Jen Blackwell and Becky Rich were brought together through inclusive dance charity DanceSyndrome. The charity was founded by Jen and her mum Sue Blackwell in 2009 after 10 years of unsuccessfully searching for suitable training to enable Jen to become a community Dance Leader.
Jen and Becky are the best of friends. They share a passion for dance and spend many hours enjoying each other's company. They are also a force for good, challenging perceptions and trying to make the world a better place – using dance as their weapon of choice!
Jen, who happens to have Down’s Syndrome, had attended mainstream school but could not find mainstream dance training that could accommodate a person with a learning disability. During the search for training, Jen and Sue had met many other people with disabilities in similar situations and they were inspired to do something to make the world of community dance more accessible.
Jen set up DanceSyndrome in 2010 and in addition to performing on stage at events and conferences, the charity now provides fully inclusive community workshops that allow anyone, regardless of age, race, gender or disability, to come join in.
It was at one of these weekly workshops that Becky started her journey with DanceSyndrome in 2014. She loved the sessions so much she went on to complete DanceSyndrome’s unique ‘Dance by Example’ leadership training course, which gives people with and without disabilities the skills to lead community dance workshops.
Becky’s confidence grew enormously thanks to the training. This, combined with her improved dancing and leadership skills, enabled Becky to independently take on the role of Dance Leader at a local day centre, separate from DanceSyndrome.
Jen and Becky have recently worked together on a number of different projects and they are both truly following their dreams of having successful careers in dance. Along with 12 other dancers they helped to choreograph and perform DanceSyndrome's performance piece "Orbit" which is an hour long celebration of the dancers' connections to nature and the universe.
After performing the piece in venues across Lancashire and Greater Manchester in early 2017 and getting amazing audience responses, the charity ran a fundraising campaign to take the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2017. The Fringe Festival experience was a huge confidence boost for everyone involved, but Becky especially excelled at promoting the shows and was thrilled to be interviewed on the Royal Mile by a journalist from Humans of the Fringe.
Jen and Becky are both confident public speakers and they are passionate about disability rights. In 2017 they travelled to many high profile events across the UK to talk about how DanceSyndrome has empowered them and how they want to challenge perceptions of disabled people and see more opportunities for inclusion. Their speeches, combined with emotional dance performances, have a huge impact on audience members. Seeing is believing and Jen and Becky both demonstrate that disability doesn't have to be a barrier; people of all ages and abilities can follow their dreams with the right support.
Jen often says, “I am changing people's lives through dance”, and she is right. Research with participants in DanceSyndrome workshops showed that they report many improvements in their lives after a workshop, including feeling physically fitter, having improved mental health, feeling that they have a better social life, having a sense of belonging and being included, being more able to communicate and ultimately just feeling happier. They are also inspired to see someone with a disability succeeding in living a life of their choosing.
But it goes deeper than that. Jen and Becky have a true, heartfelt friendship. They share their passion for dance and have shared aspirations and it has given them a genuine connection to each other that they would never have found if not for DanceSyndrome.
To find out more about the life-changing work that DanceSyndrome does, visit www.dancesyndrome.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org