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‘I cried when I wasn’t allowed to dance with my friends because of my disability – but now I’ve been a dancer for 11 years’

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Dreaming of dance since she was a very young girl, Emily Farruku tried to join a class with her friends when she was at primary school – but was told she could not because of her disability.

“I remember crying,” the now 18-year-old from North West London said.

“All my friends had joined this group and I wanted to spend time with them. I had also put all of my hopes and aspirations into this one group that I could be involved in.

“The rejection kind of hit me and I had to rebuild my confidence. It took me a long time to think I was good enough for a dance group.”

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Now, Emily, who has cerebral palsy, has been dancing with icandance for 11 years and does believe that she is a good dancer. She has even visited Downing Street to advocate for disabled young people, emphasising the power of dance to support inclusion.

The teenager said that dancing for her is not about perfection or becoming a professional.

She explained: “I just want to dance for fun.

“It is a different way to connect with people and express your emotions – a different language. When you put some music on and just dance it out, you feel a relief and a letting go and a release. I don’t worry about judgement and just go wherever the music takes me.

“That’s why dance needs to be accessible.”

Denecia has been going to icandance for as long as Emily has and they’re great dancing buddies

Emily added that accessibility in general urgently needs to be improved upon, remembering a time when she wanted to swim in her local area but there were no pools that had disabled showers.

The group icandance was established in 2006 by Juliet Diener with the vision to make dance accessible for all. The project is one of 1,800 organisations that John Lyon’s Charity has awarded £200 million to over the past 30 years, with the aim of changing children’s lives.

Emily described her community there as ‘one big family’ and her ‘second home’, adding: “I’ve made really good friends and we have a really strong bond. We’re very connected and care about each other’s feelings. Also, we want to see each other thrive.”

This has been particularly important for the teenager as she described having had “a lot of negative experiences”, recalling: “I wanted to take part in one of the races at my school’s sports day, but my friends said, ‘No, as you’ll slow us down and we’ll lose the race.’

“People’s comments lower your self-esteem. Any reminder that I have a condition makes me feel like I’m not good enough. No other young person should have to go through that – we are as important as everyone else.”

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Emily described dance as ‘a different way to connect with people and express your emotions’

The 18-year-old is currently one of icandance’s young ambassadors, a role that she said has helped her to regain her confidence. The group meets every month to discuss different opportunities that they can create for disabled people.

Emily explained: “We are about making people aware of disabilities – even though people see it as a barrier, it’s not always a barrier. We’re not just how you see us as a disability.

“A lot of people in my school automatically see someone who is disabled and assume that you don’t know anything or that you need help. We are grateful for the help that we get, but sometimes you want to feel like you can do something.”

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The teenager once questioned MP Gavin Williamson, who was the Secretary of State for Education at the time: “Why isn’t there enough funding for children with special educational needs (SEN), such as making more charities like icandance exist?”

He asked her what she would like him to do, and Emily responded: “I think the government needs to find a way to prioritise SEN children.

“We need a feeling of community, to let go, to be able to be ourselves – especially when we’re constantly being told ‘no’ by the world around us. We need a space where someone will finally say ‘yes’.”

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