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.”
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.”
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.