January 28, 2023

Professionals who offer dance and fitness classes to people with disabilities need to be “more inclusive and welcoming,” one expert said.

Each week, Bollywood dance classes are scheduled for those who attend a day center run by the Asian People’s Disability Alliance in North London.

The group was formed at the beginning of the year and since then they have worked tirelessly for their first appearance at the Active Westminster Awards.

Rekha Mehta is one of the dancers who attend regularly.

Ms. Metha became a wheelchair user after contracting polio, which had long-term adverse effects on her health.

For her, these lessons are revitalizing.

She told Sky News that, simply put, “they changed my life”.

She said: “It makes me happier, it gives me exercise and I also meet other people.”

Ms. Mehta has loved dancing since she was a child, and says it helped her through depression after contracting polio.

She said, “My head is calming down.

“I forget who’s around me, I never see that. I’m with the music, I feel it in my body.

“We forget everything, what we have, disabilities and everything, we completely forget.”

Rekha Metha became a wheelchair user after contracting polio which had long term adverse effects on her health
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Rekha Metha became a wheelchair user after contracting polio which had long term adverse effects on her health

Dancing ‘make me feel’

Like Ms. Mehta, these lessons are also incredibly important to Yogesh Patel.

He told Sky News that dancing “makes me feel like it’s something I’ll never forget”.

“It’s something everyone likes to do, it’s definitely fun to dance a lot,” he added.

These feelings are shared by everyone in the group – dancing to the music feels therapeutic.

Yogesh Patel says dancing 'makes me feel, it's something I'll never forget'
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Yogesh Patel Says Dancing ‘Makes Me Feel, It’s Something I’ll Never Forget’

The impact of music on people with dementia

Classroom teachers have particularly noticed the visible impact on people with dementia.

Instructor Georgia Cornwell told Sky News: “Music is so important to them because I think it brings back a lot of memories.

“Once that music comes on, sometimes they’re not really involved, but then when a song comes on and something ignites that spark, they sing, they dance.

“So those nostalgic songs are so important to them.”

Dance Instructor Georgia Cornwell
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Dance Instructor Georgia Cornwell

Dr. Rashmi Becker MBE, founder of Step Change Studios, is behind this program.

She came up with the idea during the pandemic, aware that people with disabilities and people of South Asian background were disproportionately affected.

Since then there has been a huge success across London, meaning the program will be repeated in Birmingham.

Dr.  Rashmi Becker told Sky News there is still some way to go to improve inclusiveness within the dance and fitness activities currently offered for older people with disabilities
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Dr Rashmi Becker

A way to improve inclusiveness

Dr. Becker told Sky News there is a way to improve inclusiveness within the dance and fitness activities currently offered for older people with disabilities.

She said: “It’s really important to invest more in making places and spaces more inclusive so that people can teach more accessible classes for everyone.”

For now, Dr. Becker and her team are working to bridge the gap.

“One important thing we do is work with local providers, so other South Asian dance companies and other people in dance and fitness, to upskill them so they can adapt and be more inclusive so they can deliver their programs themselves ,” she added.

“Ideally, it would be great to get to a point where you don’t need specialized companies like mine because more places are just inclusive and welcoming.”

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