Blog Post

"I feel the only way I can express my feelings and experiences is through a dance theatre piece"


Sharlene Carter is a dance teacher, choreographer and producer living and working in Barking and Dagenham. After speaking at our People Place Power conference, she tells us about developing her first full-length dance piece addressing stigmatisation around disability. 

My piece - Sharlene Carter

Sharlene Carter spoke on a panel discussing diversity at our conference People Place Power. In her moving contribution she talked about the dance piece she's developing that draws on her mum's disability and the shifting dynamics of their relationship. 

I am creating my first full-length hip hop theatre piece that politically addresses stigmatisation around physical and verbal disability. Thirteen years ago, my life drastically changed when my mum had a critical car crash that evolved from a minor injury into a severe disability - a neurogenical condition called Ataxia Cerebellar. The piece explores difficult life events/honest experiences that my mum and I have had to adapt to and overcome. It has been a continuous learning curve and slow progression of a role reversal and I am looking at how this has changed the dynamics of our relationship. I feel the only way I can express my feelings and experiences is through a dance theatre piece. 

It’s very important to represent my mum's condition as truthfully as possible. The progression from an able-bodied person, working four jobs to losing coordination, balance, and ability to speak and the impact that has had on her and myself. How have we coped and overcome these challenges? 

I decided an able-bodied dancer would be truer to my mum’s experience by taking away the dancer’s ability to move and communicate with others. This will seriously push the performer and let the audience experience her journey as her movement becomes restricted. I couldn’t create this without bringing inclusive artists in as I would be disrespecting the art form. I felt I had to do this as my mum went from able to non. It was important to hear other artist’s stories and most importantly how to address the movement vocabulary. Some people might question my decision to work with an able-bodied dancer in a wheelchair, but this was because I want to stick to the truth. Also, I had to learn and go through the process so I feel that it’s authentic.

I faced many challenges and had to take risks becoming a full-time carer as you don’t get support on how to lift correctly and what forms you need to fill in etc to help you live your life. This experience really made me think about how we can help others in this situation.

How can society help us if we don’t tell them what we need to make our lives that little bit easier? The councils and NHS need to watch this piece and stop trying to cut funding for a start and make applications and processes a lot easier.

"In life people have different disability needs and these are not always visible”

My involvement with Creative People and Places

I have been working with CPP project Creative Barking & Dagenham for over four years. I have been honoured to volunteer on several events as well as coordinate events and commissions. It all started with me being awarded with a commission fund called People Going Places. I developed my own artistic practice in Paris as well as curated a series of workshops for young people at a high level with six professional artists from the street dance community to learn six different styles from the street dance umbrella. I am also a Cultural Connector for Creative Barking and Dagenham, part of a network of 180 people from the borough. We get the power to decide what we programme and sit in on panels for interviews. I feel privileged to be a part of this as I don’t know many other organsations that work this way. 

My reflections on the People Place Power conference

The conference overall for me was very inspiring to hear other people’s stories, journeys and opinions.  A few quotes that stuck out to me were:

Jess Thom - Co-founder Touretteshero - “Change isn’t a battle”

David Ellington -  Diverse City – “ Remember to have an access budget when planning”

Jeanette Bain-Burnett -  Head of Community Engagement Greater London Authority – “ Maybe Diversity is the wrong word it’s all about Balance”

Sharlene Carter

Support Sharlene's crowdfunder and help her make My Journey here

Book tickets to see her show here 20-22 September, The Broadway, Barking

Photo: Jason Torres