Amy Whitten is the co-director of a not-for-profit organisation called Beam which is an all abilities, all-inclusive movement to music program. But as VIVIENNE DUCK writes, Amy and her program are about so much more than just that. And she’s hoping to bring it all to our doorstep later this year
AMY WHITTEN KNOWS the power of music.
She knows the power of movement.
And her love of dance has her students beaming.
The Echuca woman is empowering people of all ages and all abilities to feel confident and have fun.
Amy is the co-director of a not-for-profit organisation aptly named BEAM.
Beam is an all abilities, all-inclusive movement to music program that aims to provide a safe and inclusive environment for students to learn.
It is run out of the Long Gully Community Centre but Amy has plans to bring it to her home town.
“I was at university when two mothers came to me and encouraged me to start the program after we saw a gap in what was offered for people with disabilities,” Amy said.
“I had worked in dance schools and the like where it was very structured and you had to have a certain disability to be involved and it just didn’t sit right with me.
“I just thought ‘Why does it have to be so segregated, why can’t everyone be involved?’
“We wanted to start something that was completely inclusive for everyone.
“And now I have about 50 students aged from 18 months to 55 years old.”
Dance has been part of Amy’s life for the better part of 21 years.
“I started dancing here in Echuca at Suzanne’s School of Ballet when I was three and did that right up until year 12,” Amy said.
“That is where my love of movement came from and where I saw the power of music.
“I think that is where I first learnt how important movement was for our physical and mental health.”
But at the end of high school Amy had a big decision to make.
Does she pursue a career in dance? Or does she further her studies at university?
“My mum was actually the one who said ‘If you don’t audition for dance academies now you will regret it’ so off I went down to Melbourne and danced at two different academies and basically spent my gap year dancing,” Amy said.
“I loved it and I think my passion for movement really grew while I was down there.
“But it cemented in my mind that I wanted to go off to university and pursue a career in the health sector.
“I am a rural girl at heart so I deferred my uni courses and once the 12 months was up I went to La Trobe University in Bendigo to do occupational therapy.
“The Bendigo course is a bit different because it is included in the Rural Health School so there is a real focus of rural health which is what I am really passionate about.”
It was in her fourth and final year of uni when BEAM was born.
Juggling uni subjects and trying to get the not-for-profit organisation off the ground kept Amy busy.
“I work better when I am busy so it was good to get time to do something other than uni work during that year,” Amy said.
“So I would really work out my time and make sure I got things done when I needed to because if they weren’t there was no hope of finding any more time to get them done.”
After a cash injection from the Down Syndrome Advisory Group BEAM was operational and word of mouth was their best advertisement.
“The two mums who are my co-directors have disabled children so they were my first two students and from there it was just word of mouth,” Amy said.
“I think if we were a dance school operating as a business I would say we were successful but I think because we are not-for-profit we are always striving for more.
“The goal would be to cut down a few days working as an OT and do BEAM on a full-time basis.
“But I think I would always have to be working as an OT because I think the clinical side of things really helps me at BEAM.
“And vice versa. Sometimes I see a student react to a certain thing really well and I think wow that would help a client of mine in the exact same way. It is a beautiful thing, really.”
In typical Amy fashion, she is already looking ahead to bigger and better things.
“I am hoping to get some fourth year OT students in to do some different projects with BEAM students,” she said.
“I really want to get some of them to look into how my students are feeling before and after their classes.
“Often we have students come in and they are feeling a bit down or sluggish and when they walk out of the class they are a completely different person.
“And looking into what makes them feel that way I think would be really interesting.”
There is one thing Amy can promise the people of Echuca — BEAM is coming.
“We are definitely on our way,” she said.
“I am hoping to get it up and running maybe one night a week by the end of the year.
“I am getting more and more OT work in Echuca so if we can lock in a night a week when we know I will be here then it makes it much more doable.”
Amy works for Scope disability support services and services clients in and around Echuca three days a week.
“I am in Bendigo for the other two days and that allows me to teach and direct at BEAM down there,” Amy said.
“I know there are a lot of people in Echuca who would benefit from BEAM and I am hoping we can bring it to them very soon. Stay tuned.”