X Close

Unit for Stigma Research


Sharing initiatives and insights


Challenging Stereotypes through the Arts

By UCL ID Stigma Blog, on 28 April 2017

john livingstonThere are often misconceptions or beliefs about what people who have intellectual disabilities can do or achieve and because of this their passions or talents are often not showcased or developed.

Such misconceptions are challenged by an increasing number of persons with intellectual disabilities who are making strides in the arts and gaining public and media attention for their talents in their craft, rather than their disability.

One such person is John Livingston, a professional contemporary dance choreographer and dance artist who has Down Syndrome. John, together with his family, has challenged expectations of what people who have intellectual disabilities can accomplish.

From an early age his mother Caroline Diprose recognised that John was not given the same chance to learn and achieve his potential as other children (without disabilities). This led to the decision to home school him and discovering a passion for dance. John later completed a BTEC National Diploma in Performing Arts and received a grade of ‘distinction’ in dance improvisation.

Whilst attending dance school, John was recognised for his ‘flair, determination and passion’, words so often heard in the art world but historically almost entirely absent when talking about persons with intellectual disabilities. As a principal dancer with Culture Device Dance Project, he has successfully completed a tour consisting of 17 performances across Europe. Most recently, in February 2017, John choreographed and performed a solo piece at The Place theatre in London, entitled, “Am I a waste of space?”. This piece explored unspoken prejudices about disability and difference.

People may come to John’s performances with preconceived ideas. However, John challenges such ideas with the way he looks and what he does. Most importantly, John sees himself as a dancer, and not as a dancer who has Down Syndrome. He does not conform to others’ ideas of how he should be but is himself. Performing for him is intuitive. That, perhaps, is what is so powerful about his performances. You can see a brief film about John on our YouTube channel, which is dedicated to featuring work that challenges stigmatising views of people with intellectual disabilities:


By Julie Baah, UCL

We thank John, Caroline and Proudfoot TV for their permission to feature this film.



Leave a Reply