Inclusive dance school Flamingo Chicks has today welcomed two new patrons on board to support its work and mark World Ballet Day.
Tamara Rojo, artistic director of the English National Ballet and businesswoman and equality campaigner Rosaleen Moriarty-Simmonds OBE will be coming on board to support its work in making dance accessible to all.
Established in 2013, Flamingo Chicks provides an inclusive community giving disabled children, children with illnesses such as cancer, and non-disabled children the opportunity to enjoy ballet alongside their friends. While the children explore movement their parents and carers benefit from a vital support network.
Demand for this sort of holistic support for children with disabilities and their families is great. There are around 770,000 disabled children in the UK, and according to a survey by the BBC, a ¼ of these feel lonely, have less confidence than able-bodied peers and feel ‘cut-off’ (Source: BBC News, Ouch). Similarly, research from Contact a Family - a charity which supports disabled children and their families - shows that three quarters of families with disabled children feel so isolated that it has caused anxiety, depression and breakdown.
Discussing how Flamingo Chicks has benefited their family, Julie Smee, mum to Issy, aged eight said “[It’s] so much more than a dance class, Flamingo Chicks is a life-line for families. It’s a welcoming, safe space for children with additional needs to have fun, make new friends and explore what their bodies can do – whilst enabling parents to come together, swap tips and share ways to cope helping us though the journey of parenting a child with disabilities.
“It’s the most incredible place – full of love and warmth, it has literally changed our lives for the better.”
The Flamingo Chicks vision is a world where disabled people have the same range of opportunities, and a culture of inclusive social and well-being activity, where disabled and non-disabled people work together as equals.
The classes are fully inclusive welcoming all children, and those taking are currently aged 3-18 with boys making up around 35% of the intake.
Although they’ve been dancing for less than two years, the Flamingo Chicks ballerinas and ballerinos have already pirouetted their way to fame. This autumn for example, they performed at a United Nations Summit of World Faith Leaders and UN Representatives. Delegates came from UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, The World Health Organisation and UNICEF along with World Faith Leaders including the Buddhist, Christian, Daoist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Shinto and Sikh traditions.
As well as providing the opportunity for children to thrive in a supportive environment, whilst the little ones dance, the parents and carers benefit from respite including free massages and the opportunity to forge friendships, swapping tips and stories. Outside of classes, there is a strong peer-to-peer social community with regular events from paddleboard to theatre trips.
As a volunteer led organsiation, Flamingo Chicks is passionate about encouraging first time volunteers and also provides a transport and buddies to help make it easier for older volunteers, aged 65+ to participate too.
Since its foundation in December 2013, Flamingo Chicks has grown considerably. Demand for the classes was immediately high with in excess of 100 families applying for every 15 class places. Flamingo Chicks is on track to deliver 150 classes this year and expects to work with 1200 children.
The organisation already holds seven weekly classes in Bristol and London and later this year will also launch in Leeds as part of its plans to expand throughout the UK.
As well as growing rapidly within the UK, Flamingo Chicks, through its outreach programmes, is already challenging the perception of disability in countries where those with additional needs face significant cultural barriers.
Katherine Sparkes, Founder of Flamingo Chicks, said: “We are absolutely delighted to have Rosaleen and Tamara on board. They both bring unique and incredible talents to help take Flamingo Chicks to the next level.
“We don’t believe that disabled children or indeed any child should be segregated and with four in ten (38%) parents of disabled children saying their child ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ has the opportunity to socialise and mix with children who aren’t disabled [Source: Mumsnet and Scope survey 2014], Flamingo Chicks is working to change attitudes and promote just how well inclusive communities can operate, with real benefits to all involved. The huge demand for our classes, and the incredibly warm and caring community we’ve created, shows that people welcome that, and we look forward to the next step of our journey.”
Discussing her appointment, Rosaleen Moriarty-Simmonds OBE added: “Flamingo Chicks does such fantastic work. Disabled children and children with other complex needs are often isolated, as are their parents. These classes give them not only the chance to simply have fun and make new friends, the focus on inclusion means that any child can take part - much needed when disabled children are so often ‘othered’ and not catered for in mainstream activities.
“I’m so impressed with what this organisation has achieved so far, and am really looking forward to supporting Flamingo Chicks as it gets even bigger and better.”
Tamara Rojo continued: “Flamingo Chicks classes are a joy to behold, and it is wonderful to see these youngsters developing such a passion for ballet. Dance should be for everyone and these classes meet a real need in our communities. I’m excited to be lending my support and helping this excellent initiative to reach even more people.”
For more info or accompanying images, please contact: Katie Sparkes 07968081152 / Katie@flamingochicks.co.uk
For more about Flamingo Chicks, please visit www.flamingochicks.co.uk @flamingochicks on Twitter or https://www.facebook.com/flamingochicks. Flamingo Chicks CIC no 09417737.
Notes to Editors:
About Rosaleen Moriarty-Simmonds OBE
Rosie is a Disabled Businesswoman and Equality Campaigner. She formed the RMS Disability Issues Consultancy in 1995, which advises all organisations including national and local government on disability issues. In June 2007, Rosie completed and published her Autobiography - Four Fingers and Thirteen Toes. It was re-published in 2009.
Having worked as everything from a TV and Radio Broadcaster, to an actress and school governor, Rosaleen is a Vice President of the Cardiff Business Club.
Her campaigning, volunteering and charitable work is extensive and eclectic. As well as her work with Flamingo Chicks, she has been appointed as a Trustee of the National Theatre Wales and is a leading voice in the Thalidomide Memorial Campaign, which aims to mark the lives and achievements of Thalidomide Impaired people in the UK.
For years she has been involved in many disability organisations, and after a lifetime of campaigning for rights and equality for disabled people, Rosie was awarded an OBE in The Queen's New Year Honours list 2015.
About Tamara Rojo
Acclaimed ballet dancer Tamara Rojo grew up in Spain and began dancing at the age of just five. By 11, she was a full-time student at the Madrid Royal Conservatory of Dance, juggling her professional training with studying. She began her professional career as a dancer with the Ballet de la Comunidad de Madrid, under the direction of Victor Ullate.
In 1996, Tamara left Spain after being invited to join the Scottish National Ballet, where she went on to perform principal roles in Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet. In 1997, she received a personal invitation from Derek Deane to join English National Ballet and within six months was promoted to Principal. She danced the full range of the Company’s principal roles. Derek Deane created the roles of Juliet (Romeo & Juliet) and Clara (The Nutcracker) for her. Her performances as Clara broke all box office records at the London Coliseum and The Times named her “Dance Revelation of the Year”. She collaborated once again with Derek Deane for the creation of Strictly Gershwin at the Royal Albert Hall in 2008 and 2011 with English National Ballet.
Tamara joined The Royal Ballet as a Principal at the invitation of Sir Anthony Dowell shortly after her highly acclaimed Guest Artist debut with the Company in Peter Wright’s Giselle.
Tamara has been repeatedly recognised for her artistic excellence. She won the 2010 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production with Goldberg: the Brandstrup- Rojo Project.King Juan Carlos of Spain has also decorated Tamara with her country’s three highest Honours, The Prince of Asturias Award, the Gold Medal of Fine Arts and Encomienda de Número de Isabel la Católica.
She has also received the Benois de la Danse Award, The Times Dance Revelation of the Year, Critics’ Circle National Dance Award, Barclay’s Outstanding Achievement in Dance Award, Positano Dance Award, Leonide Massine Premio al Valore, the Italian Critic’s Award, and from the City of Madrid, both the International Medal of the Arts and the Interpretation Award.
She is on the Board of Arts Council East, Dance UK, the ICA, the Anglo-Spanish Society, a Patron of the Ipswich-based DanceEast Academy and Adviser to Spain’s Superior Counsel of Artistic Studies.