Serious injury & disability

Flying Alisha

I’m free!” Born with cerebral palsy, Alisha McLennan’s life has been transformed by the magic of aerial dance.


Born with cerebral palsy, Alisha McLennan’s life has been transformed by the mag

Alisha has been hooked on aerial dancing for 17 years – ever since, at the tender age of 10, she had her first glimpse of dancers suspended on ropes, swinging, swooping and twirling with acrobatic grace.

“That feeling of freedom really appealed!” she laughs.

Two years later Alisha gave her first public performance, and today she’s a professional dancer with the mixed-ability Touch Compass Dance Company.

Disability is no obstacle

Alisha’s never been one to let disability define her. A strongly independent woman, she has her own modified car, does her own cooking, and lives in her own place on Auckland’s North Shore. She can walk, but a wheelchair gets her around much faster.

Alisha believes in living life to the full – and she has a number of achievements to prove it, including a track record in the world of adaptive snow sports. In her first competitive outing – the 2009 Disabled Snow Sports National Championship – she won the open female Super G division, the GS open female division, and the slalom. She also received the Viv Martin Trophy for Most Outstanding Female Skier in the 2008/09 season.

Dance is Alisha’s passion. It’s enabled her to travel to England and Australia to learn more about bungee-assisted dance and other aspects of arial dance.

And back home, Alisha performed a bungee-assisted aerial dance at the 2013 Attitude Awards, going on to win in the Artistic Achievement category.

Taking dance in new directions

Alisha’s now using her aerial dance experience to help others.

For the past four years she’s been involved in Touch Compass’s dance education programme at Auckland’s Takapuna Grammar School, and this year she was the lead tutor for a student performance at the Bruce Mason Centre. “I really enjoy sharing the work with the kids and working towards a performance. What’s different for me is I’m outside the dance – I’m not performing, so I get to see how it will look.”

Alisha’s also a graduate of the Be.Leadership programme, a one-year leadership training initiative focused on accessibility in the community. She sees herself as a role model. “When people see me they may think I’m not capable of being a performer, but I am,” she says. “I love challenging people’s perceptions of who can dance – and I love having a job in an inclusive dance company, where having a disability is not only a positive but a necessity. When I’m working in the company it’s a level playing field - it’s how society is meant to be.”

More information

Touch Compass

Touch Compass is an inclusive dance company comprising both disabled and non-disabled dancers, that aims to challenge perceptions of what dance is and who can do it. A charitable trust based in Auckland, Touch Compass not only puts on and tours dance productions, it also runs youth and community programmes.

Visit the Touch Compass website or contact:

Catherine Chappell
Artistic Director
Phone: 021 989 447
Email: catherine@touchcompass.org.nz

Karen Fraser-Payne
General Manager
Phone: 027 419 9322
Email: karen@touchcompass.org.nz

NZ Cerebral Palsy Society
PO Box 24 759
Royal Oak
Auckland 1345
Phone: 0800 503 603
Email: cpsociety@cpsociety.org.nz
Website: www.cerebralpalsy.org.nz