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Interview by Heather Clements
Miranda Hayman is one determined woman. At the age of 17 she found herself on a surprise path to teaching dance and movement to people with special needs. Now, eight years later, Miranda is the proud founder of the Perform-Ability program and determined to do whatever it takes to get her team of 12 talented dancers to Florida, USA, to represent Australia at the World Latin Dance Cup in December.
Miranda grew up in Newcastle, studied Musical Theatre at Brent Street in Sydney and did a year-long stint working at Universal Studios Japan. Throughout all of this, she has continued to run Perform-Ability – a performing arts program for people with special needs and disabilities. Now with a team of 12 teachers, she runs weekly classes in the Hunter, Central Coast and Sydney. Her students have a range of disabilities including Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome and Global Development Delay.In July this year, her Central Coast dance group performed at the Australian Latin Dance Championships in Sydney and became the first ever Australian team to qualify and be invited to compete at the World Latin Dance Cup in Orlando, Florida this December 11-16. Entering two dance divisions alongside dancers with additional needs from all over the world, they will be competing in the Limitless Salsa and Bachata partnered team categories.
Miranda wants to get the word out to everyone that opportunities like this are very rare in the disability community. Her students are so excited about going to Orlando but they need help to raise the $100,000 needed to take a team of 12 dancers and their carers to the US. This group of 12 have worked together closely for 3 years and it’s important they get to go as a team so that they feel entirely comfortable. For these performers, it can be very stressful not having their dance partners by their side on stage.
Please enjoy our interview with Miranda Hayman below.
Q: Tell me about how you got involved with Perform-Ability?
I had been teaching at a dance school Newcastle since 2009, and one day we had someone come and join the class who had Down Syndrome and hearing impairment. This student came along to classes and was part of our annual concert and she just completely stole the show! She has such a hilarious personality and still with us… she’s been doing it for seven years now. She’s got almost better timing than anyone else in the school because she feels the bass through the stereo which just fascinated me. At this point, I knew absolutely nothing about people… I didn’t even have any friends or families with disabilities.
So, this girl’s mum turned to me after the concert and said I needed to start a class with all special needs dancers because she and her friends didn’t have anywhere to go to dance that catered just for them. Somewhere that they didn’t just get shoved in the back row. Special needs dancers always get pushed in the back corner because people just assume that’s all they can do!
They don’t get challenged and they don’t get any attention or guidance. So we started a little special needs class and it grew, and grew! Then I looked at doing classes with people in day services. I sent out an email to everybody stating that we’ve got no experience nor qualifications, but please come along for an hour of fun and games!
We ran classes through The Samaritans, Life Without Barriers, House With No Step, Devon and more. So it just grew quickly by word of mouth, we learned on the job, and we asked a lot of questions. We ended up creating our own special needs dance program and have a team to run it.
Q: Where do you run the classes?
We have a team of 12 now based in Newcastle, and we run classes in the Hunter, Central Coast as well as two classes in Sydney each week at day service programs in Botany and Marrickville.
Q: Tell me about the group you are trying to get to the USA to compete in the World Latin Dance Cup.
It’s the Central Coast dance team that placed first at the Australian Latin Dance Championships and qualified to represent Australian in Orlando, Florida, at the World Latin Cup in December. They will compete in two dance divisions alongside dancers with additional needs from all over the world, competing in the Limitless Salsa & Bachata partnered team categories.
Photo Courtesy The Daily Telegraph (http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/central-coast/perform-ability-dance-group-win-their-way-to-world-latin-cup-in-us/news-story/d4b70bb78a346be801c55658398116d4)
This amazing group started three years ago. We were just doing basic jazz and a little hip-hop. But from the get-go they didn’t want to play games, they just wanted to do a mainstream dance class and they want to be pushed and learn proper technique. They’ve just always been driven to learn a lot more than recreational dance. They’ve done dance eisteddfods and a lot of performances… they’ll take up any opportunity to perform!
Amazingly, many eisteddfods and competitions have started to include sections specifically for dancers with special needs, which is great! They are an incredibly talented group with great personalities.
Q: So you’ve got 12 students from age 7-23… How did they end up doing Latin dance style and competing in it?
One of the studios I hire is a Latin dance studio. I got to know the owner and staff and I ended up becoming a dance partner at one point. Then I found out that one of his staff works with people with disabilities. So I got him onboard my Perform-Ability team straight away. He was the one who suggested we teach them partner dancing because it’s so great for people with special needs to use their social skills and form trust in each other. It also happened to be around the same time that the Australian Latin Dance Championships were coming up.
Coincidentally, the person who runs the Australian Latin Dance Championships also runs the Central Coast Disability Network. So we put two and two together and suggested to the owner of the competition to start a special needs section in the dance championships. We asked our dancers if they wanted to try some Latin dancing and possibly do a competition and their answer – as always – was yes!
It’s been such a challenge for a few of them who wouldn’t usually feeling comfortable doing a partner dance or not quite have the social skills that others do. But they’ve just fallin in love with the style and they love the partner work.
Q: So, this particular dance group was invited to go to Orlando to represent Australia, and you are now raising funds to get them there?
Yes; We started a Gofundme fundraiser page straight away which is now up to $9,500. We’ve also done chocolate boxes, pie drives and trivia nights to help get us to our goal of $20,000. To take 24 people away on the trip it will cost just under $100,000.
Q: Tell me a little about the dancers you have on your performance team.
In this particular group we have people with autism, people with down syndrome and some with global developmental delay. We have an equal mix of female and male dancers, with the youngest being just 7 tears old!
We are the first Australian team in Australia to perform in the special needs division. We’re also the first team in the world to have anyone under the age of 18 in the division.
Q: After the US show, where do you want to take Perform-Ability next?
About 5 years agao, I got to the point where I was poutting a lot of time into it and ecided to create my own program. So now I am oputting in place structures and hope to franchise the program so it can be delivered to people with special needs everywhere. I am especially keen to see it happen in country and rural areas where they are screaming out for activities.
By Mark Reddie
Updated 11 Sep 2017, 7:10pm
Years of hard work have paid off for a special needs dance group from the New South Wales central coast.
Perform-Ability is the first Australian team to qualify for the 2017 World Latin Cup to be held in the United States.
The group of 12 was selected for the Orlando competition after a win at the Australian Latin Dance Championships in July.
The dancers, aged between seven and 23, will take on performers from other countries in two limitless divisions in December.
"We are making history — this is the first team to be selected to represent Australia on the international stage in December," Perform-Ability founder Miranda Daisy said.
"We need to raise another $80,000 so we can take all 12 dancers to Orlando, where they will perform salsa and bachata routines.
"It's important we get the whole group there because it's partner dancing and it's not fair to only send a couple."
Kayla Donaldson has been dancing since she was a teenager and she has dreams of making it big on Broadway.
"I just love dancing — it makes me feel special and I hope Orlando will eventually take me to New York or Hollywood," she said.
Dancer Liam Marynissan said he never thought he could do big things until he enrolled in the Perform-Ability program.
Ms Daisy said it was amazing to see how far the Perform-Ability program had come since it was established.
"I formed Perform-Ability seven years ago because parents with special needs children kept telling me how their kids were often excluded or put in the back row of a dance," she said.
"I met one girl with Down syndrome, she was so talented and full of personality that I thought there's a career for these kids as performers, and that's how Perform-Ability was born."
The dancers have been rehearsing weekly at the Wadalba Community School Hall in preparation for the World Latin Cup.
Fiona Killman, Central Coast Gosford Express Advocate
September 8, 2017 1:25pm
TRAVELLING to Orlando to dance together would be “a dream come true” for a Central Coast special needs dance group.
The group of 12 dancers, from Perform Ability, are the first Australian team to qualify for the limitless division of the World Latin Cup to be held in Orlando USA in December.
Perform Ability founder Miranda Daisy said the team, who have been dancing together for three years, qualified after winning the limitless division at the Latin Dance Championships in July.
Perform Ability dancers Chloe Powick and Ryan Farrel in action.
“We were all so excited,” she said. “This will be the first team ever to represent Australia in the limitless division.”
Perform Ability and the families of the dancers have turned their attention to fundraising, so they can take every dancer to Orlando where they will perform a salsa and bachata routine alongside dancers with additional needs from all over the world.
“At the moment, we can afford to take four,” Ms Daisy said. “We want to get everyone over there, especially because it’s partner dancing. The dancers are super passionate and just love to dance.”
Perform Ability dance group are fundraising to get to the World Latin Cup in Orlando, US.
Instructor Ray Cornwell said this was the first Latin partner dance the team has ever done, and it was impossible to pick and choose who can and can’t go to Orlando.
“They are all great friends, and they are really keen to get to Orlando,” he said.
The Express were treated to a preview of their winning performance, and you could see the concentration and focus on the dancers’ faces. This was followed by elation afterwards, along with celebrations and laughter for a job well done.
Perform Ability dance group performing their Latin routine.
Kayla Donaldson said she wanted to go to the World Latin Cup to “win the big cup”.
“We have to get to Orlando,” she said.
Kayla’s mum Kim said Kayla had been dancing since she was 16.
“She just adores it. She has dreams of going to New York and being on Broadway,” she said.
Mrs Donaldson if the team make it to the USA, they will take Kayla to New York to see Broadway.
Sonja Lloyd’s son Matthew started dancing with the group three years ago.
“He just loves it and all the kids have improved immensely, and it has really helped their fine motor skills,” she said.
She said the dancers attend many Latin dance events in Sydney, with crowds always getting behind them.
“They always get standing ovations,” she said.
“When we went to Rooty Hill for the bachata, not even the five time world champions got a standing ovation but our group did. Wherever they go they just bring smiles to everybody.”
Liz Williamson said her son Ryan loves being a part of the group.
“He has loved this group from day one and he loves Miss Miranda,” she said.
“The teachers’ patience and kindness is just amazing.”
The dancers, aged 7 — 23 years, have been rehearsing weekly at the Wadalba Community School Hall in preparation for the World Latin Cup. To donate, visit gofundme.com/performability-goes-to-orlando
Miranda Daisy, a graduate of the Brent Street Musical Theatre Diploma course and owner of Centre Stage Performing Arts, is showing the world just how powerful dance can be. After discovering that there were very few dance programs available for those with special needs or disabilities, Daisy set out to change this in 2010 by creating Perform-Ability, a dance, drama and music program for people of all ages tailored specifically to the needs of this community. There are now 14 Perform-Ability classes running in many locations throughout Newcastle, the Central Coast and Sydney, with more than 120 students attending each week.
Here, Dance Informa speaks to Daisy about her inspiring work.
Tell me about the little girl who inspired you to start Perform-Ability?
“Brodie enrolled in our mainstream dance school when she was 12 years old in 2010. Brodie has Down syndrome and hearing impairments and a wonderfully large personality! She stole the show at our end-of-year concert and has performed every year since. And I have to say, from feeling the bass in the music, she has such incredible timing when she dances.”
Can you tell me more about the types of programs you offer?
“At Perform-Ability, our programs are tailored to suit the clients in each class. Each class is really different, as our clients’ abilities and ages range from four to 67 years. We have wheelchair dance classes, standard dance classes, Act-Ability and now even private dance lessons! However, our most popular class is our Music and Movement class, which involves musical games, dance routines and, at times, singing.”
Miranda Daisy and a student of Perform-Ability. Photo courtesy of Daisy.
How is what you do similar or different to what dance therapists do?
“Some of the benefits of participating in a Perform-Ability class are similar to Dance Movement Therapy, in particular, the improvement of certain life skills for the client through the use of creativity and movement. At Perform-Ability, we focus more on providing a safe and fun environment to explore creativity and build confidence and social skills. Whilst physical therapy is an important part of our program, at this stage, we are more about providing numerous performance opportunities for our clients and having a lot of fun! Not to mention, we don’t only specialise in dance; we offer drama and singing as a part of our lessons, too.”
What were some of the challenges you encountered in starting Perform-Ability?
“When I started Perform-Ability, I had no experience working with people with disabilities aside from a few students at Centre Stage who had additional needs. Together with a good friend of mine, Liam Bird, who was a drama tutor, we put a brief program together and trialled it at our first Perform-Ability class. Through asking a lot of questions, talking with carers and parents, self-studying and learning on the job, a more structured Perform-Ability program was developed. We learned a lot from experience on the job. Our biggest challenge when we started was actually funding. We had both only just left school and spent our savings on purchasing equipment for our classes.”
How has the program evolved over the past six years since you started it? What has worked, what hasn’t?
“It has certainly grown into a more structured program, as I’ve gained knowledge over the years, and we now provide more training to our staff. I feel we now have a Perform-Ability family that works well as something of a support network for students and their parents.
The financial struggle is still a challenge each year with the lack of funding from the Government and the new NDIS programs coming through for our students, but we are lucky enough to receive generous donations every now and then. Through our performances, we have drummed up greater awareness of our programs, and this has resulted in significant sponsorships and donations, which I’m so very grateful for.”
How do you juggle running Perform-Ability with running Centre Stage Performing Arts?
“I’m actually juggling seven jobs at the moment! Centre Stage Performing Arts is mostly run by my mother now, who loves being involved in the dance community, and I’m working in Sydney growing Perform-Ability and working as a freelance dance, singing and acting teacher, among other jobs.”
Miranda Daisy and a Perform-Ability student. Photo courtesy of Daisy.
When you think about your experiences with Perform-Ability, what are you most proud of?
“My proudest Perform-Ability moment would definitely be our inaugural annual concert last September. With no funding and a lot of hard work, we managed to provide costumes and awards for all of our performers. It was such an incredible day, and I can’t believe how smoothly it ran! With over 90 performers from the Upper Hunter, Newcastle and Central Coast areas, we put on a really entertaining show! I was on such a high from the beginning ’til the end with radio interviews in the morning, NBN news coming along and so many happy faces up on stage! I can’t wait to make 2016’s concert even bigger and better!
Also, earlier this year, some of our clients were given the incredible opportunity to perform alongside Justice Crew and Reece Mastin at the Don’t Dis Disabilities Dance Extravaganza. We also came First Place in Australia’s first ever inclusive Latin Dance competition in Darling Harbour. The crowd of hundreds of people gave us a standing ovation, and it was amazing to see our students feel like such super stars.”
What do you know now that you didn’t know before you started Perform-Ability? What have you learned as a person, as a dancer and as a professional?
“My view on life has dramatically changed since I started Perform-Ability. I now have so much awareness of the disability community and the challenges that people living with a disability experience every day. The parents, carers and siblings of people living with a disability are such incredible people who never cease to amaze me.
There are so many negatives and positives I’ve experienced within this community — from having to deal with a lack of funding and others’ misunderstandings, to being a part of these wonderful support networks and amazing programs. I’ve learned not to take things for granted, and I’m truly blessed to work with such wholesome people who make me feel empowered.
As a performer, I’ve gained confidence and find I have fewer inhibitions now. My students inspire me every day to be the best that I can be and show me that anything is possible.”
What advice would you give others who are looking for ways to make a difference in the community using dance?
“Go for it! I believe that dance really does make people happy! Whether it be dance for people with disabilities, dance for people who need to take their mind off their busy schedules or even dance classes in nursing homes. There is always a place where people are craving more dance in their lives. Don’t we all love music and dance?”
By Grace Gassin of Dance Informa.
Photo (top): Perform-Ability. Photo courtesy of Miranda Daisy.
STUDENTS of Medowie's Perform-Ability class were among the 98 performers at the special needs dance and drama group's first ever concert last week.
Patrick Muller, Tim Low, 14, Mitch Low, 14, Riley Briggs, Maddy Petith, 13 and Tiffany Moul-e, 14, from the Medowie class took part in the concert, held on September 23.
"Watching our clients blossom into performers was so incredible to witness," said Miranda Hayman, the founder of Perform-Ability.
"We had performers who have never performed before and just didn't want to leave the stage.
"We hope this is just the beginning as we would love to continue to put on annual concerts, making them bigger and better every year."
ROUSING: Tim Low, 14, Patrick Muller, Mitch Low, 14, Riley Briggs, Maddy Petith, 13, and Tiffany Moul-e, 14, from the Medowie Perform-Ability class.
Perform-Ability is a dance, drama and music program for people of all ages with special needs and disabilities.
Classes are held across the Hunter including Maitland, Medowie, Newcastle and Belmont.
The concert was a Perform-Ability initiative and was pulled off using funds raised from friends and family of the performers and donations from small businesses.
Kinetic Creations donated $500 worth of made-to-measure costumes for the performers.
About 250 people turned out to St Philip's Christian College in Waratah to watch the performance.
"There was impromptu performances from excited clients, tears of joy from our staff and the audience and such a beautiful warm vibe in the theatre the entire performance," said Ms Hayman.