Jolt is out to shake expectations

November 25, 2022

The word ‘jolt’ can mean shocking someone or something into change. And change is something that drives Christchurch-based dance company Jolt.

“We need to challenge this whole deficit view of disability,” says Artistic Director Lyn Cotton. “We need to see people as individuals with their own unique way of moving and thinking.”

Jolt is an inclusive dance company made up of people with intellectual disabilities. It was founded by Lyn in 2001.

“I’d been relief teaching at a school for people with learning disabilities in London. I’m a trained secondary English and drama teacher with no training or background in teaching people with high needs, but I fell in love with the work. There was a dance class some of the senior students would go to, run by a guy called Wolfgang Stange.”

Wolfgang Stange is the director of the Amici Dance Theatre Company, a physically integrated dance company in the UK that includes performers with physical and intellectual disabilities.

“I had no background in dance either, but I sat in this dance class and within five minutes I knew. This is what I want to do. There was so much freedom and humanity and joy.”

Lyn spent two years with Stange’s performance company before returning to New Zealand to found Jolt.

Jolt has more than 160 dancers aged between five and 60-plus and presents a weekly Zoom session on IHC Media to an audience across the country.

In 2013, Lyn and Jolt colleague Renée Ryan started up the Move programme, in which people with intellectual disabilities learn to develop choreography and lesson plans and teach weekly classes for people with complex disabilities, as well as lead workshops in mainstream schools and rest homes.

“I knew we couldn’t call ourselves a properly inclusive dance company if there were no pathways for our dancers to be teachers, to be leaders. If we’re going to have change, we need these people to be leaders not followers.”

The training given in the Move programme is based on the individual, with the dancers being at the heart of it, and there’s a strong community focus. Through the workshops in mainstream schools and rest homes, the programme brings together diverse communities with the aim of changing the nature of relationships.

“It’s about gifting the mainstream community with the joy and freedom of engagement with the disability community. To strip away the competitiveness, the desire to fit in, the peer pressure, that ability to just be yourself.

“I had this big vision that the mainstream school kids would go away from these sessions saying, ‘Oh wow, people with Down syndrome can do anything! But the reality is after five minutes in the class, the kids forget about disability altogether. One of the teachers in our first session remarked: ‘It creates a sense of belonging for everybody’ and it does. It flips everything on its head. It makes the kids think a bit differently.”

Last year the IHC Foundation contributed $17,800 towards the Move tutor and community programme.

Caption 1: Nylla Tamati engages with an audience member in Jolt’s Interactive show Song.

Caption 2: Dancers and teachers Rochelle Waters and Joel Forman.


This story was published in Strong Voices. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members. Read the full issue of Strong Voices or view more articles.