Royal Ballet to feature wheelchair dancer for first time at Paralympic event

Photo: Dancers Diary/ROH. Credit: PA

A wheelchair dancer who will perform with the Royal Ballet at the ParalympicsGB Homecoming event has said he hopes to “open people’s eyes”.

Joe Powell-Main, 23, from Newtown in mid Wales, will be the first wheelchair user to perform with the prestigious ballet company, in a bespoke piece accompanied by the singer Birdy.

The dancer trained at the Royal Ballet school for four years from the age of 11, until he suffered an injury that left him with impaired mobility, using crutches and a wheelchair.

Powell-Main said:

“I poured my heart and soul into dance and ballet since the age of five.

“It was everything I did. It was difficult being away from home, but the fact that you had dance would make everything OK, it was almost a way of releasing everything for me.

“Then when I thought it was no longer a possibility, it was really, really difficult for me to comprehend.

“It’s really difficult to come across a classical dancer with a disability because I think there’s some kind of idea that it’s not possible. The plans with the Royal Ballet are to show that, yes, it’s entirely possible.”

Powell-Main, who is now a member of Ballet Cymru, said he thought his future in ballet was over until he discovered Wheelchair Dance Association classes, which made him hopeful of a future pursuing his passion.

He said:

“I think it’s incredibly important because certainly when I was trying to navigate stuff, it can be really difficult trying to do it on your own.

“It can feel a bit isolating, especially being in a company where it’s predominantly for dancers who don’t use wheelchairs or crutches.

“It’s a really new thing, and I really hope that having this exposure, with one of the world’s greatest ballet companies at Wembley Stadium, really opens people’s eyes.

“Ideally I would really like to see more dancers in wheelchairs, because yes, it’s going to be something completely different. And it may not always follow the traditional regimented balletic style that people are used to seeing, but if you don’t adapt to things, eventually it will die out.

“Ballet specifically is so steeped in traditions and needs to be more representative of the diverse population of people that we have in the world, and also our country.

“We need to be accessible to everyone and I think there needs to be that representation of ‘There is someone like me, so I can do it as well.’ So that’s what I am hoping.”

Powell-Main said he was aware of only two other classically-trained ballet dancers who use wheelchairs but hopes there will soon be more.

He added:

“There’s still a lot of hurdles to get there and I really, really hope that by having this opportunity at the Paralympic homecoming, celebrating some of the greatest sportspeople ever, helps.”

The dancer said access backstage was still poor at many venues, even where there was first-class accessibility at the front of house.

“I’ve been in situations where I have had to crawl up steps and someone had to lift my dance chair on.

“It’s not like an intentional thing, but there needs to be a wider change, to truly see that you may have a disability, you may have something that’s a little bit different about you, but that doesn’t change the fact that you should have the same opportunities as everyone else.”

ParalympicsGB athletes are supported by the National Lottery.

The National Lottery’s ParalympicsGB Homecoming will air this Sunday at 10pm on Channel 4.


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