Jelani Edwards, a student at City of Westminster College has been crowned the winner of the first Dance Westminster competition after being awarded perfect 10s across the board for his performance.
Dance Westminster is an initiative designed to provide accessible dance to everyone, and to encourage more disabled people in the community to be active. Jelani gave a Bollywood and hip-hop inspired performance with a professional dancing partner from Step Change Studios.
Ten contestants took part in the hotly contested Dance Westminster finals with Jelani announced winner by celebrity judges Wayne Sleep OBE; actress and dancer Francesca Mills, and Paralympian Mel Nicholls. Shalim Ali who danced an exuberant hip-hop number was named runner-up, with third place going to Roche Dupuis who performed a Latin-inspired routine.
Open to people with disabilities aged 11 and over, Dance Westminster was launched by Westminster City Council with local inclusive dance company Step Change Studios, with venue partner Everyone Active, the operator of Westminster’s leisure centres. All finalists performed a routine with a professional dancing partner from Step Change Studios.
The pan-disability initiative saw people of all ages and abilities taking part in workshops and auditions to be part of the grand final which took place at the Greenhouse Centre in Marylebone. Step Change Studios has provided almost 100 hours of free dance to participants, who have been overwhelmingly positive. Finalist Alex Henderson, who has a visual impairment said: “Dance is amazing! It has given me so much: new friends, more confidence, belief in myself; a skill that I can use for the rest of my life, and most importantly a lot of fun. It is so important that these kinds of opportunities are available, so that everyone can experience the joy of dance, and get all the brilliant benefits it has to offer.”
Jess Hardie, another finalist who has downs syndrome said: “I thought Dance Westminster would be fun to do. The music and dance reminded me of my Caribbean roots. Dance is a universal language that everyone can speak and it makes me feel free. Dance is a good thing because it helps build confidence – when people are nervous and can’t speak, they can dance whatever mood they are in.”
Performances were judged by a combination of feedback from the judging panel and audience feedback on a range of criteria including personality, originality, music interpretation, and how well the finalists and professional dancers performed as a team.
Cllr Iain Bott, who attended the Dance Westminster grand finals said: “Dance Westminster is an inclusive dance competition that is very close to my own heart and the final was heart-warming exhibition of all the good things that dancing offers. The competition was about celebrating those with disabilities and creating a fun accessible event for all. We have been so impressed by the fantastic display of talent and teamwork on the dance floor, so congratulations to all of the amazing dancers who took part.”
Rashmi Becker, founder of Step Change Studios and recipient of the Westminster Active Award for Inclusion said: “I set up Step Change Studios to address the lack of opportunities for disabled people to dance. As guardian to my disabled brother, I know first-hand the positive impact physical activity has on quality of life. Dance is a fantastic way to connect, be creative and improve well-being as the Dance Westminster heats proved. We were really impressed by the energy and passion participants brought to the finals. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Dance Westminster showcased such diversity of dance and dancers.’