Magpie Dance is the UK’s leading dance charity for people with learning disabilities. We believe that a learning disability should not be a barrier to personal and artistic success. Through dance, our participants gain life, social and communication skills with added health and wellbeing benefits.
A world where a learning disability is no barrier to personal and artistic success in dance
To enable people with learning disabilities to reach their full personal, social and artistic potential through dance
People, Access, Challenge, Excellence – PACE
PEOPLE – Our people come first
We work together. We listen, share and encourage ideas, support and respect individuals. We focus on ability, not disability.
ACCESS – Our priority is accessibility and increased participation
We strive to ensure safe, physical access to activities and venues. Our commitment is to increase participation of people with learning disabilities within the cultural sector.
CHALLENGE – We challenge perceptions
We change perceptions of what people with learning disabilities can achieve. We challenge participants to fulfil their potential and we challenge those they interact with to believe in their ability.
EXCELLENCE – We strive for excellence
We create high quality artistic experiences and professional practice.
Magpie Dance was founded in 1985 by Avril Hitman BEM who retired from the role of Artistic and Executive Director in 2017. Our values and approach were founded on the social model of disability – it is up to society to find a way of including people rather than excluding because of disability. Since the beginning, the aim was for the dancers to have as many opportunities as possible to perform and collaborate with different companies and artists. This remains vital to Magpie Dance today which has now grown from a 45-minute session per week, to 14 sessions per week plus outreach workshops – enabling over 300 people to access regular dance activity sessions each year.
Our participants have a range of learning disabilities and are aged 3+, with no upper age limit on taking part. Through dance, our participants gain significant life, social and communication skills with measurable health and wellbeing benefits. Participants stage regular performances and national tours, many in prestigious performing arts venues. Ambitious and talented dancers are supported through professional progression pathways. We also deliver professional training for education, dance, health and business clients nationally, and we work in partnership with the NHS to provide in-patient work for clients with dementia and a range of complex learning disabilities.
Here’s what we do in 30 seconds:
Our Founder and Former Artistic Director – Avril Hitman BEM
Avril founded Magpie Dance in 1985 and retired in July 2017. After graduating and working for 10 years teaching ballet, modern and tap, Avril was looking for a new challenge in her work. So (after experiencing a session and some mentoring from Wolfgang Stange, founder of AMICI) she began working with different groups of people with learning disabilities in social service centres, community venues and special schools. There was a very open honesty from each person, which Avril respected and wanted to experience more – so she set up a group of 10 adult dancers at Astley Centre in Bromley. Avril began delivering creative dance sessions for adults with learning disabilities who were all new to dance at the Astley Day Centre in Bromley for just 45 minutes each week. She worked pretty much alone for the first seven years with two very good volunteers, exploring movement concepts and encouraging people to express them-selves creatively. The aim from the outset was to encourage all people, regardless of their ability, to take a full and integrated part in the artistic life of the community. At the time there was very little creative arts activity for people of any age with learning disabilities in which to participate, let alone perform.
“Avril Hitman has shone a light on learning disability through her visionary creativity and determination that dance be open to all.”
Magpie Dance parent
Following a successful first residency with the London Contemporary Dance Trust in 1992, Avril then secured a £40,000 grant for one year to kick-start Magpie Dance’s work. In 1996 Magpie Dance was established as a Company Limited by Guarantee and in 1997 it became a registered charity.
Avril’s unwavering dedication to Magpie Dance and to the continued development of inclusive dance, the community and dance industry was recognised through several awards; by the British monarchy Avril was awarded with a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the New Year 2017 Honours List. She was shortlisted for a Lifetime Achievers Awards with One Dance UK and was the winner of the prestigious Lifetime Achievers award at the National Diversity Awards 2017.
The National Diversity Awards interviewed Avril, read about it here: