Rebecca Fowler is on a fairytale journey as one of the stars of the UK’s first all-wheelchair professional dance company, Propel Dance
Birmingham-based Propel Dance is the UK’s first all-wheelchair professional dance company. And the dramatic images you see here feature Brum’s very own Rebecca Fowler in the company’s first-ever live performance of the Snow Queen.
The Snow Queen brought together professional wheelchair dancers from across the country, including Rebecca, in a reimagined version of the classic fairytale after Propel Dance secured financial backing from Arts Council England. Led by an all-female leadership team, the company was founded by Helen Mason, a Birmingham-based dance artist with a track record of making dance for and with disabled people for more than 20 years.
Helen has worked with many charities and organisations such as Midland Mencap, Cerebral Palsy Midlands, Spectrum Day Centre, Para Dance UK, and Whizz Kidz UK, and in 2017 she set up Freewheelin, Birmingham’s first wheelchair and inclusive dance group. Freewheelin are two-time National Para Dance Champions and have performed at the Birmingham International Dance Festival and the European Basketball Finals.
Helen said: “Freewheelin has gone from strength to strength but I was keen to see if any of our wheelchair dancers could go further and become professionals. I discovered that the opportunities were very limited, so I thought I could put together a scheme and training. But then a friend who is a disabled dancer said ‘yes’ but what would they then go on to do. There is nowhere for them to perform professionally. So, that’s why I set up the Propel Dance company exclusively for wheelchair users with an internship scheme.”
Propel Dance is in its early days, with dancer Rebecca as the first intern placement. Last month’s short tour of the company’s premiere production of the Snow Queen was performed at Midlands Arts Centre and Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton with Helen encouraged by the response of the audiences. The plan now is for Propel Dance to go back to the Arts Council for funding to expand the company and its productions.
Helen who was Dance Captain for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, working with more than 1,500 volunteers, said: “We care deeply about equity and equality of opportunity. It’s why we exist. There are few professional opportunities for wheelchair dancers, and we want to see that change; to create something that enables progression and inspiration to the future generations.
“We stand for compassion, inclusion, and representation throughout our dance projects and opportunities. Guided by our shared values, Propel Dance hopes to inspire, lead and propel change in professional wheelchair dance.”
Dancer Rebecca, who had a lead role in the Opening Ceremony of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games added: “I’m very excited to work with Propel Dance and be part of this ground-breaking project. Wheelchair dancers have been part of inclusive dance companies before, but I am eager to work in an all-wheelchair-user dance company and learn together. I hope this will create many more opportunities for wheelchair dancers and be the first of many shows for the company.”