Music is ringing out of the speakers, the bass is pumping through the sprung floor. There are lines of young people dancing, their focus zeroing in on the teacher at the front of the gym.
Simon Samaki, a founding member of Speaker Box Street Party, has got fifteen young people from the Crossroads Care Saturday Club up on their feet. The young people who attend the Saturday Club all have special educational needs and disabilities, and this is a safe space where everybody’s dance moves are appreciated.
Feeling the beat, the young people move their bodies in time with it. Claps, whoops and laughter echo around the hall. And while, at first, the dance moves look as if they’re going to need a great deal of refining, by the end of the session, everything has come together in a quite stunning and co-ordinated routine.
While the club has been running for more than 20 years — putting on activities like karate and arts, crafts and cooking — this, its first foray into regular dance classes, has captured the attention of everyone who attends.
The club’s laid-back but motivational and supportive atmosphere means that if anyone doesn’t feel like joining in with a particular activity they don’t have to. But the 50-minute dance sessions have such broad appeal that it’s not just the young people who are shimmying and side-sliding their feet as Simon issues instructions through his microphone at the front of the gym, the highly trained and experienced specialist sessional workers and volunteers are getting in on the act too.
Acting Saturday Club Lead Christine Gordon says: ‘Simon is so sincere that the young people immediately connect with him. He gives everyone the freedom to move their bodies in the way that suits them. He’s able to teach without the usual regulated and confined strategies, and the children are able to follow his instructions. It’s really empowering.’
The sessions help to improve co-ordination, listening skills, and are all-round good fun.
Crossroads Care Young Ambassador Sophie, who has a huge smile on her face during the lesson, agrees: ‘The dance sessions are fantastic because Simon gets all the staff and young people involved. He does easy routines for us to follow which really helps to develop communication and friendship. It’s fun, fun, fun!’
‘I love getting the young people involved,’ says Simon who is an experienced youth programmes leader and one of the founders of the Black Culture Festival. ‘The dance sessions are a safe space where everyone gets to express themselves through great music which really boosts confidence and empowers everyone who takes part.
‘I want everyone to feel comfortable and know that however they choose to move, we’re going to clap for them.’
With the milder weather here, Simon took his most recent session outside to a local park and used the club’s percussion instruments as a soundtrack. The afternoon was a huge hit with the young people.
‘It just goes to show that you don’t need to be playing music on a speaker or listening to an instrument such as the piano or guitar to dance,’ says Christine.
‘All you need is the beat. The young people thoroughly enjoyed the outside session, and everyone joined in. One young person who is usually very serious at the club became totally engaged. It was wonderful to see.’
With thanks to our funders – Richmond Parish Lands Charity, Hampton Fund, The Barnes Fund and BBC Children in Need.
Click here for more information about Speaker Box Street Party.