Bio by Mel Stevens Aim To Fly UK

“ To create an aerial dance studio and performance company specifically for dancers with physical disabilities, so they can be productive and inspiring members of the national community through performance and conversations.”

From the age of 3 I always knew I was a dancer. Even before I could dance, I knew it was what I was going to do. I grew up in greater London within a single parent family, most of the time. I spent most of my free time with my grandmother, who used to share her fantasy of being a dancer and encouraged me to participate in ballet and gymnastics. At age 9 I won my first ever entry to a London dance competition. By age of 12 I was working in my local market to fund my classes.

At the age of 14 I became a fly girl for a local radio station. My job was to hand out flyers for radio road shows to people within the community, and then backing dance for a number of acts. This single experience opened up a whole new world of performing.

By the age of 18 I was working professionally as a dancer. I performed opening up major department stores in Oxford Street, on TV commercials and on Breakfast TV, danced in music videos and toured with top bands worldwide. By the age of 20 I was living in Germany, working for a major record company, supporting big acts and living my dream. I really believed this life would last forever, providing I just got up and did my job.

Fast forward a few years, a wonderful marriage and children and my career continued full tilt still touring the world and dancing professionally on top international gigs. Then in 2003, I shockingly broke my back, whilst giving birth to my 3rd child. My whole life turned upside down.

I had to relearn practically everything — from the waist down, raising my children, keeping my soul. I struggled with depression, weight gain, lack of direction in my life, the loss of my vitality, the loss of who I was. For a long time it felt as if I’d take 1 step forwards and 2 back. Everything emotionally and environmentally affected my fragile health. I was forced to mourn my able-bodied life, bow to my declining health, which seemed to injure so easily, and collect new diagnoses on top of the old ones. Paralysis disables the body, makes it vulnerable to additional illnesses, the pain medication deadens the senses and life forces ebb with these terrible weights to bear.

In 2008 I was offered a place in a disabled day centre, which was attached to Newbury College. Me remembering who I had been me, and attempting to find a life after injury, challenged their offer and decided that I was going to the college instead. I studied sports, coaching and working with children. More than anything, I wanted to understand my own body and find a life to live again.

By chance one summers day, In June 2012 I received an invitation to a West End show that my old agent had just produced. He invited everyone from the old Bi-virtue team and amongst us was my modelling booker. She was working with a disabled theatre company who were producing a show, and seeing me in my physical state, suddenly realised I would be ideal for the project, and urged me to contact the show producer that evening and to say she had sent me.

The project was inspired by both the run up to the Paralympic ceremonies, where I first performed with Graeae in an aerial show called Prometheus Awakes for the Greenwich and Docklands Festival June 2012. This was the world premier of mass flying disabled artists, prior the ceremonies themselves, and then there was the magic of the Paralympic aerial legacy intensive, which wasn’t only an opportunity to fly, but also an opportunity to personalise our experiences and play and experiment on every piece of equipment.

The experience was magical. The for the first time in many years I was alive again, performing again, and dancing again. The aerial harnesses and trapezes allowed me to move in a way that I no longer could on the ground, gave me wings with my powerful upper body that my legs no longer could support. And I wasn’t the only one elated by this window into a world where I could celebrate my physical being, rather than be trapped and depressed by it.

But at the end of the training and performing, the project was over. We went our separate ways, many of us looking for some way to continue the work that was shared with us, but circus schools and dance companies turned us away, unable to integrate us into their programs.

Thankfully, a year later, in 2013, one of the aerial teachers from the Paralympic project (Lindsey Butcher of Gravity & Levity) ran a week long Paralympics Aerial Legacy Intensive workshop continuing the aerial dance training we had experienced. It was there I met Serenity Smith Forchion who is a master teacher of aerial and circus skills and creative director of circus tours. She trained us that week and as she saw our bodies strengthen and spirits soared, we both understood that this work was too important to let become dormant again.

My dream now is to create a facility that may help others who are in crisis today as I was yesterday. I am currently self funding Aim to Fly UK using the money I would have previously spent on therapies. Although I still live with chronic pain and other conditions, I find great relief in decompressing and endorphins holistically.

It is my dream to perform and feed my spirit, and in return, use the profits of such ventures with a team of volunteer instructors/performers and donate free or low cost circus activities, support and training to find the joys and abilities amongst the depressions and disabilities. I wish to go out into the community and share fun, joy and colour. I wish to reconnect with all the barriers that I have overcome.I wish to help both young and old, mixed ability, and allow us to all share the knowledge that no one of us are born with wings, but we can all Aim to Fly

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2 thoughts on “Bio by Mel Stevens Aim To Fly UK

  1. Hello. My name is Karen Fuhrman. I am the owner and artistic director of an aerial dance company called Grounded Aerial. (Groundedaerial.com) We are based in Brooklyn New York. I plan to go to Nova Scotia this summer to introduce flight to students with different types of handicaps. I would love to learn more about your experience and learn any type of strategies/teaching philosophies/apparatus/ safety tools you’re willing to share! Your story is an inspirational one. I look forward to potentially speaking with you!

    You are a hero.

    Warmly,
    Karen

    Liked by 1 person

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