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The North East Dance Co-operative has won the prestigious One Dance UK Award for Innovation in Dance, which highlights “the most groundbreaking and cutting-edge approach to dance over the last twelve months”.

Founded by Gateshead resident Angeline Lucas in 2015, the North East Dance Co-operative is an independent, not-for-profit network entirely run by volunteers. Its mission is to increase equality of opportunity and to open the world of dance to everyone, regardless of background or privilege.

Growing up in a disadvantaged single-parent family in rural Northumberland, Angeline’s access to dance opportunities was limited, and she was discouraged by her dance teacher who told her that she did not have “a good ballet body”. Despite this, Angeline worked hard and won a place at the Northern Ballet School to train as a professional dancer. After a debilitating injury forced her to quit vocational training, she became a dance teacher herself, eventually being appointed at Gateshead College and the North East’s National Dance Agency; in 2010 however, she was diagnosed with debilitating Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which left her unable to dance at all. 

Despite being mostly housebound and frequently bedridden with her illness, Angeline refused to put her passion for dance aside. “I wanted to create dance opportunities that could be enjoyed by everyone, including people like myself who can no longer dance but still feel passionate about being involved” she explains. In 2015 she founded the NEDC to create dance opportunities that would be open to everyone, including classes, workshops and company class observations. The organisation has since collaborated with many professional dance companies, including Scottish Ballet, Phoenix Dance Theatre, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, Northern Ballet, the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Amina Khayyam Dance Co. In November Angeline herself received another award, the Julie Relf Award for Courage in Adversity, awarded by The Inspire Network.

The NEDC is free to join and open to all – their 650-strong membership includes dance enthusiasts, adult learners, dance teachers and professional dancers, with ages ranging from two years old to over seventy. Angeline hopes that winning the One Dance UK Award will help her continue to expand the network into all regions of the North East. Plans for 2020 include a pointe shoe fitting course, CPD for teachers, plus further workshops and behind-the-scenes with professional dance companies. 

What is your advice to women who are diagnosed with a debilitating illness?

My advice would be to learn how to listen to your own internal ‘Gentle Voice’ and make conscious choices instead of falling into the habit of saying ‘yes’ out of compulsion or trying to be everything to everybody. You are not a failure or a bad person if you say ‘No’. Saying no is imperative for self-protection and authoring your best life.

Where do you find your motivation and who is your support network?

*Laughs* Much of my motivation is from things that have gone horribly wrong in my life and wanting for history not to repeat itself. Over time this has developed into an insatiable desire to create positive change, which I’ve found it to be a very fulfilling pursuit, despite its challenges! 

Why is it important for you to make dance accessible to everyone?

Early on in my dance career, I was discriminated against because I didn’t have the “right” body type. This, in conjunction with coming from a poor single-parent family, drastically reduced the amount of high-quality dance education and training opportunities I could engage with, despite my devotion to the art. Due to both of these factors, I’ve always felt strongly about increasing access and inclusion within dance, but after I became disabled I realised that the situation was far worse than I’d originally understood. This only further fuelled my passion for creating change, but also inspired me to develop dance opportunities that are accessible to everyone, even those who cannot, or can no longer, dance at all. 

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