How Kate Stanforth Made the Dance World More Accessible
Eastern Eye Staff
A recent report released by cultural mobility network On the Move revealed that a bombshell 87% of venues and festivals do not include disabled people on selection panels or in commissioning work, and that only 28% of venues across the UK regularly presented or supported work by disabled artists. The statistics speak for themselves, demonstrating that there is a long way to go in art and culture before equity is realised – but one dancer is challenging the stereotypes, one dance lesson at a time: Kate Stanforth.
Born to Dance
Kate Stanforth was born in Stocksfield in 1994, and a born dancer from the off. She reported an obsession with dance starting at an early age, training heavily each day “in the hope that one day [she] would be the next Darcy Bussell.” What happened next was an unexpected shock to her and her family: a period of illness at 14, followed by the unfortunate diagnosis of ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), a chronic condition which led her to require the use a wheelchair, and ended her training as an able-bodied dancer.
But her diagnosis did nothing to stop her resolve, and she instead pivoted to teaching, garnering qualifications in teaching ballet despite the many barriers to progress affecting disabled dancers. Understanding those barriers, and meeting other disabled people with an appetite for dance, was what led Kate to her new dream of opening a dance academy: “I enjoyed teaching but found that there were many disabled people who still couldn’t access dance. And that passion for change is why I wanted to open my dance academy.”
A Lucky Break
Kate received some good luck in the form of scouting for TV show The Greatest Dancer, which, though unsuccessful, led to lucrative performances in advertising campaigns for supermarket clothing brands Tu and George. But the coronavirus lockdowns of 2020 had Kate shielding for five months, unable to work without endangering herself. Here, she began teaching inclusive online dance classes from home, and quickly found an audience she didn’t quite expect: “40 people each week, and a worldwide audience.”
A Show of Faith
But something happened which propelled her into starting the Kate Stanforth Academy of Dance. “I was using a room at Tumble Gymnastics and Activity Centre, when one day I went in and the owner, Craig Heap, and my friend, Demi Donnelly, transformed it into my dream dance studio. It wasn’t just the fact they transformed the room into a dance studio for me, it was the fact they believed that I could make it as a dancer/teacher. They both told me I was ready and that it was my time, and that was when I decided to go for it. And I’ve never looked back!”
Today she continues to run her academy, offering a wide range of lessons with no barriers to access whatsoever. She also writes guest blogs for accessibility organisations like Allied Mobility and WheelAir, advocating for disabilities in dance and in life. She even recently appeared on Channel 4 show Steph’s Packed Lunch to teach the presenters her inclusive tap dancing techniques – and as for the future… “I just want to continue enabling people to dance, that’s my goal. Anything else is a bonus!”