Spotlight On... Para Dance

Katie Goodwin

It’s a Paralympic summer, but don’t just watch the sports, try them!  

Parasport's Spotlight On… series offers a quick glimpse into the world of a Paralympic sport – the thoughts, feelings, emotions and behind the scenes details that may be hidden to the outside world.  

In the next part of the series, we spoke to Katie Goodwin, a wheelchair dancer who combines her competing with a role as a national representative for Para Dance UK.

Para Dance did not appear on this year's Paralympic programme but is a great activity to try - Katie told us about the joys of expressing herself through dance and how the sport has seen her make plenty of friends along the way.

Tell us about how you got into dance and your progression to where you are today

"I’ve always loved performing from an early age, so it started from school. I went to a specialist school for people with physical disabilities and studied performing arts at college. I thought there must be a wheelchair dance group somewhere locally and I found West Oxfordshire wheelchair dance, based in Witney, in 2016. After being in the local group for about a year, I competed in my first national championships. I did quite well and really enjoyed it, and it has been really good ever since.

"A role came up for the Para Dance UK national representative at the end of last year and my friends encouraged me to go for it. I was surprised people voted for me but I have that position now within Para Dance UK, which I’ve held since November 2020.

"It would have been a bit more hands-on but for Covid, but hopefully I’ll soon be able to go out and see people more and try and support them face-to-face. I am the voice of the members and if there are any issues or ideas, I take them from members to trustees as a go-between. Hopefully I’ll be able to encourage and help more groups to set up locally and raise the profile of the sport."

Why dance over other sports? 

"I have loved performing from an early age and I love the arts, theatre, music and dance. That was my way of expressing myself when I was younger.

"When you’re younger and you have a disability, all the professionals focused on what you can’t do. But this is such a nice way to show people, and myself on a personal level, that there are things I can do.

"On a bigger scale, wheelchair dance and all parasport shows society what disabled people can do. It’s a good way of saying ‘hold on, we have so much to offer’ – it just has to be done in a slightly different way. That’s always a positive thing.

"It also encourages people with disabilities that might not feel confident trying something. They might see someone do a dance which inspires those who aren’t necessarily as confident to give it a go."

What’s the one thing you now know, that you wish you’d known before getting started in the sport? 

"Just knowing how wide the opportunities are that are out there. You might think you are limited with what you could do but the more you get involved in it, the more you become aware of what is out there. I didn’t know anything about a National Championship until I joined my local group, I didn’t know anything about being a national representative and I didn’t know someone from a local group could be nominated to be in that role.

"Ultimately, the answer is knowing that the opportunities are bigger and better than they probably first appear."

What’s been your favourite memory in the sport so far? 

"It would have to be my first National Championship, which was in Harrow in 2017.

"I didn’t know it was so popular beforehand! The atmosphere, and knowing you could relate, made it so special. Everybody there has a common interest in the sport and we were all there to showcase our ability rather than what we can’t do. Nobody really thought about their disability, we were there as competitors and friends.

"I was surprised by the camaraderie with other groups, who came from all over the country, and it was my first opportunity to meet other wheelchair dance groups and see what they do. I have made a lot of new friends through the sport. Obviously there is an element of competitiveness, which matters as it is a sport, but it’s not at the forefront of my mind. If I get a medal, great, but I’m not there to win – I’m there to learn, enjoy and appreciate the other athletes as well.

What's the best thing about dance

"For me, it’s about expression and freedom. When you have cerebral palsy, at least in my experience, you don’t really have that sense of freedom as you are either limited by your walking frame or wheelchair. So it is really nice to express myself.

"It's also about acceptance, as I’ve mentioned – showing what you can do rather than what you can’t. We are all on a level playing field and everyone is aware of it."

What’s something only a dancer would know or appreciate? 

"All dancers know you have to have a level of confidence to get on that stage, dance, compete and perform. It’s important to be confident without being arrogant, which is quite a fine line. I like to see somebody sure of themselves, and you have to be to go and compete at events such as National Championships. I’m quite a confident person in some ways, less so in others, but you always want to give the best of yourself without coming across as arrogant."

What would you say to someone considering trying para dance

"Go and have a try! Even if it’s not for you, you might learn or meet new friends. Dance is such a positive activity and it’s a great thing if you’ve got a disability and you’re not sure what’s out there for you. You might really enjoy it, just as much as I have!"

Gain an insight into the world of other Paralympic sports by visiting our Spotlight On… series hub page here.

Want to give para dance a try? Check out our club finder!