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28 July 2023

Sebby is a ten year old from the Portsmouth area who has been diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Starting dance early in his life, Sebby fell in love with the classes he attended, which have helped him find new friends - and a lot of fun. 

To mark Disability Pride Month, we got in touch with the Sebby, his mum and his teacher to ask a few questions about Sebby, his experience at Marie Clarke School of Dance (MCSOD) and how dance has helped him come out of his shell.  

Sebby with his Mum

How long have you been dancing?
Sebby, now ten, has been dancing since he was three. 

What’s your favourite thing about dance classes?
He loves it because it is a community of people that have not only nurtured him on his journey through dance but have also accepted him and his differences. He has been a valued member of MCSOD and it is heartwarming to see how much everyone loves him. Sebby really loves being on stage, he loves the crowd and the attention.

Any advice for someone who is nervous about going dancing?
Sebby has times when he doesn't want to dance, however as soon as he is with his friends dancing to the music he feels really happy. 

"It is a community of people that have not only nurtured him on his journey through dance but have also accepted him and his differences."


How does dancing make you feel?
Sebby says dancing makes him feel happy. 

What is your favourite style of dance?
Sebby loves Modern and Tap. He really enjoys watching others dance too. 

Have you made new friends through dance?
Yes Sebby has made lots of new friends, friends he only sees at dancing. He loves being out in the community and they all say hello to him.




Sebby's Mum

When did Sebby first get interested in dance?
Sebby first got into dancing through nursery. There was a lady called Harriet who went into his nursery every so often and taught the kids, and Sebby just thrived from it. We signed him up, and he's not looked back since!

How did you find a dance school that is inclusive of your child’s needs?
I guess we didn't really need to! We were recommended the amazing school that is Marie Clarke School of Dance by Harriet, and Sebby joined up. I was very lucky that we didn't have to do a lot of research to find a school that was inclusive - we had one on our doorstep and we didn't even know.

How has dance helped Sebby?
It's helped him in so many ways. It's given him confidence to be around people that aren't in his usual friendship circle. It's increased his fitness and muscle development - I remember he started dance when he was three, and used to walk up the stairs every day to Dancing. It used to take him ages to walk up the stairs, and sometimes he'd have to stop and I'd have to carry him. But when he managed to walk all the way up, on his own, it was such a big achievement - and dance helped with that so much. 

What do you think some of the many barriers in place for disabled people are in the dance world and how can we combat them?
Firstly I think a big barrier is that people think they can't achieve, when people with additional needs can achieve, if they are given a lot of extra support. We have had numerous events where we thought Sebby wouldn't be able to join, but when we've applied and done a little bit of digging, we've seen that he can be included and supported, and can do things that other children can do, so I will always say for people to try, investigate and challenge: ask the question 'why not?'. What can we do to help children with additional needs do dance, play sport and everything else. Let's make the world more inclusive. 

"I will always say for people to try, investigate and challenge: ask the question 'why not?'."


Could you tell us a little about yourself and your MBE?
I was awarded my MBE back in 2020 during Covid, and I didn't actually collect it until 2022. I received it for advocating for the Disability community, both in [the field of] Defense and my local community. I've done lots of work in raising awareness for not only people with Disabilities but also carers, people who are caring for people with a Disability. I think I try and do my best to represent and advocate for people who don't always have a voice.

What advice would you give to other parents of children with learning disabilities looking to get into dance? 
Just because your child has a learning disability, doesn't mean they can't do everything any other child can - yes, it might be a little extra work and extra time and effort for you to put in, but let's ensure that all children are included, treated fairly and have the opportunity to discover dance. 

What’s been the highlight of your child taking dance classes so far for you? 
Sebby absolutely loves the stage - the cheers, the lights, the applause from the crowd. My absolute highlight has to be in the last show, he literally had to be pulled off the stage because he kept coming on, bowing several times - the more people cheered, the more he would bow!

Just for me personally, seeing him up there on the stage, keeping up with everyone else - he has so much joy on his face when he is up on that stage. When the show is done, he talks about it for weeks and weeks - he's hugely passionate about dance and performing. Some day, we may see him on the big screen, or a bigger stage!




Marie Clarke, Sebby's teacher

Could you tell us a little about yourself and your dance school? 
I have been running Marie Clarke School of Dance since 1999. We teach a range of genres, including ISTD Tap, Modern and Ballet.

How have you adapted your classes to be more inclusive of a child’s individual needs?
Sebby has been dancing with the same group of children since he began taking lessons.  His class absolutely adore him. They love to help Sebby with anything he may find a little harder and are super proud of him. They are fully aware of Sebby’s needs. As a teacher, you quickly learn what approach works best for each individual child. Whether they have additional learning needs or not all children have their own unique way of learning. Some children may just need a little extra time to learn an exercise, that’s absolutely fine.  It’s also about building the confidence of each individual child so they feel they can do their best.  

Can you share your experience of teaching Sebby?
Sebby is the most wonderful boy. He is a complete joy and makes me smile every week. He is funny, enlightening, and makes his class laugh a lot. I also believe that Sebby has taught his class and myself so much. His class have such a mature understanding of Sebby’s additional learning needs and love to help him. They truly are so very proud of him and will clap and cheer him at any given opportunity. It is so heartwarming to watch. We do a whole school show every two years and Sebby is always the child that everyone looks forward to watching.

Do you teach any other students with specialised needs?
Sebby is the only pupil that we have in the school who has Down Syndrome, we do however have other children in the school with more complex medical needs.

"All children need to be treated as an individual whether they have additional needs or not."


What are some of the things in place in your school to help children with learning disabilities?
When required I will assign an extra teaching assistant to the class so there is added support within the lesson to help any child that may need some additional help. I will also invite a child’s parent in to watch the class so they can see what they may need a little extra help with, this will then help to support them when practising at home.

What do you think some of the many barriers in place for disabled people are in the dance world and how can we combat them?
I am definitely starting to see some positive changes. For example, as a school we do competitions and I have noticed one of the festivals that we attend has just introduced a section for children with special needs. There have also been some amazing role models on recent TV talent and dance shows that Sebby has definitely aspired too. Sebby adored watching Andrew on BBC’s The Greatest Dancer. I do however think there are still some barriers to be broken. Perhaps most importantly we need to continue educating children and adults to be inclusive of all.

What aspects of teaching do you enjoy the most? 
Most definitely working with the children. For so many children dance can have such a huge impact on their life in so many ways. We are very much a family at my dance school and we all look out for one another. I love to help them achieve, whether it be learning to do a tap step or helping them to get into dance college. We are extremely proud of all of our pupils and hope that the skills they’ve learnt through dancing will help them into adulthood.

Do you have any advice for teachers on creating an inclusive environment within their dance class?
Whilst it can be a little frightening at first (purely for the fact that you want to do your best by a child), it will teach you so much. I honestly can’t imagine Sebby’s class without him. It’s important to remember that all children need to be treated as an individual whether they have additional needs or not, and it is easy to adapt a lot of dance steps to accommodate those needs. Sebby is treated exactly the same as his friends at the dance school, he studies the same ISTD syllabus as the rest of the class (just at his level). He even took his Pre-Primary tap exam for a certificate which was a lovely experience for him.




Thank you to Sebby, his mother, and his teacher Marie from the Marie Clarke School of Dance for taking the time to answer our questions to mark Disability Pride Month.

Feel free to browse our Diversity and Inclusion Hub for tools and resources to help make your teaching more accessible.

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