Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Elaine Annable
Features Writer
1:50 PM 26th March 2024

DanceSyndrome - Express ‘24 - Blackburn Empire Theatre

Nowadays, it can often feel like everywhere you turn is doom and gloom, so it is wonderful to be able to write about something as positive and life-affirming as DanceSyndrome’s community showcase ‘Express ‘24’ at Blackburn Empire Theatre.

Established in 2009, by founder Jen Blackwell, who has Down’s syndrome, and her mother Sue Blackwell, DanceSyndrome is a multi-award winning inclusive dance charity based in Lancashire with a special focus on including everyone, regardless of ability. It strives to provide 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.

Jen Blackwell
Jen Blackwell
Jen wanted to follow her dream of being a dancer and a Dance Leader and had a firm belief that “anything is possible even though you have a learning disability.” Jen is living proof of this - in 2023, she was recognized for her services to Disabled People in the King's Birthday Honours with a British Empire Medal (BEM).

Since its inception in 2009, DanceSyndrome has gone from strength to strength. It now provides weekly inclusive dance workshops in Preston, Chorley, Accrington and Clitheroe; online Zoom classes for people with and without disabilities and leadership training in line with its unique co-delivery model – people with and without disabilities work together to offer high quality provision. Its group of performance artists - DS Youth Collective - attend regular special events and exclusive performances, again emphasising and focusing what people with learning disabilities are able to do.

Performing to a packed Empire Theatre, Express ‘24 was a two act celebration combining contemporary dance and storytelling which was co-produced and co-choreographed by Dance Leaders with learning disabilities working in collaboration with professional Dance Artists. Inspirational, moving, and uplifting in equal parts, it was a privilege to be present at this very special event.

The show opened with the premiere of ‘The Sunken Forest’, a delightfully evocative suite of five pieces specifically composed for DanceSyndrome and beautifully performed by the composer, Welsh harpist Eira Lynn Jones. Accompanied by narration and movement from the DanceSyndrome Collective Performance Company, the suite, inspired by the Welsh legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod, asks us to consider the impacts of climate change.

‘The Sunken Forest’ could easily have stood alongside many professional dance productions. It was fitting that the founder of DanceSyndrome, Jen Blackwell, opened the show. Her beautiful solo to ‘Twilight Bells’ caught the mood immediately and gave the audience a taste of what was to come. We were taken on an emotional journey: no one could fail to be moved by the sense of sheer joy and teamwork that shone throughout the performance. Joyful, exuberant showcases from each of DanceSyndrome’s community groups comprised the rest of the first half. Developed in their workshops, each dance had its own unique character; singly and together, everyone had a chance to shine.

The second half featured a thought-provoking performance of ‘SENse’ - an Arts Council England funded contemporary dance piece which was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2023 and which explores humanity’s need to be seen, felt and heard. Production values were high in terms of music, choreography, set, lighting, and costumes. Added to which, the sheer amount of choreography that had to be committed to memory was truly impressive.

Express ‘24 was a joyous celebration of what can be achieved when there is the vision, belief, and determination to include everyone. It was a wonderful showcase for the work DanceSyndrome is doing throughout Lancashire and hopefully soon throughout the rest of the UK - the sky’s the limit for this inspirational group of young people and their supporters.

For further information about the work DanceSyndrome, to donate and to join their classes click here