Dançando com a Diferença (Dancing with the difference) is an association based in Funchal, that aims to promote social and cultural inclusion through inclusive dance. It was established as a professional company by its artistic director Henrique Amoedo in 2007, but its activity had already started five years before that, in 2001 with the pilot project intended to implement Inclusive Dance in Madeira.
Dançando com a Diferença advocates the non-discrimination of people with disabilities and their inclusion in the most varied social sectors, using the inclusive dance. The goal is to change the social image of people with disabilities and to gain space for human diversity in the professional world of contemporary arts. After 17 years of activity and more than thirty performances featured worldwide, it is clear that they are fulfilling their vision.
I met Diogo Goncalves, assistant of the artistic director and executive producer of the company, to find out more about this extraordinary project whose influence goes well beyond the boundaries of this island, although it has as well an undeniable impact on the daily lives of the local people involved in it.
“In 2001 Henrique was invited by the Special Education services to come to Madeira to provide workshops to teachers about dance with people with disabilities to teachers. After some workshops during the year, he proposed to create a professional group. He already had an experience of this kind in Brazil, creating there the first professional dance company of people with disabilities in Brazil in 1995”, explains Diogo.
The association follows a concept called “inclusive dance” that was developed by Henrique Amoedo in 2002. “This concept believes that professional dance can be done by people with disabilities as well as by people without disabilities and that those professional dancers are on the same level. It lies on us to develop our artistic work having in mind the capacities and difficulties of everybody. Behind the concept, there is a lot of work that precedes what we see on the stage. It is not just the artistic part but also the pedagogical, social and therapeutic support of people. And that goes hand in hand with the autonomy of the people with disabilities.” says Diogo and he adds “Our main field is the artistical part, which is the part of our work that everybody sees, but we believe that for obtaining this, you must think of every step and every part of the lives of our dancers with disabilities.”
Even though social work is not their primary purpose, it comes with it naturally. “Our work doesn’t end on the stage. Our mission is to change the perception of society about people with disabilities. And to change that perception, we cannot be limited to the stage, but we must understand how we can move further on their wellbeing.” says Diogo.
Dançando com a Diferença – structure
The association has a headquarter in Madeira and since 2017 has one more nucleus in the central part of Portugal, in Viseu, with a focus on disseminating the concept of inclusive dance. The collaboration with Teatro Viriato started with the program Road in 2014, that turned out to be very successful and beneficial for its participants.
The Madeiran headquarter can count on nine employees responsible for the running of the entire association, and there are around 250 dancers taking part in their activities. In Madeira, the courses are divided into three main levels – initiation, advanced and professional – and a senior group. The initiation level provides courses for complete beginners, while in the advanced level the less experienced dancer has already passed three years of classes of inclusive dance. There are 14 people in the professional cast, which is the artistic professional dance ensemble that performs publicly. The senior group is a dance class intended for people over 55 years old.
In addition to that, both in Madeira and Viseu, there are also educative and pedagogical programs in which the association uses the practice of dance to boost the physical skills and quality of life of the dancers.
“The objective of the initial level courses is, among other things, to prepare the people to join the professional group. Each year our group presents a new show, on which we cooperate with renowned choreographers. We know that becoming a dancer that can work with professionals requires a lot of time and preparation and our cast group has a lot of experience on this. Some of the members are dancing for 15 years. We are trying to prepare all the dancers to be ready to go on the stage. “ says Diogo.
The courses are not entirely free for the participants but, as the producer says, their price is symbolic, and the purpose of it is rather motivational. As the organisation maintains a high standard of performance, most of the activities can be funded by selling shows. The association can also in part rely on public funding and on a budget of specific projects.
Support for parents and other projects
The association also keeps in mind the families of the dancers with disabilities, providing the family members with both expert advice on the possibilities and resources of local social support and therapeutic services. “The parents can request an individual session with a psychologist if needed. Some years ago, we started a group session for parents, but that didn’t work because they have individual needs, and that requires to speak about it alone, not in a group. That’s why the individual therapies are more successful than the group sessions.”
The organisation is currently running two projects of social development, one of them is in collaboration with the local Foodbank (Banco alimentar), that chose Dançando com a Diferença as a key partner for the distribution of food to the needy families in their neighbourhood. Every Friday, there is a delivery of food to the families, and two of their professional dancers are responsible for the whole process.
Diogo explains that the importance of this project lies on several levels. “It is also a way to show to our neighbours that despite their disabilities, these people are an active element in society, and they are working. It’s still not something that you see every day." And he adds "The neighbours that come here to receive the food have the possibility to see that people with disabilities can do that work perfectly, without any questions and doubts. Our dancers are responsible for the food that will feed them during the week. And this makes them think about people with disabilities differently.”
The second project, called More inclusion (+inclusão), promotes the development of students with special educational needs through the acquisition of “Daily Life Competencies”. The training is done through practices and educative and pedagogic methodologies developed within the experience of Inclusive Dance. The project aims at the acquisition of competencies that will permit the students with disabilities to have an independent life, preparing them for adulthood and approaching areas such as cooking, personal hygiene, cleaning and mobility. As part of this project, the organisation has built a training kitchen adapted for people in wheelchairs, where the participants can improve their skills.
Dançando com a Diferença is now, under the direction of Henrique Amoedo, finalising the preparations of the upcoming performance called SAFE, which will be premiered this week at the Teatro Municipal Baltazar Dias in Funchal.
If you want to know more about Dançando com a Diferença and the idea of inclusive dance, you can see a documentary about how the project in Viseu was created.