Published: 16 July 2021
Ten disabled people who entered a local dance competition never expected to be attending their film premier at the famous Odeon Leicester Square. But yesterday there were cheers and tears as the Dance Westminster finalists watched themselves dancing on the big screen at the home of world's biggest blockbusters.
Dance Westminster is an innovative initiative designed to encourage disabled people to be active. Through a series of free workshops and a dance competition, people living in Westminster have the opportunity to take part and explore their potential. The initiative is a partnership between inclusive dance company Step Change Studios and Westminster City’s Council Active Westminster. This year, Dance Westminster culminated in a short film, showcasing the competition finalists’ performances and experiences.
Rashmi Becker, founder of Step Change Studios and recently recognised with an MBE for services to disabled people said:
The talent this year has been amazing. People have shown such resilience in dancing through a pandemic to show-off what they can do. We are grateful for the support from Odeon Cinemas, who were the first cinema chain to partner with a disability care provider to offer nationwide Autism-friendly film screenings.
The competition judges included Ayshah Tull from Channel 4 News, Andrew Self from BBC’s Greatest Dancer, and Actor Francesca Mills who was a judge for the inaugural competition last year.
Even though we all find ourselves in strange circumstances, the performers did not let it interfere with the standard of their dances. The bar gets raised every year and I feel so excited to see where it goes next. I know how important dance was for myself growing up different, it was an escape and a true release. I’m thrilled that Dance Westminster allows for more disabled people like myself to experience that feeling.
The judges selected Kelvin Tring as the Dance Westminster 2021 Champion. Kelvin has Autism and attends City of Westminster College. He was cheered on at the screening by college supporters including Supported Learning Manager Gemma McCarthy who said:
In a difficult year with lots of restrictions and limited access to facilities, Dance Westminster has enabled students to have fun, learn something new, develop existing talents, meet new people, and show others what they can achieve. Kelvin demonstrated his ability to quickly learn new dance moves and perform them with confidence. He summed up how we all feel with his smile and response of "excited" when presented with the winning trophy. Well done Kelvin!
Each of the ten finalists were presented with awards in recognition of their achievement by the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Cllr Jonathan Glanz who said:
As Lord Mayor of Westminster, community inclusion is my absolute priority, and we are committed to improving access to sport and physical activity for under-represented groups. Dance Westminster is an example of the sort of fun, innovative and inclusive approach we want to continue to support. I have been impressed by the ability and diversity showcased today and pleased that we will be continuing to support disabled people in Westminster to be active through the introduction of regular community classes.
Councillor Lorraine Dean, Leader Member for SEND at Westminster City Council attended the premiere and said:
I hugely enjoyed attending the Dance Westminster awards ceremony. It was an uplifting and moving event and all contestants and their families looked happy, energised and deservedly very proud of their achievements. Westminster City Council is committed to making more sports and leisure activities accessible for its disabled residents and Active Westminster and Step Change Studios do an incredible job of bringing their expertise and passion to the people of Westminster.
- Rashmi Becker, Step Change Studios, 07976 363861, [email protected]
- Anna Reilly, Westminster City Council, 07866 007701, [email protected]
Step Change Studios is an award-winning dance company committed to making dance accessible for everyone. Based in the UK, it offers fun, engaging dance opportunities for people of all ages and abilities. It provides classes in the community; tailors programmes for different settings including education, care, the arts, sport and leisure; and produces professional dance performances and productions. Step Change Studios has received numerous accolades including the One Dance UK Award for Innovation, and the London Sport Award for Health and Wellbeing. It’s founder Rashmi Becker was recently recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list with an MBE for services to disabled people.
Active Westminster, part of Westminster City Council, is a vibrant partnership that works closely with hundreds of public, private and voluntary sector organisations to promote a wide variety of attractive and accessible opportunities which encourage people in Westminster to take part in physical activity, leisure and sport at any and every level. The Westminster Active Strategy provides a framework to enable people to be physically active and focuses on actively promoting the fundamental contribution that physical activity, leisure and sport makes in individual physical and mental wellbeing.
Images credit: John Trigg