Resources and Guides

Jen Blackwell – Dancing To Make A Difference

Beyond the Waiting Room has gone global! In honor of World Down Syndrome Day on March 21, we’re showcasing three lovely ladies from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the United States. 

Jen Blackwell is the founder and Creative Director of DanceSyndrome, an inclusive dance charity based in the United Kingdom. Jen’s dream of becoming a community dance trainer was threatened after she left school at 16 and discovered there were no suitable training programs for people with disabilities. So, she created one. 

I’m so happy that Jen was able to take time from her busy schedule and chat with us. 

Lillian

What sparked your love of dance?

My love of dance just came naturally to me when I was little. I’ve been dancing ever since.

Tell us how DanceSyndrome came about. 

When I left school there wasn’t any opportunities out there for me to train to be a dance leader, so my Mum and Dad helped me to set up DanceSyndrome so that I could create opportunities in dance for myself and other people like me. 

What’s your favorite dance/dance routine and why?

I perform a solo to Alexandra Burke’s Hallelujah, which is the story of my life told through dance. I was thrilled when I got the chance to perform it in front of Alexandra!

How often do you teach?

I teach several days a week. I co-lead workshops in Chorley on Tuesdays and Hindley on Wednesdays. As well as joining in with technique classes in Street, Jazz, Ballet and Contemporary dance on Mondays and Wednesdays. We have weekly performance rehearsals on Wednesdays, too. We also go out to deliver performances, workshops and training for other organisations too, so I’m very busy.

How do you come up with your dance routines?

I work on them while I’m at home. I’m very lucky because all three of my PA’s (Personal Assistants) are involved with DanceSyndrome so we can work on choreography and ideas for new dance pieces at home as well as in sessions. 

What else does DanceSyndrome offer besides dance workshops? 

We offer public speaking for conferences and special events and we perform on different stages like the Edinburgh Fringe in Scotland or the Learning Disability and Autism Awards. We perform in front of audiences of all sizes, sometimes as many as 800 people! 

But the most important thing we offer is friendships and the chance to go out in the world no matter what your disability.

Jen talks more about friendship and its importance in the Superabled documentary:

What other cool activities do you do besides DanceSyndrome?

I do cool activities like playing flute and my other one is karate. I do gradings and I’m over the moon about my blue belt. I can’t wait to go on and get my black belt!

What is your favorite/memorable DanceSyndrome moment?

I do a duet dance with Becky. Becky is my best friend and we dance together and we have a friendship bond. We dance to Truly, Madly Deeply by Savage Garden and the dance tells the story of our friendship. We have performed this at lots of local festivals and we have also performed together at Kew Gardens and City Hall in London!

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Who has been the strongest influence in your life, your own personal superhero? 

My own personal superhero is David Darcy (DanceSyndrome Dance Artist and one of Jen’s PA’s) because we have a friendship bond, we have been friends for five years and he inspires me to become a beautiful dancer.

What are you most proud of accomplishing? 

I won Inspirational Woman of the Year in 2015 at the Enterprise Vision Awards (celebrates women in business). It meant a lot to me and my mum because she is the person who helped me to get DanceSyndrome started.

What is your vision of the future for DanceSyndrome?

My vision for the future of DanceSyndrome is to see other Dance Leaders coming out of their shell a bit more and feeling confident to stand up and give performances, do public speaking – speak your heart out! When there is something inside you that needs to come out, just let it out. 

What do you want people to know about DanceSyndrome?

I want to inspire other people and other dancers to go out in the world and make yourself known. We’re open to everybody no matter what your disability or ability. We welcome everyone. Disability doesn’t define who we are. 

Who inspires you? 

A lady who inspires me is Dawn Vickers. She’s my beautiful Managing Director of DanceSyndrome. She works incredibly hard for all of us. I’m so proud and honoured to be the Queen of DanceSyndrome! All of my Dance Leaders inspire me every day and every night.

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What is your vision of the future for DanceSyndrome?

My vision for the future of DanceSyndrome is to see other Dance Leaders coming out of their shell a bit more and feeling confident to stand up and give performances, do public speaking – speak your heart out! When there is something inside you that needs to come out, just let it out. 

What do you want people to know about DanceSyndrome?

I want to inspire other people and other dancers to go out in the world and make yourself known. We’re open to everybody no matter what your disability or ability. We welcome everyone. Disability doesn’t define who we are.

 

Photos and videos provided by DanceSyndrome

 

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