Ping! Ping! Ping!
As I awoke to the sound of my phone bleeping, I knew something big must have happened. And when I clicked on the link my friends had tagged me in, there it was.
‘Strictly Come Dancing is rumoured to feature a celebrity wheelchair-user for the first time in this year’s series line-up.’
I sat up in bed, buzzing with excitement. As a ballerina who uses a wheelchair herself – and a huge Strictly fan – I couldn’t have been more delighted!
We have had some incredible Strictly contestants and their partners who’ve paved the way with inclusivity in dance, and this was something I, and many other wheelchair-users, have been hoping for for years.
Then, I read the first comment and my heart genuinely sank. And it only sank further as I scrolled through the ever-growing ableist reactions.
I found myself close to tears. Not just because it affected me more than I thought it would but because I know what impact hate can have on a disabled person, particularly someone who’s young or newly disabled.
I posted one of the comments on my social media, but quite frankly, I don’t want to write them in this piece.
I don’t want to give them any more air time and you can find them, if you feel the need to on the majority of the latest Strictly articles with this news.
Yes, having a disabled dance teacher certainly wasn’t the ‘norm’ but I’m incredibly grateful that I had some amazing mentors who took me under their wings and helped me grow.
It was only later on I delved into dancing for myself, and that’s when I truly found who I was again after losing my identity through chronic illness. I am, still, Kate the dancer. Just on wheels.
My teaching style has changed as I developed my practice. Because I have such a wide range of students with access needs, my approach depends on who I have that session. When I started, I used to demonstrate everything with my hands and arms, including jumps.
Now, I’m on a yoga ball horizontally ‘jumping’ off a wall with it supporting my weight. I’ve tried (and occasionally failed!) throughout the years to be the best teacher I can be, constantly learning and growing, and it’s a magical process.
With dancing, it’s pretty much the same. I have to take things at a much slower rate, and even something like putting my head too far back could knock me back for weeks.
One of my main frustrations is having a fluctuating condition, so I have to constantly adapt, but that’s why I love dancing with other disabled dancers so we can go through that process together.
So, why am I telling you this rather long story? I was a young teen when I became unwell. I was devastated after giving up my dream career. I was terrified about the future with my unpredictable condition. And I was so anxious about other people’s opinions of me as a disabled person.
I am not the only person this has or will happen to. You can access Facebook at the age of 13. Imagine just becoming disabled at that age, through illness or injury, and coming across reactions to that article.
Which they will do. Many people rely on social media to connect them with the world, and those with chronic illnesses and disabilities do so even more.
The comment section doesn’t just highlight that people with disabilities shouldn’t dance, but many comments are abusive and hateful about disabled people in general. If I saw that when I had just become disabled, I don’t think I would’ve coped.
There is an incredible disabled community out there that unfortunately isn’t supported enough. The things we have to put up with because of our disability, in 2023, from inequality to hate, are appalling. And the Strictly news has just highlighted this.
The first thing I did was check in on my dancers. I have an inclusive dance academy, Kate Stanforth Academy of Dance, where we teach dancers from all over the world.
I have four staff members all with lived experience of chronic illness and/or disability and we teach both disabled and non-disabled students.
One of the most important things is that we try to make dance as accessible as we can, so we have online sessions where people can even join in from their bed and we keep our prices affordable thanks to a very kind company sponsored by Allied Mobility.
We are a tight-knit community that loves dance, but also are so passionate about change in general and it’s a privilege to be a part of their journey.
Unfortunately, they were all impacted by the ablest comments from the many articles.
And that’s why I had to post something on my socials and speak out. ‘Just a note from me, if you’re in a wheelchair, you can f***** dance.’
‘You’re just as worthy as anyone else to do whatever you want to do and I’m honestly sorry society makes us feel this bad and this little sometimes’.
The support flooded in from wheelchair users all across the world.
I’m excited, as always, for Strictly and even more so now I know there could be a wheelchair user. I have every faith that, if the rumours are true, Strictly will do us proud, use it as a platform for education and help pave the way into a more inclusive dance industry.
I’ll certainly be cheering them on, and I really hope you will too.
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]
Share your views in the comments below.
Source: Read Full Article