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Stepping back and celebrating 10 years of DanceSyndrome

23 February 2023 · Categories: Communities Care, Events

Photo of Jen dancing and smilingI first met Jen Blackwell, her mum Sue and all-round family supporter, Sarah Kennedy back in 2009. Jen had a real passion for dance and dreamt of becoming a dance leader to inspire and train others. Jen has Down’s syndrome and, at the time, opportunities for disabled people to train as dance leaders just didn’t exist. As budding entrepreneurs, Jen and her supporters came up with the fantastic idea of setting up DanceSyndrome which would fill the gaps and create those opportunities.

Our paths crossed at just the right time – along with our Angela Catley and Community Catalysts’ founder, Sian Lockwood, I was working on a Department of Health (as was) funded project to create more choice for people who draw on care or support, bringing capacity to the sector and offering a range of alternative, creative options (that project was a pre-curser to the Community Catalysts you know today!).

In practice, that meant I was working on the ground in Oldham to help passionate local people to set up their own small enterprises offering care or support to others – otherwise known as community micro-enterprises.

It was a pleasure to meet with Jen and her team helping to bring her ideas to life and set up DanceSyndrome an inclusive dance company with disabled and non-disabled dancers based in and around Lancashire.

In 2013, DanceSyndrome officially constituted as a charity and since then has grown from strength to strength, achieving so many amazing things! I’m really pleased to have kept strong links with Jen and DanceSyndrome over the years, through my work at Community Catalysts.

I have seen the DanceSyndrome team perform many times – always giving me goose bumps….

…So, I was delighted to be invited to DanceSyndrome’s ten year celebration event at the Lowry Theatre in Salford earlier this month.

The event was sold out and yet again I was blown away by the performances on the night and films of some of their greatest achievements.

7 DanceSyndrome dancers on stage with arms outstretched stood in front of a black and white video still of dancers at the beach holding the same pose

Photographer: Brian Slater

The whole event was amazing, but I think my favourite routine was Lit aDrift which was the same dance the team performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival back in 2018.

For some performances, there must have been at least 30 dancers on stage. The skill and the passion for dancing was clear…

…But even more so was the friendship, the love that everyone had for each other, supporting fellow dancers when needed and the ultimate trust that people put in each other – to hold or catch one another to perform some amazing moves.

Photo of Jen, Sue and Sarah from DanceSyndrome and Helen from Community Catalysts. All stood in a row, smilingEmotionally, I was certainly moved and so proud to see how much the organisation has achieved since that first chat in 2009. It was great to see Jen, Sue and Sarah again too.

The event also featured a special announcement from professional dancer Giovanni Pernice (of Strictly Come Dancing fame) who has joined the charity in an Ambassador role – what an achievement!

DanceSyndrome provides such amazing opportunities and support for people, choosing to focus on people’s strengths and skills!

Here at Community Catalysts, we aim to support people to develop sustainable community micro-enterprises that have a lasting impact for both the entrepreneurs and for people who can benefit from their offer. It’s been wonderful to have been a small part of the DanceSyndrome story, 14 years ago and even more so, to still be currently working with them as they look to develop and broaden their model again.

And it’s not just us they continue to inspire…

…only this week I spoke to a Commissioner in a London Borough who told me that DanceSyndrome had such an impact on him (having seen them at a recent Association of Directors of Adult Social Service (ADASS) conference), and the time was right in his area to review current ‘day services’ for people with a learning disability and bring in more creative options focusing on strengths, gifts and talents.

A special footnote from Sue:

In those very early days Helen and the team from Community Catalysts encouraged us to keep going, to find a way through the roadblocks in the system, to believe in ourselves and Jen’s right to a life of her choosing. DanceSyndrome has eclipsed any anticipation that Malcolm, Jen and I might have had when we set it up out of pure frustration. We are bowled over by the sense of sheer wonderment that pervades everything DanceSyndrome, the excitement from every person involved, and a shared belief now underpinned by over 10 years’ of evidence, that people with learning disabilities can set the world alight when given half a chance. They truly are our inspirational leaders.

Happy 10 years DanceSyndrome!


By Helen Allen – Director of Community Enterprise

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