Last week, 10 people with disabilities showed off their incredible dance moves in the Dance Westminster final held at Porchester Hall.
The competition, lead by Westminster City Council and Step Change Studios, is a community initiative aimed at shattering stereotypes and breaking barriers to provide accessible dance to everyone.
Over 100 disabled people have taken part in free dance workshops as part of Dance Westminster. Participants who auditioned were then whittled down to 10 finalists to perform in front of 200 audience members in the grand final.
Ages of the finalists ranged from nine to 73-years-old and included people who have autism, dementia, and one sight loss. For many, it was the first time they were performing in front of a live audience and there was a fantastic range of dance moves ranging from Bollywood, Hip Hop, Salsa and K-Pop.
After fierce competition, the winner of this year’s Dance Westminster was Marylin Laban, who has autism.
“When I was younger I tried going to competitions many times but ending up collapsing out of fear and being overwhelmed. I told myself I’ll never be able to dance again.”
“When the competition was mentioned in my college, I decided to give myself another chance and went to the auditions. I did not expect to win at all. I feel really shocked and really proud. It’s been an honour to be a part of - I’m very grateful and I will cherish these moments. Do not let your fears stop you from following your dreams.”
Finalist Amrit, who is blind, said:
“I began losing my sight at the age of five, but I have never let my total blindness hold me back. I want to use my sight loss journey to support and encourage others, as well as to smash stereotypes. I have seen what dance looks like and have had a lifelong yearning to dance. When I dance, I feel like a bird that has been freed from its cage, and it gives me a sense of achievement. Today is not just about competing, it is about sending out a message that dancing is for everyone.”
“It has been life changing to be able to prove to myself that I can learn how to dance and do it properly. It keeps me fit, it’s really fun and gives me a sense of achievement.”
Wayne Sleep OBE, one of the judges, said:
“I was asked to come and judge a dance competition by Westminster City Council three years ago. I wasn’t sure what it was about at the time, but I’ve been coming every year since and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. All through my life I’ve tried to promote dance. Anybody can dance. To see the energy of these people - lifted with full confidence in themselves, their rhythm and concentration, and what must have gone into their work, you can only feel humbled by it. Congratulations to all ten finalists – and thank you to everyone involved who made such a great event happen.”
Rashmi Becker MBE, Founder of Step Change Studios said:
“Twice as many disabled people are inactive compared to non-disabled people – that is 5.1 million people and eight in 10 disabled people (80%) said that their impairment stops them from doing as much physical activity as they would like. Now in its fourth year, Dance Westminster was created for disabled people who lack opportunities, and experience barriers to be active. “We know from the popularity of shows like Strictly, how much the nation loves dancing. It is an easy, accessible, fun activity that everyone can do as Dance Westminster proves. It is wonderful to see our finalists dancing standing, seated, with mobility aids, and sensory props, just enjoying moving to music. We hope through initiatives like this we can help challenge perceptions of who can dance and promote more inclusive opportunities for more people.”
Cllr Cara Sanquest, Cabinet Member for Resident Participation, Consultation Reform and Leisure, said:
“Dance Westminster is a fantastic way to celebrate our diverse communities and the talents of residents with disabilities. It was extremely inspiring to see so many people come along to join the inclusive celebration of the very best of Westminster and a huge congratulations to our winner this year, Marylin.”
Published: 26 October 2023