'Look at your challenges as building blocks': How I give back to my community through my passion for dance

Can you imagine turning your biggest passion into a career and a project to help your community?

Adie Armstrong, one of the 2020 BBC Unsung Hero Award winners, has done just that. After training as a dancer, Adie started KBSK, her own dance and performing arts school in Cornwall, aged just 15. The aim of the project is to share Adie's skills with the community she grew up in, by providing dance and performing arts training to children who wouldn't otherwise be able to access high quality training.

We spoke to Adie about her story and how she managed to turn a personal passion into a community resource.

Tell us about what you do – how did you get started?

As a child I had the dream of becoming a dancer. My first dance class was when I was 18 months old - my mum took me to a ballet class after I'd been very ill. My training became more serious when I was 10 - any opportunity I had I would be in the dance studio.

My early years of training wouldn't have been possible without my family's dedication to support my dream. As a family we went without a lot simply to be able to afford my dance tuition. My dance school was created with the full support of my mum when I was 15, and the aim was to share my training to other young people from the same estate. My local community also supported my further training, so my school has always been a way to give back, to share my knowledge and provide opportunity to other young people with the same passion.

When did you realise something that you just loved to do was turning into something more?

Over the last few years I've watched the project grow in numbers and local support. Reaching now in the hundreds of young people and families has really blown my mind, but ultimately it's made me realise is that this is so much more than just what I love to do. Dance has such a way of improving mental health, providing a focus and changing people's lives.

When I was younger I faced some challenges and I used dance as an escape, an outlet and a safe space. That's why I'm so passionate that my school can be that for others. As well as a way to express myself, exercising definitely improved my mental health. To be able to share the outlet that saved me with other people is a blessing, but the project's intention was never planned for anything more than what it is. It's organically grown while maintaining the same ethos.

How has the work you do changed your relationship with your community?

With not a lot of self worth, I spent many years as a child embarrassed of living on a council estate. The estate I grew up in doesn't have the best reputation, and I was always ashamed. There's so much stigma attached to the area and still to this day people believe in the stereotypes. I've lost count of how many times I've been referred to as a 'chav'. Even during my training I felt the need to be someone else and to hide where I came from, never feeling good enough.

The truth is I have the best community and I'm proud of where I come from, I'm proud of my roots and everything my community has taught me along the way. There is no community quite like a council estate, full of the most incredible hard working people with so many stories to tell. Today I stand tall and very proud of my roots, providing a space for other young people to be proud of who they are and where they come from.

Adie with her BBC Unsung Hero award

Tell us about some special moments from your work

I've had so many "WOW!" moments through this journey. A huge moment for me was when the local community funded young people's uniforms. To see them so proud and have a real sense of belonging is something I can't quite find the words for.

And I've seen the most incredible growth from all the young people I work with. Some started the project overwhelmed with anxiety, and then blossomed into the most confident people and went on to become mentors themselves. Another highlight has been working with young people with limited communication or vocal ability and witnessing them thrive and build friendships, and just seeing overall improvements in their speech.

Seeing every single one of my young people on a journey of acknowledging their self worth and becoming confident and comfortable in their own skin has been amazing.

What advice would you give to someone who has a dream they want to pursue?

Some opportunities are given much easier to some people than others; however, if you have a dream, never give up on that. Don't let anyone blow out your light and don't be the person to put limitations on you. If you want it, go get it - that's what I teach my young people. If you have the passion and the drive you can achieve anything you put your mind to, even if that means you have to work that little bit harder.

Life isn't fair, but we are the ones who put limits on ourselves. You can achieve anything your heart desires and, just like my mum taught me, if we look at our challenges as building blocks set us to make us stronger and more courageous, more determined, then we have the recipe for success within us all.

Adie shares her performing arts skills with young people in her community
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