Ten contestants will be looking to dazzle judges including Wayne Sleep OBE as they compete to waltz away with the first Dance Westminster title on Thursday 23rd January.
The grand final is the culmination of Dance Westminster, an initiative designed to provide accessible dance to everyone, and to encourage more disabled people in the community to be active. Joining Wayne on the judging panel will be Francesca Mills, star of the BBC’s recent adaptation of Worzel Gummidge and a professional dancer who has achondroplasia, and Melissa Nicholls, a wheelchair athlete specialising in middle distance events in the T34 classification, who competed in the 2012 Summer Paralympics and won a silver medal in the 800m at the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships.
The Dance Westminster finals will take place at the Greenhouse Centre 88 Bell Street, Marylebone from 2pm-4pm on Thursday 23rd January. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance at: https://www.westminster.gov.uk/dance-westminster
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 and Everyone Active, the operator of Westminster’s leisure centres. The pan-disability initiative has seen people of all ages and abilities taking part in workshops and auditions to be part of the grand final. It 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, who has downs syndrome and also made it to the finals 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.”
Finalists have been busy rehearsing their performance routine with their professional dance partners and the audience can expect to see a wide range of dance styles from Ballroom to Bollywood. Performances will be 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 perform as a team.
Cllr Iain Bott, Westminster City Council Cabinet Member for Sports, Culture and Community said: “I initiated Dance Westminster as it's an area close to my own heart. This event is 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. Congratulations to all the amazing dancers who took part in the heats and good luck to everyone competing in the grand final. I’m sure we will have a full-house to support this fantastic display of inclusive dance.”
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 auditions. We hope to see a full-house of supporters for our 10 amazing finalists at the grand final. We are delighted to be supporting Westminster City Council with Dance Westminster and to support more people to move more.”