Move Beyond Words: the meeting of dyslexia and dance

Words by Ines Carvalho.

According to statistics, ten per cent of the population in the UK has dyslexia. Although this is a significant percentage, the sheer complexity of neurodiversity means the figures may be more, particularly as it can be hard to identify a support network or mechanism that works for an individual with dyslexia. 

In a world where dyslexic voices are increasingly hard to hear, Move Beyond Words emerges as a safe space to amplify the experiences of professional dance artists with dyslexia. The Move Beyond Words journey started in 2018 when choreographers Elizabeth Arifien and Charlotte Edmonds crossed paths at Studio Wayne McGregor. Connected by their personal experiences of dealing with dyslexia since childhood, soon they found out they needed one another to be the best they can be — and that they should open-up the conversation about neurodiversity. This led to their first artistic collaboration in 2019, the performance Words Fail Me, which premiered at V&A’s Dyslexia Creates event. Quickly after that, they presented a new commission at The Royal Opera House called Innate Beauty. Both performances were inspired by their personal stories, explored with Move Beyond Word’s dyslexic collaborators. 

In 2020, they embraced a new chapter of this collaboration. Move Beyond Words became a combination of their artistic work but now appeared in new guises including workshops, events and a podcast. Inspired by the values of education, support and connection, this podcast series emphasises the experiences of dyslexic creatives from various backgrounds, which help us to understand the depth and multiple layers of this condition. On each episode, Elizabeth and Charlotte invite a guest from the creative and entertainment world to talk about how they manage dyslexia. At the same time, they also focus on starting the dialogue about how to support people with dyslexia in the arts industry and beyond. 

Charlotte Edmonds and Elizabeth Arifien. Image by Louis Headlam.

“From Dance to Desk”

In the first episode of the Move Beyond Words podcast, Elizabeth and Charlotte tell us their stories about how dyslexia has shaped the way they are, both personally and artistically. Going back in time, they share how a learning disability can affect your confidence from childhood. The feeling of starting a life and having a barrier can be challenging in the classroom. During this period, dance was the key to building up their confidence.

Dance always highlighted who they are. For Charlotte, being accepted to study at The Royal Ballet School for five years made her believe she was capable of accomplishing great things, and that hard work makes dreams possible. In 2015, she began her choreographic career at The Royal Opera House and even though she is proud of her path, she confesses that sometimes not having the confidence to speak up about dyslexia limited the way people around her understood and supported her. For Elizabeth, who only discovered she had dyslexia by the age of 11, dance inspired her to push herself harder. Not being afraid of pursuing her goals, she was given a full scholarship to study dance at Liverpool Theatre School. Since then, she has been working as a choreographer and filmmaker. Dyslexia has been fundamental to shaping her career, and as a physical learner, Elizabeth is now aware that she learns in a different way that is true to her.

Although the common signs of dyslexia are difficulty reading, writing or spelling, the disability can appear in different guises. No two dyslexic individuals have the same lived experiences, and from this there is a world of possibility in terms of how these encounters translate or converge with movement and choreography. This is the very ethic of Move Beyond Words; by widening the relationship between dyslexia and dance, dyslexic artists can create something that is unique and resonates with who they are. This will in turn stimulate new ways of learning and feeling, a notion that is truly empowering. 

The Move Beyond Words podcast premiered in July 2020 and so far, it has hosted guests from across the arts field such as Lauren McCrostie, Kate Power and Kathy Iwanczak Forsyth, Steve Chapman, Stella Tillyard, Aj and Curtis Pritchard and Sean Douglas. To listen to the podcast follow this link, and to find out more information about Move Beyond Words, head to their website. Header image: Sophie Lauren McCarthy.