Interview by Lana Head,
Each week, more than 120 students, aged from 4 to 70, attend our performing arts classes for
people with special needs, in 15 locations across New South Wales. We took freelance writer
Lana Head behind the scenes with the Newcastle girl who inspired it all, her mum,
and the teacher who took a chance and never looked back.
Here is our story:
In a bold move that would improve hundreds of lives, a 12-year-old Brodee Robinson
enrolled in a class at a mainstream dance school in 2009. Brodee had a passion for dance and
music. She also had profound hearing loss and Down Syndrome.
Brodee used the dance skills she had developed as a toddler bopping along to the Wiggles,
feeling the beat of the music through her feet and hands, and learning the choreography
through sight and dedicated practice. “Brodee loved it,” says her mum, Karen Stead. “And
she was made to feel so welcome. Straight away, the teacher and other girls even wanted to
learn sign language.”
The Sydney-based owner of the dance school, Miranda Hayman, wasn’t Brodee’s teacher.
Their paths first crossed at the end-of-year concert, where Brodee’s larger-than-life
personality sparkled on stage and she stole the show. Her mum pounced on the opportunity to
pitch an idea to Miranda.
“I said there wasn’t much for kids with disabilities to do in Newcastle,” Karen recalls. “I said,
‘You really need to start a dance class for kids with disabilities.’” Miranda agreed to start a
class for children with special needs, Karen spread the word at Brodee’s school, and before
they knew it, the class was full.
Miranda wondered if there might be a need for adult classes too. She searched online for
disability service providers for adults, and sent an email saying, “We don’t have much
experience working with people with disabilities, but do you think you’d be interested in
Two providers said yes straight away, and Miranda felt sure that the idea of dance classes for
people with disabilities had proved its potential.
Perform-Ability opened its doors in 2010, marking a significant turning point in Miranda’s
life. “Now, we have 11 teachers and we need to hire more,” she says. “I’m collecting a
massive costume wardrobe at home. I had to move house because of it.”
In the last six months, Perform-Ability students have represented Australia at the World Latin
Dance Cup in Florida, and performed at the grand opening of Vivid in Sydney, the Newcastle
Regional Show and the Sydney International Bachata Festival.
Getting Perform-Ability off the ground was a long labour of love. For the first six years,
Miranda juggled teaching with all of the administration. At times, she worked up to seven
extra jobs to cover the program’s costs.
Miranda was on the brink of burnout and in the full grip of panic when a parent stepped in
and volunteered to help manage Perform-Ability.
“Mary has been a godsend,” says Miranda. “I wish we had the funding to pay her, but she
wouldn’t take it anyway. The only profit comes from fundraisers and goes back into theatre
hire, uniforms and equipment.”
Life is still a constant juggle, but Miranda is energised by her excited students and teachers,
and by her guiding belief that everyone should have the opportunity to experience the thrill of
performing. “Some of my happiest memories are sharing the stage with my students and
knowing that, behind the nerves, they’re having the times of their lives,” she says.
Looking ahead, Miranda hopes to expand Perform-Ability classes into rural and remote
towns. “We only have three classes in Sydney,” she says. “There doesn’t seem to be a huge
need for us here. Rurally, there’s less happening and not as many opportunities.”
Perform-Ability has opened Miranda’s eyes to a whole world she didn’t know existed.
“Hearing everything the parents go through – the struggles of funding, losing their spouses,
bullying when a child with autism is screaming and people look and judge – has made me a
lot less judgmental,” she says. “I always give people the benefit of the doubt.”
Karen still can’t believe her daughter’s luck at having a bespoke dance school built around
her. She attends all of Brodee’s classes and concerts, and says they still feel surreal.
“I always say to myself, ‘This all started with little Brodee’,” she says. “The students even
danced at Hunter Stadium for the Special Olympics in 2013. They got a standing ovation. It
Nine years on from her first dance class, Brodee says that her life is still all about dance,
music and her weekly classes. “I love to shimmy, twerk and sometimes take over the class,”
she writes. “I have done too many funny things to write about. I would need an exercise
Brodee would like to say to her beloved Miss Miranda, “Thank you for Perform-Ability!”
and to her treasured teacher, Miss Sheree, “Hurry up and come back from holidays!”
- Lana Head