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Seeing every 'body' dance - for enjoyment, for art, for a career
Date posted: 23 February 2018
Inspired by artistic director Avril Hitman and all the Magpie Dance team, Natasha Britton explains her passion to achieve "a world where a learning disability is no barrier to personal and artistic success in dance"
Photo shows Natasha Britton, Magpie Dance
I have been working as an inclusive dance practitioner for 18 years and for Magpie Dance for 15 years and in that time there has been a great deal of change in the inclusive dance world.

My early work was largely for Candoco Dance Company and in special schools. The work created, when watched by an audience, challenged the preconception of 'a dancer's body'. When I joined Magpie Dance my focus shifted to dance specifically for people with learning disabilities. We addressed the same question over what a dancer's body should look like but I also became keen to explore what someone with learning disabilities could achieve, challenging participants and audiences along the way. 

When I tell people what I do I often get the response, "that must be so rewarding". This is usually well-intended, but it suggests I am doing a great community service and that people with learning disabilities are limited as to what they can achieve. Yet, when I ask myself the question "is my work rewarding?" I have to say, "yes, it is". It is rewarding when I see someone achieve something in a dance class or on stage that may be an extraordinary achievement for them. It is rewarding when I see that, through dance, people I work with develop their communication skills and work more confidently than before. It is rewarding to change the opinion of someone who previously claimed, "they couldn't do that". I adore having a job where I get to see people's ideas of what is possible challenged, be it a parent who has been told what their child's limitations are for so long that they believe it, or someone who happens across our work, seeing something they didn't know existed. Yes - all of that is immensely rewarding. 

I have mentioned community dance participation challenging preconceptions, but there is also the issue of limited professional dance opportunities for people with disabilities. At a time when the arts are given even less importance in education and with curriculum dance often taught by PE teachers, it seems we have made little progress in challenging or supporting any change to education since I first started out 18 years ago. Professional training for people with disabilities, so that they can pursue a career in dance, is still largely left to dance companies to provide as on-the-job training. This gap in training opportunities makes it all the more challenging to show what dancers with disabilities can achieve as professionals.

On a positive note, I have seen over the years more organisations placing importance on up-skilling their students and staff, to enable them to cater for the needs of disabled individuals in their classes. Magpie Dance delivers continuing professional development in inclusive dance (endorsed by CDET). Our delivery has broadened over the past few years to include prestigious dance conservatoires, high profile dance companies and universities, as well as a number of individual practitioners who have undertaken our intensive training programme. It is encouraging to see that more organisations and individual practitioners want to develop their inclusive dance skills and seem to be seeking opportunities to do so.

Another positive change I have seen is that organisations/companies are creating more formal partnerships to work together to achieve common goals. One such example is the Linked consortium, which sees Magpie Dance, Candoco Dance Company, Trinity Laban and Greenwich Dance working together to support disabled children and their families in south east London to enjoy dance. Unions such as this are certainly taking us in the right direction.

Hopefully, when the next person says my work, "must be rewarding" I'll have a more concise reply. I believe that every 'body' can dance - for enjoyment, for art or for a career. Yes, dance is rewarding and, yes, so is promoting inclusion and challenging preconceptions. 

What I hope for the most is that the more we challenge, create opportunity and educate, the less we will find ourselves compelled to justify our work in inclusive dance.

Natasha Britton
Magpie Dance Co Artistic Director - Youth, Education & Training