Dance studio

How a dance studio helps people with disabilities find their feet

Dr. Becker works with various groups to improve access to fitness classes

BREAKING THE STIGHS: Dance Dosti participants, along with Dr. Rashmi Becker (fourth from left), pose for a photo

By: Sophie Wallace

DANCE is used to break the stigma and help people with disabilities become more active in a studio in London.

Dr. Rashmi Becker founded Dance Dosti, along with Metro Blind Sport and Vision Foundation, during the Covid-19 pandemic, after seeing the disproportionate impact Covid had on both the South Asian community and people with disabilities.

“I wanted to try to do something about it through my own work, especially in terms of the social isolation…that both people with disabilities and people of South Asian descent were experiencing,” he said. she declared. Additionally, through Becker’s work with her brother, who is blind and has autism, she gained first-hand experience of the need for diverse support for people with disabilities.

Dance Dosti offers videos and in-person workshops in partnership with Metro Blind Sports that showcase many different styles of South Asian dance. The project includes over 100 workouts in Gujarati, Hindi, Bengali and English. In addition to videos, there are also audio workouts. The project worked across London in five areas, Ealing, Brent, Tower Hamlets and Harrow.

A performance by the Newham Dancers

Style-wise, classes focus on South Asian dance, ranging from Bollywood to Indian classical. In addition to this, his main studio, Step Change Studios, teaches a wide range of styles including hip hop, Latin dance and ballroom dancing.

This diversity campaign grew out of a number of charities admitting to Dr. Becker that while they wanted to improve their diversity, they didn’t know how to go about it. “I had a conversation with a number of charities and we talked about it, and they wanted to appeal to more diverse people, but they felt like they didn’t know how and how to engage with these communities,” she said. said.

Carrying out the project has not been without its challenges, as Dr Becker says there has been a lot of stigma from multiple sources. She explained that two of the most common were “people feel like they’re not allowed to participate or should be hidden from public view and that it’s not appropriate to dance if you have a disability… and then if you’re Asian and still a woman, there are certain barriers and, exclusions… in terms of being able to undertake the dance.

Dr. Becker also heard from his participants that a lack of understanding of both cultural sensitivities and disability had kept them from being involved in classes before. “They were told that they couldn’t do different activities so many times…people told them that we didn’t feel comfortable teaching someone who is blind or that you don’t can’t join our dance class or our fitness class or even our gym,” she said.

To ensure that Dance Dosti’s classes are inclusive, Dr. Becker has ensured that, although tailored to different abilities, the classes are still challenging for his students. To do this, it organizes showcase evenings for its students. This was a major milestone for Dr. Becker and his students “if we had set this goal on the first day of class, people would have been very nervous… but by the time we were nearing the end of the program, they were really excited … they were really excited … to show up and showcase who they are,” she said.

People attending a Dance Dosti class can expect all the elements of a regular class, but with an accessible environment. From transportation assistance, sighted volunteers and chair choreography, the program aims to help people with disabilities develop independence and confidence, both in and out of dance.

The response to Dance Dosti has been overwhelmingly positive, with the classes being covered in national media and praised by charities supporting blind people in the health and fitness sector. “Overall, the response has been very positive from the sector. I was really pleased with the response from the participants themselves, they all want to continue. They want to be able to try new things,” she said. Through Dance Dosti, participants can also discover the well-documented benefits that dance and movement can have on their physical and mental health. Restoring social trust after protection against the pandemic was another benefit of the project.

For Dr. Becker, the project is important because of the opportunities it brings. “These opportunities don’t exist and every person has the right to be able to participate in physical activity, it’s so important. Taking care of our health is something that is a right, it is not something that only the privileged can enjoy,” she said.

Through the project, she was also able to work with leading disability charities on how to improve access to mainstream classrooms. “Dancing is one of the most adaptable and accessible activities you can have because anyone can dance, you know, you just put music on and it’s about interpreting the music in your own way. “, she said.

As the project draws to a close, Dr. Becker has big plans for the future. “We are working on various shows and events around the upcoming jubilee, as well as on the community side, a number of fashion shows,” she said. In addition to these, Dance Dosti will be performing at the Mayor’s Liberty Festival in London later this year.