By Emily Johnston
For young Rockingham woman Jessica Gatenby, the word disability doesn’t necessarily mean ‘not able’ or ‘without ability’.
The 21-year-old has created a new program for people with disabilities to express their emotions through dance.
“Dance opens up a whole new world to individuals with disabilities, a world where they can just move, be free and self-expressive,” says Jessica.
She’s been surprised at how many young Rockingham teenagers decided to volunteer their time to help out at the classes.
“The commitment of my nine volunteers, aged between 13 and 21, is amazing. It instills my faith back into young people,” says Jessica.
“As soon as I joined the special needs dance class I knew that’s what I wanted to pursue as a career within the disability sector,” says Alex Briggs, 21, who has been an active volunteer at the dance classes for three years.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics says the provision of necessary support services for individuals with disabilities is an ongoing issue for government and disability advocacy groups.
“There is not enough support and help for kids and adults with disabilities.
“And a lot of families do not know what kind of support they can access,” says Jessica.
“Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, it is unimaginable how much you learn from working with individuals with disabilities,” she says.
Although dance classes for people with disabilities are not a new concept, dance studios across the world such as the American DanceWheels Foundation have integrated this idea.
“What makes my classes unique is that I offer a therapeutic environment that teaches not just dance routines, but social skills and how they can use their body to convey their emotions, especially their frustrations,” says Jessica.
“A lot of non-verbal autistic kids who lack social skills have become better communicators just through interacting with other special needs kids,” says Alex Briggs.
Jessica says it is rewarding work.
“The parents are really grateful and appreciative to have these dance classes every week. For that hour, the parents get a break and get to mingle and relax together,” says Jessica.