Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a wheelchair user?
I’m Kate Stanforth, I’m 27 years old and from Northumberland. I suddenly became unwell at the age of 14 with ME and quickly became a wheelchair user due to my severe pain, fatigue and muscle weakness.
A number of years later, I was diagnosed with a number of other complex health conditions, including EDS, which means I’ve been an ambulatory wheelchair user for over a decade now!
What inspired you to open your own inclusive dance school? Why do you think this is so important in terms of representation?
I created my dance school to be as inclusive as possible. Getting back into the dance industry as a disabled person was incredibly difficult as there were so many barriers it was exhausting. From inaccessible studios to discrimination, it was one fight after another.
So, my dance academy is built to break down barriers and that’s why I absolutely love it. I think it’s important for adults as much as children to see a wheelchair user being a dance teacher, and in the public eye, so I’m very proud of my school and what it’s achieving.
For wheelchair users, what are the benefits of getting involved in dance?
Dance has so many benefits. The obvious one is the physical benefit of movement but it’s fantastic for both mental and social wellbeing. My students love coming along each week and we make sure we have 5 mins at the end of the session for a little chat. Having a disability can be incredibly isolating so it’s nice that the dance groups have formed a really community within the school.
Since launching in March, how has your dance academy been received so far?
I can honestly say I didn’t expect my school to be where it’s at today. I sold out of my online classes in the first day of launch and I think that was when I realised ‘Gosh Kate, this really could work!’. I had put my everything into starting the dance academy so I was thrilled that people were booking onto the sessions!
Since then, I’ve been on Steph’s Packed Lunch to show both Steph and Oti Mabuse how to tap dance using our tap gloves, I’ve featured in a number of magazines and I’ve also hired 2 teachers to help me put on some extra classes. Amazing!
You got involved with our Whizz-Kidz clubs and ran dance activity sessions earlier this year. Did you enjoy this? How do you feel it went?
I absolutely LOVE teaching for Whizz-Kidz. The smiles on their faces and the enthusiasm always makes the sessions the most enjoyable. I really do love teaching them! I also love the variety of students I get to teach too, it’s really lovely to see just how many people Whizz-Kidz support and get a little glimpse into the running of the charity.
What do you think is the single most important thing needed right now to improve the lives of young wheelchair users and make them feel more included within society?
This is a really hard question, but I’m going to go with providing them with the correct equipment.
To be more included in society, we need to be able to first of all get into society, and that’s where charities like Whizz-Kidz are vital in providing equipment to make that happen.
When I was 14, I wasn’t aware of Whizz Kidz. I didn’t have a suitable wheelchair and I was isolated at home a lot of the time. We eventually had to fundraise for a suitable wheelchair later on, but not everyone has the ability to have friends/family who can fundraise for them.
My wheelchair is my life. It enables me to go see friends, to go on courses, to teach dance, to get food in… Basically everything your legs do. Many disabled people aren’t able to access the correct equipment which would improve their quality of life drastically.
What would you say to a young wheelchair user who was really keen to get involved in dance but was yet to try it or maybe lacked the confidence to get involved?
If you’re thinking of trying dance but are a bit nervous, remember that’s a perfectly acceptable feeling! Remember, by joining a class you aren’t signing up to a long-term contract to be the next prima ballerina, so feel free to pop along and see if it’s something you might enjoy.
You can always have a chat to the teacher beforehand and they will be able to help with any questions you might have.
Thanks for having me, Whizz-Kidz!! xx