Dance Artists working in collaboration. The CanDo Hub and National Dance Company Wales.

Sam Nicholson

Hi Sam, great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

Hi of course, I’m Sam Nicholson, I’m a dance teacher and fitness instructor down in Swansea. I have the pleasure of teaching lots of age ranges and abilities but I’m also the programme director for CanDo Hub where I get to work with 20 talented dancers with learning disabilities in our training provision.

I’m a Makaton tutor and I also work with lots of dance teachers and fitness instructors upskilling them in Additional Learning Needs.

What got you interested in dance and the arts?

I’ve danced since I was three so I’ve grown up with dance and the arts, it’s always been a part of my life and I don’t think I can see a time when it’s not going to be. I love how free it can make you, and through dance I’ve been taught so much.

You run the CanDo Hub which is for Adults with Additional Leaning Needs. You run group exercise and dance fitness opportunities, classes and day provision for adults with ALN, and CPD trainings for professionals. Can you tell us more about the group?

I set up CanDo Hub initially to provide dance and group exercise opportunities to individuals with ALN and their families. This quickly grew and a need for more specialised training became apparent – hence the start of our training provision.

Our training provision is made up of 20 talented individuals who all have Additional Learning Needs. It’s centred around giving and encouraging members to have a voice. Our teams decide their learning topics, what genre of art they want to focus on and so on. We very rarely say ‘oh no, you can’t do that’, its about finding a way to make their goals achievable and accessible. We work as a collective respecting each other and we get the best possible outcomes due to it.

The group have recently been working with Rebecca Edwards the National Dance Company Wales, Dance Ambassador for the Talesin in Swansea. How did you come to work together?

We were very lucky that Karen Thomas, Company Manager from NDCWales got in touch with us wanting to know more about our team, that lead to a meeting with NDCWales, Engagement Producer Guy O’Donnell, who put us in touch with our local Dance Ambassador. Rebecca has been fabulous and our team have really enjoyed working with her. Rebecca respects every one of them as dancers and has given them scope to add their own bits of choreography into the piece as well as expanding their knowledge and abilities. This was some of our dancers first experience of contemporary dance and have really grown in terms of ability and confidence since working with her.

Your group performed a Curtain Raiser at The Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea prior to National Dance Company Wales performance on the main stage. That must have been a nerve-wracking moment for the group!

They really enjoyed being part of the curtain raiser, there were a lot of nerves and excitement leading up to the piece The performance included two teams who had rehearsed separately, the first time they rehearsed all together was 45 minutes before the performance so that was incredibly nerve wracking, hoping that that the strategies we had put in place to rehearse spacing would work! Thankfully it did and we were very proud of how our dancers performed. More importantly, the dancers themselves were very proud of themselves.

The CanDo Hub group prior to performing their Curtain Raiser

You created some visual resources prior to the performance by NDCWales for the CanDo Hub, how do these support access to an understanding of Contemporary Dance for your group members?

Visual resources are so important for our teams, it helps consolidate knowledge and helps understanding. Prior to attending, we had watched the trailers for each piece and discussed what we thought each piece was going to be like.

Then during the performances each dancer was given visual worksheet on questions regarding each performance. This really helped our dancers focus their attention on different aspects of the performance.  From set, props, costume and music, to movements and symbolism behind each piece.

The responses were great and lead to lots of discussion after the performance. Some of our dancers picked up on symbolism that for many would remain hidden. E.g Codi, one of our dancers saw within the first minutes of the piece that the flag used was to symbolise death. This worksheet was really helpful to refer back to when they were reviewing the pieces afterwards.

Codi Choreographed by Anthony Matsena Performed by NDCWales.

Contemporary dance is often abstract so there’s this common myth that someone with an Additional Learning Need wont ‘get it’, however if we as professionals provide the support in order to focus attention on certain aspects of each performance the results are often fascinating. 

We believe some of your group have reviewed the performance? What did they think?

Yes! They loved all three pieces. I was expecting them to all decide as a collective on what was the overall favourite but this led to a debate with no overall favourite chosen. what was interesting was that our dancers all had valid reasons as to why their chosen piece was the overall, and there was a lot of symbolism that they understood.

They loved the spoken word section of Wild Thoughts using different speeds of movement. In Codi they enjoyed the prop work with the stick and the rhythm section comprised of clapping and stamping. In Ludo, they like how fun the piece was and the hopscotch lighting effect section.

They have discussed how set, lighting, props and costume can add meaning to a performance and have learnt a lot from watching the pieces. What was really helpful was Karen Thomas coming to chat and answer questions in between the change over intervals, this really was an added bonus for us!

We share a selection of quotes from the groups reviews below

“My favourite bit was the blood pumping and jumps. The dance was about mining. The red flag was blood and they waved it when people died. The music was loud. It was my favourite piece.”   Nia talking about Codi

“The music was loud and sharp. The dance made me feel jump scared but I was ok. My favourite dance moves were the dying moves and the stick work” Matthew talking about Codi

“I liked it when she turned the horn and scarf into a ship – it was funny!”  – Ross talking about his favourite part in Ludo.

“The hopscotch was fab. I liked the jumps and lifts. It made me feel happy.” Joanne talking about her favourite part in  Ludo.

“I liked it when they worked together as a team. I liked their floorwork and ballet moves. It was amazing”   Sara talking about Wild Thoughts.

“My favourite move was when everyone walked saying ‘foot foot foot foot.’ I liked the lifts too”  Clare talking about Wild thoughts.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

More opportunities for learning disabled dancers and learning disabled dance companies. As a sector we need to understand that we as professionals can learn a lot from learning disabled dancers and not put limits on their potential which quite often we are all guilty of.

What excites you about the arts in Wales?

 It’s great to see how the arts is growing and reaching all different ages, backgrounds and abilities. It’s exciting to see new collaborations and relationships starting to be made that will hopefully grow providing more opportunities for everyone in our sector.

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers? 

The last thing I wanted to say was thank you to NDCWales!  Our dancers felt valued and respected by the NDCW dance leaders and company and we really hope we get to work with them again.  

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