'Inspirational' Wigan woman meets hero Alexandra Burke on national TV

A dream has come true for an inspirational Wigan dance teacher who runs inclusive classes for people of all abilities.

Wednesday, 20th June 2018, 4:27 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th June 2018, 12:12 pm
Jen and Alexandra

Jen Blackwell, founder of the charity DanceSyndrome - which operates classes in Hindley - was surprised by The National Lottery last week on their Saturday night primetime slot as a thank-you for the difference she has made to hundreds of lives.

Jen, who has Down’s Syndrome, appeared on the 90-second ad-break slot in a bid to give the dance charity founder national recognition for her work.

She has gone from strength to strength since launching DanceSyndrome in 2009.

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Four years later, the charity - which focuses on training people with learning disabilities across Greater Manchester and Lancashire to become dance leaders, gained official charitable status.

The successful dance leaders hold classes at community venues across the region, including at the Rose Club on Atherton Road.

For Jen’s Big Surprise, The National Lottery arranged for her to meet her heroine, the singer Alexandra Burke, at the world-famous Pineapple Dance Studios in London and perform her own specially choreographed dance to the singer’s hit record, Hallelujah! The National Lottery filmed the heart-warming results.

Jen said: “I just can’t put into words how I felt. It was just amazing, I was totally lost for words. It was most definitely big hugs all around.

“I love Alexandra and have always admired her. She is such a fantastic inspiration. It was incredible to be able to perform for her at Pineapple Dance Studios – something which was totally beyond my wildest dreams.

“I cannot thank The National Lottery enough, it has literally been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and something I will never, ever forget.”

In 2017 DanceSyndrome was awarded £160,000 of National Lottery funding to help them expand their Everybody Dance programme. It engages people with learning disabilities in dance workshops that aim to improve self-esteem, health and social skills whilst reducing isolation.

Participants help design and develop the sessions, can gain leadership qualifications and jointly run their own workshops.

Outreach taster sessions and performances will inspire people with or without disabilities and change perceptions of disability.

Research with participants in DanceSyndrome workshops shows they report many improvements in their lives after a workshop, including feeling physically fitter, having improved mental health, feeling they have a better social life and simply feeling happier. They are also inspired to see someone with a disability succeeding in a life of their choosing.