#wedaretodance; Standing Up for Accessibility in Dance

When I started this blog several years ago, and when I relaunched it recently as Dare to Dance, I had the idea that I wanted to document my dance journey, because I am taking an unusual route into my dance career. I started dancing much later than most, and didn’t begin serious training until adulthood. I have faced adversity in trying to achieve my goals, for example having to work a full-time job to fund my training. My intention has always been to one day inspire other people.  I figure I can’t be the only late starter struggling to make it in dance, and have often wished there was someone else who had come before me to share their experiences. I think this is like the ‘four minute mile’ for dance… once one person has made it against all odds, and shown that it’s possible, many more will inevitably follow suit.

For some time now I’ve been documenting my journey: my experiences with auditions, nutrition, exercise programmes, etc., and sharing general information that I think people will find helpful or interesting. However, this morning I took a step back and reflected on this blog and what I wanted it to be- what’s my real goal here? What’s the message I’m trying to get across with this platform?

I realised that at the core of everything I’m doing with my life right now is the fundamental belief that dance should be OPEN. I know that many people, including experts in the field, will look at the facts and conclude that a successful career in dance is unlikely for me, and might say that pursuing it in this fashion is probably a waste of time. They might advise me to switch dance styles, or to focus on other careers within dance, such as dance history, dance medicine or science, dance writing, dance photography, teaching, choreography, etc. I think that these options are amazing, challenging and fulfilling careers in their own right (and I do want to go into one of those fields later in life). They should not simply become a second option for people who don’t fit into the box that’s expected for performing success in this industry. Those who want to get into dance medicine and science should go after that dream passionately- not be steered there because they thought their true dream of performing wasn’t possible.

Strides have made in the dance world to improve accessibility- there are many groups and organisations working to bring dance to a wider audience, and expose people to dance who would not otherwise get to experience it. There are limited scholarships and bursaries for talented students who cannot afford tuition. However, dance is still so far from truly accessible, especially for those who choose it as a career.

There is a belief in the dance world, that’s accepted as fact, that certain people can’t be dancers, or are unlikely to make it. These include people such as:

  • Those who started dancing in their teenage years or adulthood, and not in early childhood
  • People who are “too” large, tall, short, muscular, don’t have a small enough head, short enough torso, long enough legs or neck, high enough insteps…
  • People who can’t afford the high costs of getting into, and staying in, serious dance training
  • People of colour
  • People with disabilities
  • People who haven’t had all the support they needed from family and other people in their life
  • People who don’t live in big cities with lots of dance training available
  • People whose training has been delayed by injury, illness, lack of means, location and other personal circumstances

I’m not saying that all of these points are true across the board, or that people haven’t transcended these circumstances to succeed. Indeed, there are examples of dancers who have faced some of those barriers and overcome them. I also want to make it clear that I don’t think these things are necessarily handicaps to dance ability. It’s the common mindset and status quo that’s the big problem, preventing talent from being recognised if it isn’t presented in a package that we are used to.

I believe so strongly that the dance world should be open-minded and accepting of the versatile range of people who are drawn to this art form and want to make it their life. People need to be given the chance to become the best possible dancers that they can be. Young dancers come to dance schools to get training, and they are turned away because they are too old, or they’re told that they are too short, or too muscular. Maybe they are accepted but don’t make the cut for the one or two scholarships available, therefore they can only attend if they can pay the fees. The student who wasn’t quite good enough for a scholarship, but has wealthy parents, goes on to elite training, whilst the student of equal ability from a poorer background has to give up or find another way.

I’m not saying that standards should be lowered, because the integrity of the art form cannot be compromised- but to remove barriers (both actual and in people’s minds) that prevent dancers who could succeed from even beginning that journey. Who is to say that a dancer who didn’t discover their calling until their teens can never make it? Who is to decide whether someone with a disability or difficulty is able to have a career in dance, except them? If they know they can do it, that should be all that matters. And is it really right that so many dancers are forced out of their dream because it’s simply too expensive?

I am here, trying to get this message out there, for the sake of the dancers who have faced adversity, and carried on anyway. Who, like me, have sat there feeling absolute panic because all of the evidence points to failure, but then had this thought:

“Who is going to stop me?”

Who is going to stop you from dancing? Not only from dancing, but from becoming a fantastic dancer? No one can stop you from being the best dancer you can be! No one can stop you from doing it anyway, and doing it your own way. Maybe the conventional path was cut off for you. Going to a certain school, becoming an apprentice and getting into a company isn’t the only way to become a dancer! And when you realise that, you can be free.

I want to use this blog to bring together the people who believe that dance should be accessible. I want to find those who are ready to reject the idea that dance is only for certain kinds of people, with specific favourable circumstances. People who want to challenge those in the industry who, consciously or unconsciously, subscribe to beliefs and practices which prohibit the progress of anyone who hasn’t followed one certain path to their career.

I KNOW that this is possible, that all you have to do is decide that you WILL succeed. No matter how much your experiences so far have made you feel like an outsider, now you can realise that there are other people around just like you. People who say; “I dare to dance!”

If you are committed to this future for the dance world, say it with me and show that we are not alone.


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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Darryl says:

    Thanks for your post Jessica. My access to dance has come at a much later time in life when I ventured into contemporary dance at the age of 65. So now five years on I am sitting on a bed at a freinds place typing a comment on your post, away from home and in the middle of a show. As a newby in dance I am also a newby at blogging so very much feeling my way. My current blog is a personal one but I am working on another spcifically about finding, celebrating and hopefully promoting understanding of movement and especially dance in bodies that perhaps very many people would see as way past it. Or, as in my case, were never with it until now. Daring to dance indeed.

    1. Hi Darryl, thank you for your kind comment. I am so happy you have found the joy of dance and movement later in life; many of the ladies and gentlemen in the adults’ classes at my dance school feel the same way. I hope that it enriches your life as much as it enriches mine. Keep dancing, keep blogging and keep daring to dance!

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