Jen Blackwell and Anna James – Inclusive dance practice with DanceSyndrome

About the Session

We will be sharing information on the inclusive charity, DanceSyndrome, which Jen founded with her parents over 10 years ago. We will share our methodology of co-production and how that supports the charity to grow. We will highlight ways that we can connect with people as well as case studies on dancers involved with DanceSyndrome and how it has supported other areas of their lives.

About Jen

Jen Blackwell is Creative Founder and Director of DanceSyndrome. Jen has Down’s syndrome but at no point has that got in the way of her aspiration and determination. Ever since leaving mainstream school she wanted to be a community dance worker, but after more than 10 years of searching she never found appropriate training.
In 2009 DanceSyndrome was started and in 2010 Jen found 14 dancers to work with, half of whom had learning disabilities. Together they have grown into a dedicated, inclusive group of learning-disabled Dance Leaders. In 2013 DanceSyndrome became a charity.

Jen is living a fulfilled life, immersed in her passion for dance. She does so alongside other dancers with learning disabilities who also have opportunities to explore their gifts as leaders, dancers, team players, soloists and contributors to society. In doing so, they become role models for others.

Jen is now a well recognised and respected role model and this has been recognised through a number of awards. In September 2015 Jen was thrilled to win “Inspirational Woman of the Year” at the Enterprise Vision Awards 2015. Jen has gone on to be included in the Shaw Trust Power 100 2018 & 2019 and was chosen as the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Point of Light Award in October 2018.
Jen said “Dancing is my life, I am passionate about dance and about supporting people like me to have opportunities in the dance world. Winning awards shows that people with learning disabilities can do amazing things with their lives if given a chance”.

About Anna

Anna has been a volunteer and dance artist with Dance Syndrome since 2016. She became interested in the company after seeing a performance whilst at university and wanted to be involved. She contacted DanceSyndrome Managing Director Dawn Vickers who invited her to join in with a sponsored dance event. She was also invited to the filming of Orbit at Crosby Beach and enjoyed it so much that she became a regular volunteer for the Wednesday sessions at Plungington Community Centre.

Since graduating, Anna now co-leads that Everybody Dance session with Jodie Turner and also delivers a Contemporary Dance technique session. She has also joined the DS Collective for performance work. Anna has performed with DanceSyndrome in lots of exciting places including Enrich Festival in Watford, The Lowry in Manchester and one of her personal favourites was the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017 & 2018!

Anna was also proud to be part of an exciting Arts Council England project in 2019 called “Co-create”. This project explored the dynamics of working collaboratively. Like DanceSyndrome’s approach to co-leading sessions, the project explored co-production between choreographers with and without learning disabilities working together to develop a performance piece.

In 2020 when face-to-face sessions had to close due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Anna proved her adaptability by helping the DanceSyndrome team to adjust to a new way of dancing by delivering online sessions as well as supporting the delivery team with admin duties.

Tell us what you'd like to see

Keep up to date with us on Twitter

Thank you to these organisations for their generous support