More than half of the Australians who have a disability or long-term health condition experience social exclusion, according to the Brotherhood of St Laurence.
A dancer from an early age, 25 year-old Amy Whitten is creating opportunities for people of all abilities in Bendigo and Echuca to connect and express themselves through the BEAM All Abilities Movement to Music dance program.
Whitten is one of 45 young people selected out of over 400 applications nation-wide for the 2018 Young Social Pioneers (YSP) program led by the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) — an immersive incubator program for small businesses and initiatives making a social impact.
“In the cities there are lots of great programs which show disability is not a barrier to dancing. But in rural and regional communities even though we have the infrastructure there aren’t the same opportunities,” Whitten explains.
“I had a little girl come up to me one day and ask why she couldn’t dance with her brother and it made me want to create dance classes for children of all abilities in rural and regional communities.”
Using her training as an Occupational Therapist and her background in dance, Whitten developed BEAM classes to create a fully inclusive environment for all dancers. Following a standard dance class format, BEAM classes include a warm up, a skills session, learning a routine and then a cool down.
“The warm up works on functional movement – reaching, twisting, pulling, pushing – all those things that can be quite challenging movements for differently abled people. In the skills sessions we work on different things including social skills – things like waiting, sharing, taking turns, working as a team or supporting one another,” Whitten says.
“Our routines are based around cognition and memory, and then we have our cool down which is all about relaxation, bringing the kids back to the moment. We’ve found that children who maybe didn’t feel comfortable in a typical dance environment come along to our program and are then able to get up and perform in public.”
Founded in 2016 with only 10 participants, BEAM now has 30 participants and has just opened a second site in Echuca.
Whitten wants BEAM to grow into an inclusive, fun movement class for schools which changes the perception of people with disabilities.
“To do this, we need assistance to develop the program and map it to the national curriculum. Another barrier of our classes is training teachers to be comfortable and competent teaching the appropriate techniques. More staff and funding would enable us to be able to complete these tasks.”
“That’s why I’m doing YSP. I want to learn the skills necessary to make BEAM sustainable and fill those gaps. I would like to improve our marketing and connect with others who can assist the program to have a long life.”
In the last nine years, YSP has supported almost 250 different initiatives and ideas from young people nation-wide, with many former participants still thriving in their work today including Usman Iftikhar, co-Founder of Catalysr; Vanessa Marian, director of Groove Therapy; Elliot Costello, co-Founder of YGAP; Olivia Fleming, Founder and director of The Little HELP Project; Taj Pabari, Founder of Fiftysix Creations; and more.
The full 2018 cohort is listed here.
For all media queries please contact FYA Media Manager, Shona McPherson via 0407 507 580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.