I started ballet classes aged two and a half and took all the grades. Although I wanted to dance as a profession, I knew ballet was not for me. I first heard of the Martha Graham technique when I went to watch my brother-in-law taking a contemporary dance class in London. I was immediately hooked. The following year I went on a summer course with the London Contemporary Dance Theatre, founded by Robin Howard and Robert Cohan.
Cohan was a dancer and choreographer who had partnered Martha Graham. In 1968, I auditioned and became one of the first full-time students of the London Contemporary Dance School. We had classes in choreography and contemporary music and I loved the excitement of the Swinging Sixties.
During my training, I was invited to dance Noemi Lapzeson’s piece Cantabile, which became part of LCDT’s repertoire. It was my first job with the company. Unfortunately my career with LCDT ended abruptly in 1973 when, during a performance of Stages choreographed by Cohan, I fell badly. I sustained a spinal cord injury and have been a wheelchair user since.
Naturally, I thought dancing was no longer an option. Eventually, I took a costume design course at Croydon Art School in 1983, which became a bridge to engaging with dance again. In 1990, Darshan Singh Bhuller asked me to dance in his short film The Fall for the BBC2 series 10×10. I had no idea how I would be able to dance in a wheelchair but during rehearsals I found my own dance language.
I met Adam Benjamin in 1991, and together we founded Candoco Dance Company. The company’s dancers come from all over the world, at different moments in their careers, with a diverse range of interests and ambitions. They are attracted to the opportunity to create work by renowned choreographers, but they are often even more passionate about Candoco’s history and inclusive practice.
For disabled and non-disabled dancers, my advice is to be open, to share their experiences, to inspire the next generation and to enjoy the power of dance in all its forms.
Training: London Contemporary Dance School
Theatre includes: National and international dance tours with LCDT from 1971-73 and from 1991-2007 with Candoco Dance Company
TV includes: The Fall; Outside In; Dance for the Camera (all BBC2)
Celeste Dandeker-Arnold is co-founder of Candoco Dance Company. She was talking to John Byrne