Escape through dance

Charlie Blair is founder of Blair Academy, which helps vulnerable through dance workshops
Charlie Blair is founder of Blair Academy, which helps vulnerable through dance workshops

Blair Academy founder Charlie Blair speaks to Sahira Raja about how she uses dance to combat loneliness

Having been homeless at the age of 19, Charlie Blair knows what it’s like to be isolated and alone – but it was her passion for dance which kept her going.

“I was a young female living in a really hostile environment and I felt incredibly vulnerable,” she explains. “For me, going into the dance studio at the hostel was my little form of escapism.”

Charlie is the founder of Blair Academy, which is built around using dance as a way to combat social isolation and loneliness. But it was her time caring for her nan, and the work she did in a care home, that pushed her into what she does now.

“At the time, when I was in my last year of uni, I was caring for my nan who had cancer. She had this exercise programme that she was given and she hated it, she did not want to do it. So I changed it up for her and it worked, and from that I thought that maybe this could be effective with other adults as well.

“From these experiences, I had a lot of insight into how health conditions can affect older people and how I could relieve some of their symptoms through dance.”

Speaking about the classes that her academy provides, Charlie berates herself for thinking that old people are the only lonely people in the world.

“It kind of dawned on me that loneliness isn’t something that discriminates and it can affect people in lots of different ways. So that’s why, for instance, I started parent and baby classes, as parenting can be something that is quite lonely.”

Charlie’s classes are hosted in care homes and any social events. “I have a monthly night in a trampoline park with a live DJ for adults and that’s really popular because you get to come and be a kid, bounce on the trampoline, and then after have a drink as if you’re on a normal kind of night out.”

When working with hostels residents can sometimes be wary of her, but she has been in a similar position herself in the past, Charlie says that having someone to relate to “gives them a bit of comfort as I’ve been in the same situation as them – and look at me now”.

Grateful for the funding for Blair Academy from UnLtd, Charlie says: “It’s allowed me to do so much that I wasn’t able to do before. It’s turned everything around, because suddenly I was able to buy things that I needed but hadn’t been able to get.

“What they’re helping me do, is become the social entrepreneur that I need to be. They’ve enabled me to have meetings with legal teams which I would have never dreamed of. I’ve never studied business, I just learn as I go along, so to have someone there to support you and give advice is amazing.”

Currently, the academy works in Essex, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Kent, as well as across Waltham Forest, but Charlie hopes to “expand across the UK, get more teachers on board and build my team so we can reach more people”.

Charlie, a resident of Woodford Green, adds: “We’ve worked with over 1,600 people and that’s with just me leading all the classes, so getting more teachers means we can reach more people. I know that the concept works, it’s really effective.”

This article is supported by William Morris Big Local in association with UnLtd, the foundation for social entrepreneurs. To find out more about UnLtd:
0207 566 1100