, is up to date dance mixed with wheelchair approach usually utilized in paradance sport.
Paradance is an artwork kind that’s been round for the reason that 60s, even perhaps earlier than. It was initially for individuals who hadbecome disabled of their life and was used for leisure and rehabilitation functions.
Paradance is principally Ballroom and Latin types typically carried out as solos, duos or a combi, which is the place a wheelchair consumer and standing dancer are collectively. The shape has its personal language, i.e., arc flip, spin flip, eighth flip, wheelies, pivots… and different wheelchair particular actions.
For The Snow Queen we’ve got taken these components and combined with them up to date dance.
DAJ: Might you inform us extra about The Snow Queen?
Helen: As a part of our R&D we did performances in The Outdated Library in Mansfield, Midlands Arts Centre (MAC) in Birmingham and Area Theatre in Wolverhampton. So many individuals got here! Disabled audiences travelled from throughout the UK as a result of they’d by no means felt seen onstage earlier than on this means.
We additionally quadrupled the variety of wheelchair consumer viewers members. We did this as a result of we wished to deliver illustration offstage in addition to on. So many wheelchair customers can’t go to exhibits collectively as there bodily aren’t areas in theatres, and in the event that they wish to, they need to plan means forward.
To make sure the venues would meet our entry necessities, we chatted to each theatre and requested if they might make house; if they’ve huge doorways; if which have disabled bogs; is it raised; what are the wings like? All of the venues had been superb.
DAJ: What does good entry seem like to you?
Helen: Throughout the R&D we had been very a lot making an attempt to construct it across the dancers. We had a superb entry officer known as Rick Rogers who went by entry riders. We used these to tell our schedule and dealing course of, i.e., we wouldn’t dance for greater than two hours at a time, and we’d have a break to handle fatigue and so forth. There was a quiet room with pillows for the dancers to relaxation their our bodies.
We regarded out for each other and all the time prioritised well being. Well being is far more essential than a present. In the long term you don’t need your dancers to burn out or get injured. And infrequently the tradition within the dance world is that you simply push the physique to its limits. This doesn’t come from a spot of true care and places dancers prone to damage that may depart them out of labor for months.
DAJ: What’s subsequent for The Snow Queen?
Helen: The subsequent steps are to safe extra funding after which take the R&D that we did nationally into faculties and sports activities halls which have extra capability for wheelchair customers however nonetheless give that theatre-feel.
We’re nonetheless a really small workforce. There’s such a necessity for what we’re doing and we’re all working actually arduous to supply it.
Header picture by Dani Bower.