29th April 2022 • My Family Our Needs
This week, MFON’s Olivia Hubbard caught up with Born to Perform’s Kimberley Carey and we talk making dance accessible, changing the perceptions of Down’s syndrome and why Simon Cowell isn’t as scary as you might think.
It’s not very often that you watch a short video clip and your smile just gets bigger, and bigger. There’s so much happiness in this clip – it’s just infectious – but it’s emotional too and my eyes filled up. With all that’s going on in the world, I have to thank Northampton-based dance group, Born to Perform, for bringing a little bit of magic into my living room during their Britain’s Got Talent audition last Saturday night. It was simply wonderful.
Living the dream
The air was alive on stage, the music was pumping (we think You Can’t Stop The Beat from the musical Hairspray was a sensational song choice!), all 14 members wowed the judges and group member Alice (aged 14) was elated to see Simon Cowell – so much so that she stopped mid-routine to give him a little wave and couldn’t quite believe he was watching. The routine was incredibly fast paced, the outfits dazzled and the group didn’t stop surprising the audience with in-time dance moves, which featured lots of spinning, shimmying, cartwheels and even the splits. Everyone was on their feet by the end and BGT judge David Walliams secured the group’s place in the semi-finals by hitting the golden buzzer! The audition was actually recorded on 20th January, so the group has had to wait a little while to see the reaction from everyone at home and, not surprisingly, it’s been epic.
Born to Perform was set up by Choreographer Charlotte Ashby, Kimberley Carey and Clementine Milne in 2020. When the world went into lockdown, the dance group took classes online. The group is for children and young people with disabilities. The founders had experience working within the special needs community and social care sector and wanted to create a positive and fun learning space. The group now has more than 100 students. The group of 14 involved with BGT had been training for six months in the lead-up to the audition. To perform in front of the judges was an exciting prospect but never could they have imagined just how great it was going to be.
“The whole day was just incredible,” recalls Born to Perform’s Kimberley. “The whole team at BGT were amazing – and everyone loved our guys. There were just positive vibes everywhere. Everywhere we went, the BGT team were high fiving them! They just absolutely loved them, and we felt something special and felt accepted straight away.”
Simon Cowell was clearly a big hit with the group. “Everybody loves Simon! He’s the one you love to hate but he’s got a bit softer in recent years,” says Kimberley.
“The audition brought so much happiness to everybody in the UK. We can’t even get back to everyone – I’m trying my hardest scrolling through trying to ‘like’ everything, the messages of support and love are just so overwhelming and heart-warming. I think it has really opened people’s eyes as to what people with disabilities can do – there’s the friendship, the hard work that’s gone into it, the teamwork, lots and lots of different things, co-ordination and I think hearing from people that don’t even know them that they are just so proud and think they are just fantastic, it just makes you all warm and fuzzy.”
Inclusivity at the heart
The group’s members, who attend regular sessions outside of the BGT performance, have a variety of conditions and what makes the dance group so successful is its ability to tailor to so many people – to adapt and to bring that positive experience into people’s lives.
“A lot of the guys have autism; we have a girl who has turner syndrome; another member has global development delay; we do have a variety of different disabilities. Our sessions are very much a modern take on a disability dance school. We do songs that the guys want to listen to – not nursery rhymes, they are up to date, modern and they are quite fast. We know that they are capable of it; it’s all about the more you practise, you will get there. To be able to work that hard and achieve an end goal that is in time. It’s all about energy, positivity, enthusiasm, which is a key thing behind Born to Perform. That’s what we are all about.”
Born to Perform thinks outside the box and is determined to push boundaries. These guys are really capable – it’s about being accessible. The group has wheelchair users and adapts the sessions for them. They can still join in on the fast dance but it’s adapted, for example, just using arms or, if they can spin, the instructors see if they can manually spin themselves or they can do a head roll.
Advice for parents/carers
“Just go for it! There are a lot of groups out there – there is a fantastic charity called Project 21 in Essex. There are a lot of smaller companies that do these sorts of things. We have parents who stay with their child and we are really open to that – we say don’t worry, come in and stay, stay for the whole session for the first week, next week let’s go down to 45 minutes, then half an hour. I think it’s about being very open. A lot of people come to us and say they have been at dance schools and it was just so awful – we didn’t fit in, we’ve finally found somewhere where our child is accepted, and they are so happy to come. The more we do across the country, the more ‘normal’ it’s going to be. There is so much happiness.
“One girl was so nervous when she used to come to us and her mum used to have to stay with her the whole time and now the mum doesn’t even recognise her daughter – the confidence she has. It’s not just dance, there’s the friendship; they are exercising but in a fun way, so they don’t actually realise they are exercising; they are using their minds to remember the dance routines, the self-esteem. Even from an hour-long Saturday session, the parents say these children are changing at home; they will be watching the TV and then dancing in front of the TV, and their parents will be like ‘wow!’ she has never done that before.
“They are doing things they never knew they were capable of and I think performance and dance brings so much out of people with disabilities. For children with autism, disabilities, it’s important because they can express themselves through dance and that’s so important, communication wise and things like that. We have non-verbal members that come to us that say to their parents they will never be interested in dance and now they are dragging their parents out the door to go!”
Kimberley is a Level 2 in sign language. The group has some deaf members and the schedule is written on the board to help members of the group who have autism. “We welcome people to wear ear defenders and we have fidget toys around the room – there’s no judgement if they want to walk around the room. That’s not a problem. I think that’s important to consider. There may be a moment when someone might have a meltdown and you need to be trained to cope with that and you will have those moments.”
Spreading the joy
Born to Perform is a little family and it’s lovely to see. What really stayed with me was how the group hugged each other at the end of the audition. Kimberly explained this to me really well: “There is such a range of disabilities but the way they look out for each other is just incredible. I think a lot of people can learn a lot from them. The ones who might need a little bit of extra help, they notice that – it’s real, raw emotion that you see and to witness that is quite a rare thing these days. We’re grateful, we get to see that every day. We have the best time! We have the best job ever!
“We would love it if people could bottle up that happiness and energy that we have day to day and spread it around to everyone – if we sold it, we would be multi-millionaires!”
Well, in terms of BGT, everything is top secret! But Kimberley promises that the semi-final production is going to be amazing. “It’s going to be bigger, better, brighter, more energy, more happiness; there’s a little bit of a surprise in there, and the group is going to just crank it up a notch because that’s what they are all about.”
Born to Perform is determined to raise awareness of Downs Syndrome and to remove any stigma. Its students will feature in a new photographic exhibition of portraits taken by photographer Rory Langdon-Down, great-great-grandson of Dr John Langdon-Down, known as ‘The Father of Down’s Syndrome’.
The portraits will feature in an exhibition at The Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability in Teddington, south-west London.
For more information about Born to Perform and the classes it offers, visit: https://borntoperformdanceschool.co.uk/