#Balletnotbarriers as Flamingo Chicks dazzle Downing Street

Katherine Sparkes, Founder of Flamingo Chicks, blogs about a visit to Downing Street when inclusive ballet school Flamingo Chicks pirouetted their way into Number 10.

The performance for Mrs Samantha Cameron was part of the dance school’s second birthday celebrations. In a show packed with colour, glitter, feathers and sparkles, the children delighted guests with a unique ‘mash up’ of several well-known ballets such as Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Le Corsaire.

The 25-strong tutu-clad troupe included children who are blind, autistic, have conditions such as Down’s syndrome or are undergoing cancer treatment, and some who are also in care. For many of the youngsters, who come from Bristol, London, Bradford, Leeds and Cardiff, this was their first trip outside of their home city.

Some of the Flamingo Chicks dancers even gave a speech about what Flamingo Chicks means to them to the assembled guests, which included patrons Tamara Rojo, Prima Ballerina and Artistic Director at the English National Ballet, and Rosaleen Moriarty Simmonds OBE, a leading campaigner for equality for disabled people.

Joy through dance

Flamingo Chicks, which was founded in December 2013 has one simple premise: that all children should be able to discover joy through dance.

Its holistic approach not only enables youngsters of all abilities to participate, it also doubles up as a much-needed support group for parents and carers, where they can forge friendships with other families going through the same thing and enjoy free massages, treatments and opportunities to take part in sporting activities to help de-stress.

In this way, Flamingo Chicks - which was also given the prestigious Point of Light award by Prime Minister David Cameron earlier in the year - has not only given scores of children the chance to enjoy ballet without barriers, it has also become a lifeline for children and their families while challenging perceptions about disability.

The demand for this sort of holistic support for disabled children and their families is great. There are around 770,000 disabled children in the UK, and research from Contact a Family shows that three quarters of families with disabled children feel so isolated that it has caused anxiety, depression and breakdown.

38% parents of disabled children said their child ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ had the opportunity to socialise and mix with children who aren’t disabled. 80% of disabled people are currently not active but seven in ten want to increase the amount of physical activity they take part in.

Discussing the impact that Flamingo Chicks has, founder Katherine Sparkes said: “Having the opportunity to explore dance and movement together is so important for our children and it’s a delight to see the physical, emotional, mental and social benefits shine through – they really have blossomed and gained in confidence.”

“Dance can have a powerful effect on people’s lives – it’s not only about improving health but quality of life too. We have developed into the most co-supportive and warm community for everyone who comes along.”

“Above all, though, Flamingo Chicks is fun. It has all the ingredients that kids love - laughter, music, glitter and sparkles - and we all, children and adults alike, come out of each session feeling happy and energised.”

Samantha Cameron concurred, saying: “It was such a treat to have the Flamingo Chicks performing here in Downing Street. Flamingo Chicks is so much more than a dance school where children go to have fun with their friends, it is also getting across a powerful message about inclusivity”.

Not content with bringing feathers and fairy dust to UK children, Flamingo Chicks is spreading its wings. From 2016, it will be working in countries such as Ghana, a country dubbed ‘the worst place in the world to be disabled’and where those with disabilities experience particularly tough lives.