August 8, 2022

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Alexa will quickly be capable of learn you tales in a liked one’s voice – even when they’re lifeless

Now he’s teaching young kids how to dance (Picture: PA Real Life) A young boy...
connor taylor dancing
Now he’s teaching young kids how to dance (Picture: PA Real Life)

A young boy who was bullied at school due to his cleft palette has used dance to find himself and his voice – and now he’s inspiring a new generation of dancers.

Like a real life Billy Elliot, Connor Taylor, 26, took up ballet at the age of 10 to help with his self-expression.

Connor’s cleft palette causes distorted mouth and nasal speech, and dance helped him reach a point at which he ‘cannot stop talking’.

Too self-conscious to express himself verbally before finding dance, the sport has changed his life.

Now Connor, who is based in east London, has co-founded Adore Dance school in Hackney Wick with his husband Joe Watson, 29.

He said: ‘Dance was my way of talking because I was so expressive when I was dancing.

‘It helped me find my voice and I hope I can help others find theirs too.

‘Now I can’t stop talking, I will even order food, which I could never do when I was younger. I have no more anxiety.’

Connor auditioning
Connor auditioning in 2015 (Picture: Bill Cooper/PA Real Life)

Over the years he has endured more than a dozen operations from rhinoplasty, or nose surgery, to bone grafts in a bid to fix his cleft – a gap or split in the upper lip or roof of the mouth which happens in the womb – he also had hundreds of hours of speech therapy.

Growing up in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, in a ‘big and loud’ family of 10, Connor knew his cleft palate – a condition affecting one in every 700 babies in the UK, according to the NHS – made him ‘different’.

He said: ‘My mum and dad were quite harsh on me, to give me a tough skin.

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‘I’m so thankful for it now.

Connor Taylor
Connor today (Picture: PA Real Life)
Connor Taylor after his final cleft palate surgery
Connor Taylor after his final cleft palate surgery (Picture: PA Real Life)

‘I don’t want to say my appearance scared some family members, but I do think some were startled by me.

‘Having a cleft palate isn’t a life-threatening condition, but the bullying, anxiety and operations are life-changing and become your every day norm.’

By the age of eight, Connor found dance as a good outlet for his emotions and began training full-time at the age of 10 at the Northern Ballet Academy.

He said: ‘I was always artsy and creative, but I was too shy for acting or singing, so I went to a local dance school on two nights a week.

‘From there, I realised this was something I wanted to do seriously.’

At 16 he landed a place at the prestigious Central School of Ballet in London, then after graduating went on to travel the world and perform in famous venues, such as London’s Royal Opera House.

Baby Connor
Connor as a baby (Picture: PA Real Life)
Connor Taylor with his older brother and cousin
Connor Taylor (left) with his older brother and cousin in 2003 (Picture: PA Real Life)
Connor auditioning
Connor auditioning in 2015 (Picture: Bill Cooper/PA Real Life)

He said: ‘Dancing professionally and going to auditions on my own really helped me to develop my independence.

‘It was also an incredibly cut-throat and demanding environment, though, and I wanted to go back to that feeling of glee and fun that dance gave me when I was a kid.’

Speaking out to mark Cleft Lip and Palate Awareness Week, which runs until May 15, Connor, who had his final operation in 2014, correcting the appearance of his lip and his nasal intonation, says his life decisions have improved his confidence more than the surgery.

He said: ‘Growing up, I was too embarrassed to speak because of my voice and it was difficult in school because other kids would make fun of me and mimic how I sounded.

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‘It had a massive impact on my self-confidence.’

Connor auditioning
Connor auditioning in 2015 (Picture: Bill Cooper/PA Real Life)
Connor and Joe on their wedding day
Connor and Joe on their wedding day (Picture: PA Real Life)

Now, through teaching, he is able to help other young people find themselves through dance.

‘I think I feel like I have something to prove and just wanted to channel all of my energy into something positive,’ he said.

‘I had been silent for so long and now I can use dance to communicate with others and get people to feel confident about themselves.

‘Dancing can be competitive and gruelling and intimidating, so I wanted to bring a level of comfort to learning.

‘It helped me through some of my most difficult times and I hope it can help others, too.’

He continues: ‘Now I’m teaching five nights a week. It all boils down to having fun and making people feel good about themselves.

‘We want to encourage anyone to give dance a go.

‘We have around 100 students at the moment, which is absolutely crazy. I don’t know how it got this big in such a small period. I feel so grateful.’

‘I have students who range from young kids to adults and they have such different levels.

‘When I’m in my studio I’m in this bubble with the students and they’re here to have fun and learn a new skill and it’s an amazing social vibe.

‘I try to project my confidence to them, as I’m at ease with the way I speak. I don’t let that hold me back anymore.

‘I want them to know they’re doing great.’

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