She’s a star in her own bedroom. Twelve-year-old Brianna Newlove’s poised cheekily in front of her mirror in trademark pink heels, full make-up, polka-dot dress, natty cardy and flower patterned tights.
Oh yeah, she’s a right little fashionista.
“I love clothes. I really love shoes. Majorly!”
Yep, fashion is right up there with chocolate – milk chocolate, Caramello. “I’m a choco-holic.”
The music goes up. “I’m too hot, hot damn, called a police and a fireman, I’m too hot, hot damn.” Mark Ronson is ‘Uptown Funk’-ing loudly in MacMillan Street and Brianna is down dancing.
She is doing her what she calls her “stuff”.
“I can let all that stuff inside me come out”, meaning she can express herself.
Are you creative? “Yes and I am a big girl.”
Big, as in nearly 13, beautiful and talented. And Brianna does all her own marketing and publicity. She went straight to school and gave everyone the heads-up she was going to be in The Weekend Sun.
You may have sensed Brianna is as different as she is normal. A quirk of nature and of fate delivered her an extra chromosome and made her life that much different and difficult.
She is Down syndrome or trisomy 21 – a genetic disorder which brings with it developmental and intellectual delays.
Brianna has her own insightful spin on all this: She used to have DS, but not anymore. End of matter. The show must go on and does go on.
Back at the dance mirror there is a devoted audience of just one, proud dad Grant. He’s videoing the show on her iPad. Brianna is doing her “stuff”, but her head is elsewhere on a much bigger stage.
“One day I want to have a big concert with lots of people around me,” she says. I’m sure she’s thinking Baycourt or even bigger.
So you want to be famous, a star? “Yes I do.”
But after the bedroom and before Baycourt there might need to be another platform, another stage for the performers, who like Brianna, are facing life challenges.
And that stage could be something called Star Jam. A recent meeting of 40 parents of kids with disabilities met to figure how they can get the programme to Tauranga.
“Star Jam offers young people like Brianna music and performance workshops where jammers can learn new skills, gain confidence and have fun by making music – drumming, guitar, dancing or singing,” says Star Jam’s Alex Barrett out of Hamilton .
Right now Star Jam is running 35 free 90-minute workshops every week throughout New Zealand, which are led by a paid tutor and two volunteers.
“With music and performance jammers can look the world in the eye and know the joy of believing anything is possible,” says Alex.
A godsend for Brianna, whose structured performance career has hit a hiatus. “She did hip-hop,” says mum Sheryl. “But it got a bit fast and hectic at the next level. And she was too big to dance with the younger kids coming on.”
Star Jam would give Brianna the opportunity she deserves – an outlet to do her “stuff” with like-minded and like-abled kids, aged between six and 25, and they don’t need a medical certificate to participate.
It could be something as simple as shyness or as complex as cerebral palsy to bring them to Star Jam.
“There are 150,000 young people with disabilities facing considerable barriers,” says Alex. She believes for Star Jammers, music and performance can help change that.
Star Jam just needs some tutors and volunteers to get going in Tauranga. Then Brianna could get on with her “stuff” on a bigger stage.
She’s already wowing the crowds and with all the modesty she can musters she admits “there’s a boy at school who loves me, loves the way I perform. And there’s a girl who tells me I am so talented.” And she blows the teachers away apparently.
Perhaps the adulation’s prompted by that trophy she won in the holiday programme talent contest or her standing ovation, front row performance in the Otumoetai School Choir at something called Show Case.
I am just miffed I couldn’t score an invite to her 13th birthday pool party in November. There were gender issues.
“There’s a sign going up - no boys!” Hates a very pejorative word, but she “hates” boys.
That includes brother Alex and dad Grant because they apparently can both be very annoying. But I am sure that will be renegotiable.
I show Brianna some photos The Weekend Sun’s Tracy Hardy took for this story. Brianna’s working the camera down in Memorial Park, doing a Marilyn Monroe, blowing a kiss at the photographer. This one’s got style, I suggest.
“Yes it does. A little bit.” Brianna is like most teenagers. She is delightfully aware of herself.
Would you like to be part of Star Jam in Tauranga, perhaps as a paid tutor, a volunteer, or as a business sponsoring a workshop?
Contact Alex Barrett, Star Jam’s Hamilton Regional Programme Co-ordinator on (07) 211 7576, 022 094 0089 or firstname.lastname@example.org