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  • Staying well, connected to others and resilient
  • Regaining independence

DanceSyndrome Inclusive community dance workshops


The DanceSyndrome approach has a special focus on including everyone, regardless of ability and encouraging them to follow their dreams!

The charity provides weekly inclusive dance workshops for people with and without disabilities, as well as leadership training in line with their unique co-delivery model – people with and without disabilities work together to offer high quality provision in the community, in schools and universities and working with businesses. They also have a team of performance artists who attend regular special events and exclusive performances, again emphasising a focus on their abilities, rather than their disabilities.

DanceSyndrome go above and beyond to provide multiple opportunities for people with disabilities to not only be included, but to become more visible citizens, have their voices heard on important issues, to follow their dreams and to succeed in their ambitions.

Their work inspires and empowers both dancers and audiences to believe that opportunities are endless for people who refuse to be defined by disability. DS activities are not just healthier for individuals, they also healthier for communities. A community that sees people as individuals with interests will see past any disability and get to know the person.


We were founded by, and serve people with learning disabilities (PWLD). There are an estimated 50,000 PWLD in Greater Manchester and Lancashire (PWLD in England 2011). They have worse physical and mental health than people without a learning disability (Mencap). On average, the life expectancy of women with a learning disability is 18 years shorter, and men 14 years shorter, than the general population (NHS Digital 2017). 80% PWLD undertake less physical activity than recommended levels. 

They are 2.5 times more likely to have health problems, (Equal Treatment, Closing the Gap, The NHS Centre for Equality & Human Rights, National Leadership & Innovation Agency for Healthcare 2008). Department of Health 2011 research confirms PWLD face barriers to living a full life including ill health due to a mainly sedentary life; low confidence; poor self-esteem; significant isolation and boredom – all of which our work addresses. 


We were founded in 2009 by Jen Blackwell (Down Syndrome) who was unable to find inclusive accessible dance sessions and dance leadership training for people with learning disabilities (PWLD). Starting with inclusive dance sessions in 1 venue, we now offer weekly 1.5 hour sessions in 5 venues (Greater Manchester/Lancashire),
attended by circa 120 PWLD annually, plus 55 outreach sessions, 15 performances and dance leadership training courses.

What Works report (Centre for Wellbeing 2017), confirms the impact of dance on happiness. There is growing evidence supporting the importance of peer-led activity and its positive impact on self-efficacy. People with learning disabilities lack visible peer role models. Our Dance Leaders with learning disabilities are visible role models at every workshop, demonstrating that ‘people like us’ can lead. Many workshop participants have become regional and national role models, inspiring and encouraging others through their stories and achievements.

Evidence base

127 participants reported: 100% look forward to our weekly workshops; 100% have better mobility/movement; 98% feel better about their lives and futures; 94% feel happier; 94% have increased self-esteem; 93% have increased confidence; 98% are proud of their involvement; 70% made friends and feel less isolated; 70% are more independent. Families report additional benefits including enduring friendships; clear purpose; improved independence; increased community contributions (100% participants feel positive about community participation, 94% are proud of their contributions); improved physical and mental health; and strong peer-support networks for both participants and families.Evidence collected using focus groups, video, photography, observation, questionnaires baseline, midpoint and end point over a 3-year period.

Expected impact

Improved physical and mental health and well-being, improved core strength, increased energy, improved balance, improved memory, weight loss and diabetes management, pain management. Reduction of social isolation, improved confidence and self-esteem, purpose, planning, learning new skills, volunteering opportunities and support networks for beneficiaries and their families.

Positive impact on families and on the wider community who see the person and not the disability when an individual demonstrates their passions and specific interests.

Educating students in colleges and Universities on co-production, social model of disability and civil Society.


5 weekly dance workshops, 5 dance classes, 2 performance groups and 55 outreach dance workshops annually across Lancashire and Greater Manchester.

Social replication project in Oldham and Nottingham.

What would councils/health organisations/local areas need to do or have in place to enable it to develop?

Help us to fund our social replication model and connect to organisations who share our values and have the ability to roll out inclusive dance in their area, supported and trained by DanceSyndrome.

Our ambition is to build on our existing social replication model and offer a social franchise across the UK.

What would kill it?

Lack of funding.  We know there is demand for DanceSyndrome however our charity survives on funding from grants/trusts/donations to widen participation in order to keep beneficiary fees affordable.  

Where to go for more information

DanceSyndrome, C/O Pathways Associates, Suite 2, Waterside, St James Court West, Accrington, 
Web:          www.dancesyndrome.co.uk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dancerleddisabilityinspired/?ref=bookmarks
Twitter:     https://twitter.com/DanceSyndrome
LinkedIn:   https://www.linkedin.com/company/dancesyndrome/ 
YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/user/sueblackwellDS