Duncan Armstrong is a professional dancer for the Touch Compass dance company. The 26-year-old Wellingtonian is also a drummer and actor.
1. You acted in the first season of TV1's Nothing Trivial. What was that like?
I loved it. I knew some of the actors from Shortland Street like Tandi Wright, Blair Strang and Shane Cortese. Being on set was relaxed and fun. I liked my character, Robert. He was sort of a cheeky person. I had a lot of lines to learn. It was hard to remember them but I got there. What you need to do is to keep rehearsing and then it locks into your head and won't go away. After I was on TV people would see me walking down the street and they'd call out, "Hey Robert!" I loved it. I had a scene on Shortland Street as well. It was a walk-on part. I had no line. They just wanted me for my body. I think it's very important for people with disabilities to be included on TV. I want to encourage writers to write a disabled character. That's the way it starts.
2. As a child with Down syndrome, did you receive special education?
I never went to a special school. I've been mainstreamed all my life. At primary it took a while for the other kids to understand me. I was popular. All the girls loved me because I was like their toy. They'd give me hugs and say nice things to me. My best friend was Anna. She's actually a teacher now. At Onslow College my best friends were Oliver and Sam.
3. How did you become a drummer?
I learned drums when I was 10. I was in a rock band with Oliver. Now I'm in a band called Mr Handsome with Oliver's brother Jimmy and my dad on guitar. People come out to listen to our music and they dance and they love it. We can't stop because they say, "more, more!" My whole family has a musical background. Uncle Donald plays the violin. My Uncle Dave Armstrong is a musician and a famous playwright.
4. I hear you write songs as well?
Yes, I like to write songs about my life. That's the way I express myself. When I'm sad, I do my drums. After Onslow, I studied music at Whitireia Polytech. I've written lots of songs. I write the lyrics first. My favourite song is one I wrote with Jimmy called, It's all about a girl.
5. Do you have a girlfriend?
No. I've never had a girlfriend. I don't know if I would right now. That's not the most important thing for me. I've got other goals. I love my music, acting and dancing. I love it!
6. Do you have a favourite?
Dancing. When I was a child it was hard for me to learn to read and write so I danced to express myself. I dance to show my emotions - happy, sad and sometimes frustrated at barriers in life. I love different styles of dance - jazz, hip-hop, ballet. My favourite is contemporary. Acting and dancing are quite similar. In dance you use your body to express things but in acting you use your voice. If you combine the two, it's called dance theatre.
7. What role does dancing have in your life?
I am a professional dancer. This is my job because I get paid. I live in Wellington with my mum and dad but I come up to Auckland to train at the Touch Compass studio when we're doing workshops or getting ready for a show. Sometimes I fly up and sometimes my mum or dad drives me.
8. What is Touch Compass?
Touch Compass is the only professional dance company for disabled and non-disabled dancers. It's very helpful for me to dance with non-disabled people because I can learn from them and they can learn from me. We do shows and workshops in schools and in the community. We do professional development. We learn things like choreography and stage craft and lighting. We also do fundraising for our studio in Sandringham.
9. Why does the Touch Compass dance studio need money?
The studio needs a sponsor because if we don't have a studio anymore then Touch Compass would have to stop. I don't know what we'd do then. We might have to dance outside and then we'd all be cold and we'd get sick. There's no other place like Touch Compass. People with disabilities deserve to be included everywhere.
10. You're about to tour the show Acquisitions to Hamilton and Wellington. Can you tell me about it?
The show is going to be fun. It has two parts; one is called Undertide and the other is called Watching Windows. We use boxes as our props. We dance inside and outside them.
11. What was it like being the first disabled person on Wellington City's Youth Council?
At first it was really confusing and I needed support. But once I got help I was able to teach the other people things as well. They didn't know what it was like to have a disability. It actually takes longer to understand things and we need help from people without disabilities. We learn their way and then they learn our way. Sometimes in the disabled world it feels like you've been shut out and it's not good. I want to get out there and promote disabilities.
12. Describe yourself.
That's a hard question. I would say I'm funny and cute. I go to the gym lots and I'm good looking. I care about other people. I want to make a difference so I stand up for myself and others through my performing arts as well as my politics. I don't want anybody to treat me different. I want people to accept me for who I am.
Acquisitions is on at Hamilton's Playhouse Theatre tomorrow at 7.30pm. Tickets at touchcompass.org.nz.
Funding for the Touch Compass dance studio runs out in December. A donor has offered to gift $175,000 if the amount is matched by the end of August. To donate, contact Karen Fraser Payne on 0274 199 322 or head to the Givealittle page.