Fusion: The UK’s First Inclusive Professional Ballroom Showcase

Fusion cast with Rashmi Becker (3rd from left) Photo: Stephen Wright Photography

Fusion, the UK's first inclusive Latin and ballroom dance showcase with disabled and non-disabled artists, has been making headlines and leaving audiences demanding more. Presented by pioneering UK dance company Step Change Studios (covered in one of our previous articles), Fusion premiered at the internationally renowned home for dance in London, Sadler’s Wells, in May 2018. Fusion Producer and founder of Step Change Studios, Rashmi Becker talks  about Fusion and invites reflections from two of the dancers from the show.
Redefining the Genre by Rashmi Becker

My vision for Fusion was to bring together talented professional artists from different dance backgrounds to push the boundaries of ballroom with beautiful, powerful, performances that redefine the genre. Fusion featured leading choreographers from London’s West End, and popular television shows including Dancing with the Stars, and showcased 20 disabled and non-disabled artists through duets, solos and group numbers. As UK talent, I wanted to provide a platform for the world’s best and was delighted to include the first UK performance by wheelchair dancer, Pawel Karpinski and his standing partner Nadine Kinczel, from Poland, who hold European and World competitive ballroom dance titles.


I established Step Change Studios just over a year ago to address the lack of opportunities for disabled and non-disabled people to dance together. My single focus was to enable people to dance. From community to professional level, I was keen to support people who have never danced to have a chance, and to promote talent and leadership that will contribute to a diverse dance sector. In just over a year, almost 1,000 children and adults have participated in dance with Step Change Studios – most for the first time.

Aware of the fantastic but disparate talent in the UK, I conceived Fusion as an opportunity for creative collaboration and experimentation between artists, to entertain, engage and inspire audiences, and to challenge our ideas about Latin and ballroom dance and dancers. I knew that if people could just see high quality inclusive dance, its place in mainstream arts would become obvious. The audience response was resoundingly positive, calling for more, praising the abilities and strength of the dancing, and the profound impact the show had made, and the show attracted national media coverage on TV, radio and print.
Nadine Kinczel & Pawel Karpinski by Stephen Wright Photography
During the audience discussion following the show. I was asked, "What next?" I would love to tour Fusion, produce new work, and develop further collaborations and opportunities in the UK and internationally so that we can open up dance to more people at every level. On a broader scale, I would like to see more dance teachers, programmers, producers, and venues integrate disability and diversity into every day practice.

Fusion was made up of artists brought such commitment, positive energy, openness, and passion for dance. Two artists, Kat and Freya share their experience of the show and inclusive dance.

Kat Ball: From Contemporary to Charleston

Coming from a contemporary background, I didn’t know quite what to expect from going into the studio for such a different style. As a long-time Strictly Come Dancing fan (known as Dancing with the Stars in the United States), and in a family of life-time ballroom dancers, I was very excited about getting my own glimpse into a parallel world of dance.

The Charleston style is such good fun to watch and channeling that vibe, plus 1920’s showgirl, was great fun! My piece was exhilarating to perform, an energetic, “show-tastic” grin required at all times, while executing fast and unified precision.

Working with Step Change Studios was a positive and uplifting experience. It was refreshing to encounter dancers from all levels of experience, and to enjoy working and succeeding together. Choreographer and fellow performer Nancy, was an injection of joy to our rehearsals: transparent, friendly and collaborative in her approach. These qualities are much desired in inclusive dance, where adaptive practice and high creative integrity are more likely to result in unified and visually pleasing performances, rather than leaving anyone behind.

As my family are ballroom buffs, I was mildly apprehensive of what they might think. I needn’t have worried; they enjoyed every minute and were left wanting more! An opinion the audience agreed with; judging by the rapturous applause and encouraging and progressive conversation, immediately after the show. The Fusion showcase was masterfully put together by the indomitable, Rashmi Becker. A show of ballroom and Latin styles which allowed for complete enjoyment of dance. Presented in short, perfectly formed bursts, which emphasized the professionalism of the entire cast and highlighted to the audience that dance and disability can and should be enjoyed positively and simultaneously. It wasn’t about ignoring or dismissing the quality which various abilities bring, but rather about enjoyment and appreciation of that variety.

Kat Ball (4th from right). Photo by Stephen Wright Photography
Professionally, working with Step Change Studios involved many firsts; learning movement from a ballroom/Latin inspired style, dancing in a chorus line, disabled and non-disabled dancers all being seated. I very much enjoyed having hair and make-up being done for me - with spectacular dramatic effect, performing at the world renowned Sadler’s Wells Theatre and being with so many wheelchair dancers in the same show. This is a feature of the showcase which I hope might challenge the accessibility set-up and underlying mindset of theaters, in the future.
 

My hope is that the Fusion showcase will be able to continue nationwide and beyond. I believe that Step Change Studios performance and community teaching is vital, in contributing to the inclusion of disabled dancers in the wider dance community and promoting their experience and opportunities in an empowering and enjoyable manner.
 

Freya Spencer: Take Your Time

I am an inclusive dance practitioner and have been working in this sector of dance for the last few years, as a performer, teacher and choreographer. I work for Step Change Studios as a teacher and was invited to perform in Fusion.

I was asked during the post-show discussion what advice I would give to teachers and choreographers who want to work inclusively but are not yet doing so. My answer was: Take your time! One of the most important things about what I do, is the responsiveness and flexibility, in my facilitation for discussion and ‘figuring out’ that then guides where every session goes. You have to think about everyone in the group, and what works for each individual, for your group as a whole, and what works for you. The fun is the part when you find something that makes a dancer tick, or something that really doesn’t; where do you go from there, and how do you develop what you are doing to be useful, interesting and enjoyable for everybody?

In the rehearsal process for Fusion, I found that the choreographers and dancers really allowed the space to explore the best way that we could perform and translate steps. As a contemporary dancer, the process was very interesting, as usually I go into a studio and there is less of a prescribed language of steps used. A lot of what I do usually is a physical response to a task, or an idea that is given. In the rehearsals for Fusion, I was learning a whole new language of movement. This meant we were developing our translation, alongside each other from an organic place. Through guidance from our choreographers, we each interpreted how to translate the performance for our different bodies, and to move together while remaining authentic to the specific dance tradition.

The really lovely thing about inclusive dance practice is that it celebrates the individual. Each person is unique. So when we are dancing in couples, each pairing is unique. This was something special that stood out to me throughout the rehearsal and the performance: It was really about how everybody dances, as themselves. Even in the piece in which we are one large synchronized group, the characterization allowed space for us to be individuals.

Freya Spence (back left). Photo by Stephen Wright Photography

To keep up with Step Change Studios:

Twitter: @Step_Change
Facebook/Instagram: @stepchangestudios

Website: www.stepchangestudios.com

Link to insert in article:

Fusion Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99-LCRUEHhc&t=1s
 

Media:
Sky New Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tkwEaoJays&t=71s
Guardian Photo Story: https://www.theguardian.com/social-care-network/gallery/2018/may/04/strictly-inclusive-disabled-people-taking-up-dance-in-pictures

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