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Dancer Hannah Sampson: ‘All disabled artists should believe in themselves and take their opportunities’

Hannah Sampson. Photo: Chris Parkes Hannah Sampson. Photo: Chris Parkes

Hannah Sampson’s career highlights include performing for the Albanian president with Stopgap Dance Company, with whom she is currently touring The Enormous Room. As a dancer with Down’s syndrome, Sampson tells Giverny Masso that there should be more opportunities for disabled artists…

How did you get into dance?

I first started at the age of five doing ballet near home. I did that for two or three years. In secondary school, dance was one of seven GCSEs I took – I studied different choreographers and their dance pieces. I was a big fan of [pop group] Steps, and that got me dancing as well.

What have some of your dance career highlights been so far?

When I went to Albania and performed with Stopgap in front of thousands of people including the president [in the production Shadowed Voices]. It was my first time performing in front of such a big audience and it was special being invited to the ambassador’s house. I am also so proud that I came through the creation process for The Enormous Room and doing the London premiere at the Lilian Baylis Studio of Sadler’s Wells. Another highlight is when my grandparents came to see me perform on my 18th birthday at Flame Festival in 2012 in Aylesbury, which is the birthplace of the Paralympics.

Do disabled artists have enough opportunities in dance?

There should be more. All disabled artists should believe in themselves and take their opportunities. There are a few out there – Stopgap is doing its apprenticeship, called Sg2, again this year, where I trained to become a professional. Things like this would be a good place to develop as artists. My advice to aspiring dancers is: be open with yourself, be honest with yourself, and go for your dreams.

Tell me about The Enormous Room.

It’s about the father-daughter relationship between Dave, played by David Toole, and Sam, played by me. They’ve lost their wife and mother. The message is about letting go and moving on. It’s been challenging but fun because I get to play a character and become immersed in stories. But I was working among professionals, so I had to step up. Over time, I got better, healthier and fitter.

How would you describe your own style of dance?

I tend to dance by imagining being in character. I do a lot of research and thinking about what that character is going through in a piece, then I try to move and express as that person. I like to bring my movement and intention behind it, because that makes it more relatable to the audience.

What are your future ambitions?

I’ve always wanted to choreograph and still do. I want to create pieces for dancers in my style. I learned about choreographers and how they made work for my dance GCSE. I am learning at Stopgap too; they helped me try out choreography with two dancers. It was a piece about my journey of becoming a professional dancer.

CV: Hannah Sampson

Training: Stopgap youth company (2005); BTec in performing arts at Kingston College (2009), London; Stopgap apprenticeship (2010)
First professional role: Performer in SPUN Productions with Stopgap (2012)
Agent: None

The Enormous Room is playing at several venues across the UK until March 20, before touring to Switzerland