Inclusion’s all around us and you can’t ignore it says performer Alice Lambert, who’s no stranger to prejudice in the performing arts. But change is happening.
The dancer, singer and actor was asked about joining the DAN.ce AcCEssibility INclusion (DAN.CE IN) project while studying for her Performing Arts Foundation Programme HNC level 4 qualification at The Garage.
Speaking during Creativity and Wellbeing Week, she said the workshops at the Higher Conservatory of Dance of Alicante on Monday 15-Thursday 18 April proved no matter who you are, no matter your ability, there’s a place for everybody in the arts.
“To have that confirmed is very positive, it drives you to keep moving and challenge people’s understanding and empathy for people with a disability. It’s almost a battle sometimes to prove yourself as a person in society. Sometimes you get tired.
That’s why I love the arts so much, because it doesn’t feel so much like a battle. It comes more naturally to me. Especially with contemporary dance. There’s no speech, no lyrics, you’ve just got the music. Rather than saying all these things, ‘watch this and you’ll see what I mean’. The arts is a language that anyone understands.
In Alicante I did a really beautiful dance with a young lady who was 5ft 8in, who came down to my level – I’m under 4ft 4in – and we had to dance with only our heads connected. That’s quite a personal space because you’re face to face a lot.
I could feel myself relax with it because it felt artistic. We finished forehead to forehead and we all had to freeze in our position. Afterwards, she didn’t know anything I was saying and vice versa and she gave me a big hug. It was quite emotional.”
“Our choreographer, Abby Page, did it on purpose because she wants people to look at us and go ‘that’s not going to work’ but it does. We do a waltz-like dance and I actually tip him back, there’s a bit where he leans onto my back and I push him up. Then we do a bit of him lifting me to give it the equal combination. People look at this and think ‘I wasn’t expecting that’.
I love this group, we always have fun and we’ve got such a mixed bag of abilities. We’ve all become friends, especially after Alicante. You feel you’ve got a lot of trust in these people. If we could get more people involved that would be great.”
Like many people with a functional diversity, she’s been judged on how she looks rather than her ability to do the job; often put forward for certain roles.
“I’ve done it, I’m not going to deny it. I did Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs but we each had our individual characters and got a chance to actually act and perform.
There are other things people do that, personally, I really don’t agree with but I understand – you’ve got to pay the bills. In a way Alicante has given me more confidence. Changes are happening, it may only be small steps, but they’ll get bigger and inclusion will become the on-trend thing.”
Alice said she would now challenge casting directors’ who said “unfortunately, you’re not what we’re looking for”. Instead of going “okay, thanks” and accepting something else that maybe wasn’t what she wanted to do.
“At the moment my head’s full of ideas… I’m at a point in my career now where I say ‘wherever the wind takes me’. Now if a role came up and it said nothing about how the person physically needed to look, but had to have these qualities, I feel I could go to that audition with a lot more confidence.
If they went ‘oh, I wasn’t quite expecting that’ I’d say ‘yeah, that’s the point’. I’m somebody in society, I’m this everyday woman. Yes, I tick that box but I’m also a mother, a wife, I go to the shops, I drive a car; I do the normal things. I could say ‘I get you’re surprised but just think, we’re everywhere… I feel I could at least ask them to explain what it is they’re looking for and why they feel I wouldn’t be able to do it.
Say it’s a drama where they’re looking for a mum role, what more do they need? They don’t even need to present my disability… it doesn’t have to be about that. If you make a thing of it… if you straightaway are ‘we’re bringing in this character and she’s going to get bullied loads and she’s going to have this things happen to her’ people are more likely to look at the disability not the person.
“DAN.CE IN is a small seed right now, but I’d like to think in ten years’ time this is a tree that’s branching out. I believe in what the project’s trying to do. It’s beautiful to see people who maybe have never been affected by disability or have never had a relative or friend with a disability are as equally as passionate because society is everyone no matter what.”
Alice led some classes while studying at The Garage and even got the chance to devise a site-specific dance on the beach promenade while in Alicante.
“There were people who were blind, hard of hearing, people that used sticks, people who were wheelchair-bound it was a complete mixed bag. I’d devised it so everyone could do this so didn’t think ‘oh I’ll sit it out’.”
The idea was everybody was connected to their surroundings, touching some kind of element be it fencing, a ledge, a wall. People then took turns moving in and out of the spaces they’d created. There was no music, no vocals, just the sound of the waves.
“One of our girls was determined to get out of her wheelchair and do it. I cried and she called me ‘soppy’. I felt that emotion because I didn’t ask her to do that, but that’s the whole point – she said ‘because you didn’t ask me, I wanted to do it’.
We had somebody who was blind who climbed, somebody who was blind who was touching everything. There was a young chap who was very excited came bombing through, past my legs and I almost slipped.
We had somebody who wanted to empathise with the others and didn’t open her eyes until she got to the end. She wanted to experience what they were experiencing which was amazing. There were no rules – that’s the whole point of inclusiveness.”
DAN.CE IN is an Erasmus + Plus Programme that’s part of the projects sponsored and funded by the European Agency for Education, Culture and Audiovisual EACEA. It is co-funded by the Erasmus + Programme of the European Union. It’s supported using public funding by Arts Council England.