David Toole

One of the world's best known disabled dancers recalls flying above the stadium for the 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony despite his fear of heights and talks about his new performance with Stopgap

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My name is David Toole and I was born with a disability that meant I lost both legs at a very early age. This year marks a bit of a milestone for me, as it will be 25 years since I gave up the glamour of being a postman to become a dancer.

It all happened so quickly, from the moment I attended my first dance workshop with a fledgling CandoCo Dance Company to taking a sabbatical from the Royal Mail and moving to London. There I soon realised that going back to the post office was never going to be an option. During my time in London I would have to split my time between studies at the Laban Centre and the company, all the time taking in so much new information as the company developed our style of working together.

During those early days, I would use some of the tricks I used around the house to achieve things. Standing on one hand to reach a light switch, for example, looked impressive when moved away from the wall and incorporated into the choreography. I wouldn’t think twice about leaping off my wheelchair, landing on my hands and “running” across the stage.

Moments like that and the fact that we would do pretty daring stunts got the company noticed, as well as the quality of the work we were creating. This eventually led to me being offered other opportunities and after seven years with the company I was ready for new challenges.

One of these was to realise an ambition I’d had to work with DV8. Although I felt unready to work with such a big company, I would have been mad to say no when they came calling.

The biggest worry on the night was not to fall over in front of so many people

Working for DV8 opened me up to the new ways of working and, as there was vocal work in the piece, that gave me a taste for acting too, which then led me to the work of Graeae Theatre Company, a connection that would propel me eventually to the biggest job of my career so far, the Paralympic Opening Ceremony of 2012. I didn’t quite take in what may be involved until I realised that I would flying above the Olympic stadium, something of a test for a guy who is afraid of heights. But once I’d had a couple of practice runs I found I loved it. The biggest worry on the night was not to fall over in front of so many people.

For the last few years I have been working regularly with Stopgap Dance Company. I have been involved with the company since its tentative beginnings in the mid-nineties and have always loved its ethos and way of working. I have noticed too, gradually, that it is not so necessary to do the big things anymore and to think more of the intention and detail in the work.

So, what of the future? To be quite honest, not too sure. I have never made plans so we will see what happens. I am aware that physically I need to change the way I work so who knows where that might lead?

I look forward to the next leg of the adventure.

The Enormous Room from Stopgap Dance Company returns to the stage following its London launch at the Sadler’s Wells and includes dates at DaDa Festival, Storyhouse, Chester, 6 Nov and Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds, 24 Nov

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