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Unlimited 2014 - disability arts online
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Ian Johnston & Gary Gardiner share some tender moments in 'Dancer' / 7 September 2014

photo of Ian Johnston centre-stage, dressed in a suit, holding his arms around his shoulders, with Gary Gardiner in the background, also dressed in a black suit with a bow tie

Ian Johnston performs Dancer. Photo © Niall Walker

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By Sophie Partridge

You know you've found yourself on to a good thing when entering a space and Greatest Dancer by Sister Sledge is playing! A lady `terp signs the lyrics, whilst two men dressed in dinner suits dance in front of a screen on which they are projected. On the dark floor are placed pairs of those white feet silhouettes, used in dance classes. I come in half way through the track and to my delight, it's looped again.

Dancer was created by Ian Johnston and Gary Gardiner, alongside the late-lamented Adrian Howells and is described as ‘a gentle provocation of what it is to be a dancer’. The exuberance of dance – of that freedom in that moment, is at it's heart.

As Sister Sledge fades and Ian, a young man, pauses for breath, Gary also younger, invites us audience to dance. I'm in my chair on the side, next to Colin Hambrook but most of the audience are seated opposite the dance space and apart from a little gentle foot tapping, have remained staid.

I'm tempted to join in, but am here to review and as my Mum formally instructed me yesterday morning, “I must CONCENTRATE”. So the moment passes and Gary introduces Ian; `interesting facts' about his family, the bands he likes and definitely doesn't like (Robbie Williams) plus the tracks we'll hear in the show. 

Ian's impairment name is also given; it's that usual thing where words make up a long title, which in reality, bare very little relation to the person. Basically, Ian can be both shy and gregarious at times (can't we all?) and has ok'd it with Gary to speak for him. 

Gary mentions the passing of their friend Adrian and Ian's Mum; Ian's Dad gets bigged up a lot! I suddenly have a little inner panic; maybe this is going to be the show that catches me out? Will this be the one where I blub? 

CONCENTRATE and I'm rescued at that moment by Ian taking around a basket of badges with the feet silhouettes on, to the audience. I don't usually do badges but I really wanted one right then! I whispered “Can I have one?” to Ian and avoiding eye-contact, he moved the basket back into my reach. We all moved on.

Ian and Gary then proceeded to try the steps, hesitantly, on the ground; they make it together to the front of the space and Gary assures us that anyone can dance; even those `wheelchair-bound' (but I'll forgive them that term! Once!) 

And then Gary and Ian dance some more. The screen comes into it's own as it felt okay to watch closely, without making Ian uncomfortable with forced eye-contact. The tables are turned when Ian holds up question cards for Gary to answer. We're not sure how truthful Gary's answers are, but Ian doesn't seem bothered. Does it matter? 

Now I'm enjoying myself more than concentrating! And then they dance some more. This time embracing, hands entwined, holding each other close: two young men dancing together… waltzing? Oh so tender. Dancer moves me. I've finally found my emotional fix at Unlimited, no need to blub. 

Paper balls are thrown at the mention of Robbie Williams (I'll forgive that as well!) and we finish on an upbeat track; again we audience are invited to dance and this time, (still pretty staid), most of them do. 

I simply stay sat next to Colin. I'm happy and wobbly. I danced.

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