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David Toole: I incorporated tricks I used around the house into my dance

The disabled dancer David Toole reflects back over his 25 year career and how he came to be working on his latest piece with Stopgap Dance Company

David Toole in Stopgap's The Enormous Room
© Chris Parkes

David Toole is one of the UK's most renowned disabled dancers, having worked with cutting edge companies making dynamic work for the last 25 years. In 2012 he took a starring role in the Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony and is now about to embark on his latest work with Stopgap Dance Company. The Enormous Room is a new touring work about grief and the relationship between a father and daughter. Here he explains a little about his life as a dancer and how he came to be working with Stopgap.

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 twenty five 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.

I didn't quite take in what may be involved until I realised that I would be flying above the Olympic stadium

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.

David Toole and Hannah Sampson in The Enormous Room
© Chris Parkes

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.

Working for DV8 opened me up to 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. This was 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 be 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.

I am aware that physically I need to change the way I work so who knows where that might lead?

For the last few years I have been working regularly with Stopgap Dance Company. I have been involved with the company since their tentative beginnings in the mid-nineties and have always loved their 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, I'm 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…

By David Toole

The Enormous Room opens at the University of Surrey on 28 Feb before touring to Sadler's Wells, Liverpool, Stockton Arc and Pavilion Dance South West in Bournemouth. More dates are to be announced shortly.