Anthea Doropoulos always wanted to give back to the community through her dancing, so when she heard there was a gap in the space around dancing and disability, she and her fellow DirtyFeet co-founder Sarah Fiddaman didn’t hesitate to champion an inclusive dance program that has changed the lives of so many.
“There are no differences, everyone is treated the same,” Anthea tells Yahoo Lifestyle of ‘The Right Foot’ program, which offers free contemporary dance workshops for young people with and without disability.
Sydney not-for-profit dance company DirtyFeet was first launched in 2007, and while initially Anthea and Sarah started by giving children in Redfern hip hop dancing lessons, the program eventually evolved.
“Through strategic planning day with the board a few years later it was brought to our attention that there was gap in dance and disability and would we be interested,” Anthea tells us.
“And of course we said yes, this sounds great.”
The DirtyFeet mantra is to ‘cultivate creativity among emerging contemporary dance artists with and without disability’ and it’s now been seven years since the company introduced ‘The Right Foot’ program, with the help of Artistic director of Murmuration Sarah-Vyne Vassallo.
“It just really took off and I think a lot of the participants that came this year have been coming since it first started which is incredible,” Anthea says.
“The participants loved it immediately, the families were really happy, and the carers, and they just wanted more.”
Anthea says she didn’t have any previous experience working with people with disabilities and though there were some challenges, the experiencing has been extremely rewarding.
“The first workshop 25 participants rocked up and I think half the workshop plan went out the door,” she tells us.
“We just had to think on our feet and change things to work with all the different bodies in the room but that was the fun part about it as well.
“And as dancers we are so used to modifying and adapting and creating, so it just became this really amazing creative space.”
Over the years Anthea says there are many special memories that stay with her, like one moment with participant Oliver, who uses a wheelchair.
“When I first met him we had a good chat and we were dancing and improvising and all of a sudden Oliver jumps out of his chair,” she recalls.
“And I thought ‘oh my god, Oliver what are you doing?’ and he was like ‘I’m not a man that stays in my chair’ so we kept going. That’s the kind of surprise that happens.”
Parents and participants also regularly leave incredible feedback for the DirtyFeet team that Anthea admits can “bring her to tears”.
“Like this one just came in actually after our final performance. It’s from two parents:
‘Thank you all so much for the awesome, brilliant amazing, group performance. DirtyFeet have always been excellent but I really thought it was one of the best presentations ever. The room was so connected and energised. As parents we feel so grateful and surprised when our adult children are offered so much joy and meaning in their lives. We will never take DirtyFeet for granted.’”
2018 participant Brianna Lowe said: “We have disabilities, but it doesn't matter: we can all move and be together and no one cares about the differences.”
The workshops are held on Saturdays throughout October providing a creative activity for those who may otherwise not have access to dance.
“I do get emotional because for me it’s an easy program, it’s not hard to be inclusive, and it just brings so much joy to the participants and their families,” Anthea says.
Looking to the future Anthea says the team at DirtyFeet are going to continue to work to make all of their programs inclusive and open to everybody.
“Starting by training our choreographers in inclusive dance practice,” she says, adding “once you have the framework it’s really easy.”
She also wants to encourage other businesses and groups to be more inclusive.
“It brings so much diversity and knowledge across the board,” Anthea says.
“Just ask someone who works in that field. There are lots of great platforms where you can just ask the question.
And just be really open and know that it’s not hard. Don’t think of working with people with disability as something hard or challenging because it’s not.
“They bring so much more to the table and you will just have a better experience in life.”
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