The Mexican school helping people with disabilities to dance

Artistic Director Andrea Carmona dances with company dancer Mike in his wheelchair; and on the right a dancer on crutches performs alone on stage.
Artistic Director Andrea Carmona dances with company dancer Mike in his wheelchair; and on the right a dancer on crutches performs alone on stage.

In Puebla, Mexico, there is a dance troupe open to everyone. Ballet Incluyente (inclusive ballet) is a non-profit organisation that has been training dancers with disabilities since 2016. The programme helps people with disabilities to become fitter and stronger, and find the self-confidence and space for self-expression they may not find in a society that discriminates against people with disabilities.

Our Observer Andrea Carmona is the artistic director of Ballet Incluyente. She’s a teacher of contemporary dance who had her first experience teaching dance to people with disabilities in London, when she worked on a project that collaborated with people with Parkinson’s disease. On her return to Puebla in Mexico, a city southeast of the nation’s capital, the town’s Institute of Art and Culture commissioned a dance piece to cap off the 2016 edition of their annual arts festival Diverso, which celebrates the contributions that people with disabilities make to the city.

The event was a huge success, and Carmona decided to take the idea and run with it, founding a dance company made of up dancers with disabilities, a dance studio for dancers in wheelchairs, and the Escuela Profesional de Danza, a dance school dedicated solely to dancers with disabilities. Since then the not-for-profit has gone from strength to strength. Carmona told the FRANCE 24 Observers about the value of a project like Ballet Incluyente.

Dancers in their latest piece, "Dance of resistance".

“It’s key to have a mix of different disabilities in a group”

We have people with motor disabilities, such as cerebral palsy. The majority of our dancers have intellectual disabilities such as Down’s syndrome or autism. I think it’s key to have a mix of disabilities within a group. We can work to people’s strengths and they can learn to support each other. Those with motor disabilities can help their fellow dancers who have intellectual disabilities. And those who have intellectual disabilities can support their colleagues with motor disabilities, by pushing their wheelchairs and helping them do physical activity.

Our dancers don’t have to pay for the classes, but they are obliged to attend every single rehearsal ahead of a show.


Photos of rehearsals sent by our Observer.

A typical class will start off with a warm up. All of the movements are adapted to the needs of each person. So for instance, we have one girl who uses crutches and for some of the exercises she’ll sit down so that she can do the movements with her arms. For our dancers who have intellectual disabilities, we act out the movements as well as describing them, because for them verbal instructions can be hard to follow.

The families accompany them but often wait outside for the class to finish. If there is a carer or a family member that wants to join in as a dancer, they can. But the idea is that we want them to be as independent as possible. Of course, we have some people with quite major disabilities. We have one person who needs help to go to the toilet, who has to be carried, but everyone who is involved with the troupe has to be able to do physical exercises and move by themselves.

Photo sent by our Observer.

“We want to create a more accessible society”

The hardest thing about the project is actually the funding. In Mexico, there is little access to artistic education, and even less so for disabled people. Cultural projects are difficult to finance. There’s very little public funding, so we try and fund ourselves directly through private donations, through ticket sales, and through commissioned shows.

Andrea Carmona dances with her son, and company dancer Mike in his wheelchair.

The other problem is accessibility. A lot of the cultural spaces in Mexico don’t have adequate conditions for disabled people. We have people with wheelchairs in our company so our practice and performance spaces have to have ramps that aren’t too steep, and disabled toilets. It’s difficult to find a space that is suitable for everyone in our group. We want to create a more accessible society, and I think we are helping people think more about the accessibility of their spaces.

Photo sent by our Observer.

Mexico signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007, as an outward symbol of its commitment to the inclusion of people with disabilities across all areas of life, but many people with disabilities report that accessibility remains a major problem in the country. Almost half of all people with disabilities in the country have disabilities that impact their mobility, meaning around 4.16 million people are impacted by poor accessibility in public spaces, according to Global Disability Rights Now.

Photo sent by our Observer.

“They are capable of creating beauty”

The company started with 18 dancers and six teachers; now there are 30 dancers and three teachers – a sign that the dancers have become more independent. Carmona says that the project has obvious benefits for the dancers: the regular physical activity is good for their health and strength, which improves the quality of their everyday life, meaning they can dress themselves, cook and go out alone more easily. But it also helps them to build self-confidence and learn to express themselves.


Photo sent by our Observer.

A moment that really marked me was probably the first show we did in a theatre in Puebla, and seeing the happiness and the joy on the dancers’ faces when they were on stage receiving wild applause. I realised then that they needed that. That the dance studio was a space that allowed them to communicate, that society in general doesn’t normally give them this space. It was incredible, seeing the solidarity of people, the sincere applause. It made me think that we just had to continue with this project.

This is our project’s primary goal: that people with disabilities are more visible, and seen as productive people who are capable of creating beauty.

The company. Photo sent by our Observer.