I am a Liverpool based choreographer/workshop leader with a disability. I have quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy and no verbal communication; therefore I choreograph using the Simpson Board, an inexpensive but priceless tool that enables disabled people to choreograph their own work. The board was created by choreographer Adam Benjamin, Co-founder of CandoCo Dance Company (1990 – 98), Author of ‘Making An Entrance. Theory and Practice for disabled and non-disabled dancers’ (Rutledge, 2001) and lectures in Theatre and Performance at University of Plymouth who was inspired by the methods by which I produced visual artwork.
In the autumn of 1995, I choreographed a ten minute integrated piece that was performed at Coventry University for Performing Arts and Hereward College in Coventry.
The following two summers, I teamed up with Midlands-based, Louise Katerega to work on the dance summer schools at Theatr Clwyd, North Wales and was a huge hit with the children who learnt to use the Simpson Board as well as dance.
After I studied BTEC ND in Performing Arts, I diverged to obtain a degree in Surface Pattern Design at the University of Huddersfield. My return to dance came in February 2009, when I was approached by Louise Katerega, by then Creative Director of FOOT IN HAND Dance Company, to team up with her to assist a member of Cut Dance in Suffolk with cerebral palsy and limited verbal communication in choreographing for the first time. It was so inspiring to watch her developing into a choreographer, who by the end of the 3 days was deciding everything from the positions her dancers were in, to the type of music that captured the right mood of her piece.
Since Suffolk, I strongly believe there are other prospective choreographers with no, or limited verbal communication, who have not had the opportunity to realize their true potential.
‘As a person with quadriplegic cerebral palsy and no verbal communication, I did not think I would be able to choreograph and it was a tremendous feeling when I choreographed for the first time. Also, the reports from Suffolk are truly amazing as the woman’s confidence has improved considerably, not only with her choreography but with her day to day living.’
In June 2010, I co-led a workshop at a local special school in Liverpool having developed two new boards specifically for them based upon the original board. These new boards being simplified and interactive, the children are able to lead the group providing empowerment and greatly boosting their confidence.
I have also co-led workshops on the Disability Dance Symposium at Beaumont College, Gloucester Dance’s Ignite course and the Foundation for Community Dance’s Dance and Disability aspect of their National Summer School. In addition, I have contributed to the Foundation for Community Dance’s ‘Dance and Disability’ handbook written by one of the UK’s most senior inclusive dance practitioners, Isabel Jones of Salmanda Tandem, where I write about the Simpson board.
I have developed a course to teach translators how to use the Simpson board while working with disabled choreographers. The need for this course evolved after I led a Simpson board session while on GDance’s Ignite’s Choreographic Lab. It was also backed up by having someone assigned to me with no training in the board for the first part of the week and then having someone else who had a day’s training. The difference it made to the speed of my choreographic process was unbelievable. It made me realize that if we are creating opportunities for disabled people to be potential choreographers, they should receive the appropriate support. The pilot course was launched in 2013 at Merseyside Dance Initiative.
Prior to this pilot course I delivered a choreographic project over a 12 week period with Integr8, an integrated youth dance company in a special needs school which led to the group doing four performances, one of which was at the Lowry Centre as part of UDANCE 2012.
DaDa Fest commissioned me to create a 20 minute piece called Brought To Life in 2014. The theme of their festival was ‘Art of the Lived Experiment’ so I decided to base my piece on Andy Goldworthy and experimentation as he wrote the quote ‘The first stone was just tried in the spirit of experimentation. The opening of the stone was far more interesting than the drawing that I had done on it.’
The choreography was the result of a collaboration with local professionals, composer Lee Affen and digital dance artist Ellen Turner.
Having developed movement by undertaking set tasks using the Simpson board the Happy Mondays, Community Arts Company of learning disabled adults, from Knowsley, made their debut at the festival.
Since then I have been striving to create a piece of work with professional dancers to enable me to be really as artistic as I can be and raise my profile as a choreographer in my own right. Over the past 2 years I have had support from the Arts Council England for a project which had 4 strands. One of them was for my Professional and Artistic Development in which I have been working with a mentor George Adams from LPM Dance Theatre and now I have realised my inner hunger for combing my love of visual artwork with dance. I’m now ambitious to pursue my choreographic work whilst raising my profile as an artist within the wider dance sector.