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> > > Review: ActOne ArtsBase present A Sense of Beauty
photo of a workshop in which particpants manipulate a 20 foot tall puppet

A group of participants workshopping Hullabaloo in a school in Herts

ActOne ArtsBase are currently producing a dance and performance workshop called 'A Sense of Beauty' for schools, hospices, hospitals, theatres and outdoor venues across the East of England and surrounding areas. Katie Fraser discusses her experience of being part of the organisations training programme.

We are touring schools using ladders and silks in a fascinating way. Spearheaded by Suzie Birchwood, this Hertfordshire-based company really does know how to bring disability arts kicking and screaming into the mainstream by encouraging a full contribution from all participants - both trainees and staff - whose commitment, creativity and empathy come shining through.

As a trainee on the dance leadership programme, I have been inspired by the way Suzie uses her tremendous passion and determination to set an example, encouraging our belief in ourselves and our ability to take advantage of the opportunity to do something we enjoy.

Participation for all
Engagement and inclusion are key principles underpinning the work of ActOne Arts Base, and also of DanceBase, its weekly evening sessions held at two schools in Ware and Watford. On the trainee programme, engagement is quite a simple process. If a participant finds a dance move difficult, a way is found to adapt it effectively.

It soon becomes clear that this way of working brings out the best in all of us. Themes and actions are given by the leaders at first, and if a participant is not conforming, we adapt it to what they are doing.  First we watch the steps, such as ballet moves, that our dance teacher shows us. If a participant is not copying what everyone else is doing, we adapt the sessions to whatever they are doing and engage them by copying them so that they are directing the exercises.

For example, if we are bending our legs and one participant, Johnny, is doing something like stamping his feet, we work around him to bring him back into the circle, mirroring what he is doing by saying "Let's do what Johnny is doing, let's stamp our feet, like a giant", so that Johnny plays a part in the routine and feels included. I am learning more and more about contemporary dance and ballet styles, how to lead warm-up exercises and sessions and ways to keep momentum going.

Clothing is important to our identities, and I love wearing the trainee’s uniform – a hooded top and grey T-shirt with the organisation’s logo.
How funding is used
Funding from Arts Council England and the Big Lottery is put to optimum use within ARC, ArtsOne’s professional performance dance company, as well as in running the trainee programme and its holiday projects, which are attended by children and adults with complex needs. In The Forgotten Circus dance project, for example, materials and props were specially selected to make the most of every participant’s talents. Our activities lead up to a performance held on the 9th December at the Vinyard Barn in Welwyn Garden City, where we showcased our work. The holiday projects organise performances for parents and families after participants have had fun learning the dances in The Forgotten Circus.  

Further opportunities
Trainees receive a certificate for participating in the course and learning to be dance leaders. They also get involved in supporting participants on the holiday project and helping at the DanceBase programme in Watford and Ware.  The training programme lasts for 2 years and is followed by a Work Placement Scheme where participants are supported to put their training into practise in the work environment.

Using my full potential
ActOne ArtsBase has helped me so much to get in touch with a different part of myself. I can definitely say that without public support or funding, all this valuable activity simply wouldn’t happen. I leave my Friday trainee sessions completely exhilarated by having learnt something I’d never have thought possible. Learning to be myself without focusing on my ability, rather than disability, brings a flood of mixed emotions, but there’s no doubt that sheer enjoyment is the most powerful.

For more information about the work of Artsbase check out this video: 
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