Phrases by Katie Hagan.
Propel Dance is on a mission. Shaped in 2022 Propel Dance, spearheaded by Helen Mason, is the primary all-wheelchair person skilled dance firm of its variety.
Though a comparatively new firm, Propel Dance as an idea was within the pipeline for for much longer and is a end result of Helen’s years of data and work within the inclusive dance discipline.
We sat down with Helen to seek 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 long run.
DAJ: Hello, Helen! Inform us about your self.
Helen: My title is Helen, and I’m the creative director of Propel Dance. I’m additionally a dance instructor 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 group teams. While working with totally different group teams I felt like I personally needed to develop the way in which 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 lots of dance lecturers like me, at an identical 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 educating 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 group dance lessons for wheelchair customers within the Midlands. You could have additionally received nationwide dance competitions. Do you recall serious about creating alternatives for the dancers to change into skilled?
Helen: Myself and the dancers felt they have been able to go on to be skilled both by means of 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 lessons from elsewhere within the UK is a barrier.
So, I believed 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 have been onboard with the thought and that it’s nice. However additionally they questioned the place the roles will probably 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 resolution 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 approach greater than we anticipated.
Throughout our R&D interval, we had 4 skilled dancers and one apprentice and going ahead we need to enhance 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 modern dance mixed with wheelchair method sometimes utilized in paradance sport.
Paradance is an artwork type that’s been round for the reason that 60s, maybe even 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 kinds typically carried out as solos, duos or a combi, which is the place a wheelchair person 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 parts and blended with them modern dance.
DAJ: Might you inform us extra about The Snow Queen?
Helen: As a part of our R&D we did performances in The Previous 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 approach.
We additionally quadrupled the variety of wheelchair person viewers members. We did this as a result of we wished to carry illustration offstage in addition to on. So many wheelchair customers can’t go to reveals collectively as there bodily aren’t areas in theatres, and in the event that they need to, they have to plan approach forward.
To make sure the venues would meet our entry necessities, we chatted to each theatre and requested if they might make area; if they’ve large doorways; if which have disabled bathrooms; is it raised; what are the wings like? All of the venues have been superb.
DAJ: What does good entry seem like to you?
Helen: In the course of the R&D we have been very a lot making an attempt to construct it across the dancers. We had a wonderful entry officer referred to as Rick Rogers who went by means of 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 at all times prioritised well being. Well being is far more necessary than a present. In the long term you don’t need your dancers to burn out or get injured. And sometimes the tradition within the dance world is that you just push the physique to its limits. This doesn’t come from a spot of true care and places dancers liable to harm that may go away 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 colleges and sports activities halls which have extra capability for wheelchair customers however nonetheless give that theatre-feel.
We’re nonetheless a really small crew. There’s such a necessity for what we’re doing and we’re all working actually arduous to supply it.
Header photograph by Dani Bower.