There are many perceptions of dance in the participatory art form

There are many perceptions of dance in the participatory art form. For example, community dance can be perceived as people in a space creating movement at that time and place, outside a formal setting with a shared sense of value.The perceptions of participatory arts are biased towards individuals and the definitions of community dance can be limiting but also provide evidence for social and scientific benefits. Christopher Thomson (2008: X) states that community dance was influenced by Peter Brinson who was first to call dance in a participatory arts context’ community dance’, with its own values, philosophy and training. Community dance stems from the rediscovery of folk practices, going against specific techniques, the art of everyday movement and how the arts can be used in services. Anna Halprin is a practitioner of community dance who addresses social issues, looks into physical and emotional healing and connects people to nature. She worked with the idea of healing and produced a work called ‘ Planetary Dance’ which includes the ‘Earth Run.’ In this dance, each runner dedicates their run to their individual healing for someone or something and to global healing. This dance is accessible to everyone by being adaptable to people’s needs so they can run or walk at their own pace. It embodies Halprin’s intentions she has devoted her life to creating such as ‘art that reflects life, art that ignites creativity and art that offers resources for living life more fully, art that empowers both individuals and communities.’

This links to a particular topic of community dance which is the relation between health and dance. Researching projects about community dance partnerships has shown how dance can have such a positive impact through all stages of people’s lives from children’s to older adults health and this has also linked to some of the experiences Middlesex Students participated in. The Public Health England has surveyed that a lack of physical activity results in 1 in 10 deaths in the UK. Dance not only improves people’s physical activity but research also shows it can improve mental health and reduce social isolation which are big issues in society. M. Tufnell comments on the relational link between movement and health, she states how we tend to live on automatic pilot, ignoring how the body feels and taking its functioning for granted. Movement and dance has the ability to connect us to our bodies so we can care for ourselves and listen to what our bodies need. However small the movements are, they become ‘a form of language for what is inaccessible to words’. This essay will outline how dance can positively impact the younger and older generation’s physical and mental health including evidence and experiences of how this has happened in the wider world.

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One project which shows the relational link between health and dance is a partnership called Vital Dance by Trinity Laban. This is a collaboration with Vital arts and the Learning and Participation department at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Visual Arts is the pioneering arts organisation for Barts Health NHS Trust. They work on creative programmes to support medical goals, enhance patient well being and create uplifting spaces for patients, staff and the wider hospital community. Between April and August 2012, Vital Dance designed fun and fully inclusive sessions with the pediatric physiotherapists to provide more detail for the patient’s needs. Specialist dance facilitators brought dance and creative movement to patient’s bedsides, encouraging children of all ages and abilities to participate. This programme included sensory work for those with special needs, bespoke one-to-one classes for patients undergoing neuro-rehabilitation, cardiovascular workouts for respiratory patients and street dance available to those attending outpatient clinics. The aims of this project was to facilitate to way observations between Laban artists and physiotherapists to deliver creative dance sessions. Another aim was to reinforce paties rehabilitative or respiratory targets including posture, airway clearance and core strengthening. Hey also wanted to create movement to energise children and to nurture their physical, psychological and emotional health. One of the last aims was to encourage positive body image and acceptance of change.

Vital Dance was also project at Mile End Hospital (MEH) from May-June in 2015. MEH is a community hospital in Tower Hamlets and Vital Dance involved accessible dance sessions to older adult patients on the Gerry Bennett and Jubilee Ward. The wards specialise in rehabilitation and therapy sessions focusing on the mind, upper limb seated exercises and balancing classes. The occupational therapist aims for Vital dance were opportunities for social interaction, increased eye contact, improving independence and preventing isolation by encouraging patients to leave their beds. The physiotherapist aims were slightly different focusing on enhancing the patients’ balance, encouraging functional reach and improving weight distribution. The project ran for six weeks with afternoon sessions in the first three weeks and morning sessions in the last three weeks to comprehend the best time to carry out these sessions in the future and to fit around the patients’ original schedules.The sessions were split into five sections starting with a seated warm up with the opportunity to stand up if able to. The warm up involved breathing into movement, self massages, making eye contact, shaking hands and swaying. The next ten minutes were about mobiling joints where the seated patients copied the dance arts by tilting the head, saying upper body and reaching with arms side to side. There was then a five minute rest period which followed with a creative task usually with a colourful and sensory prop. For example this could be passing the ball around, throwing the scarves to each other, linking hands and depending on the staff available asking the patients’ to stand to perform gentle sways and twists to the music. The group sessions end with gentle dynamic stretches, seated rotations of the spine, deep breaths and having conversations about the session with refreshments. The bedside sessions are much more personal to the patient and they remain in bed. It starts with a conversation and introduction to the idea of movement and props. There is touching of the hands, encouragement of eye contact and mirroring. Next is tapping along to music, swaying and tilting and lastly gentle dynamic stretches, deep breaths and talks about the session are performed.

The results of these projects were made from the progression they have made since before the sessions started. An occupational therapist described a patient’s reaction to a group session ‘usually the patient needs lots of persuasion to stand and it take two of us to assist her. She was really engaged in the session and wanted to join in. She even tried to stand alone but never has before.’ In addition a physiotherapist commented ‘I only witnessed two weeks of this class, however i saw that the patients were more engaged with therapy and that it improved their state of mind and above all they enjoyed the sessions’. Further feedback was collected from the staff through corridor conversations and an evaluative questionnaire. The staff revealed that they felt most patients’ participation in dance positively impacted their treatment, mobility and self- esteem. Staff also agreed that the movement sessions better prepares patients’ for discharge from the hospital and improves their current mental wellbeing where they might have otherwised felt isolated. Some limitations to the evaluation of this project was that the dance class material changed throughout the project, the outcomes are subjective and the participant attendance fluctuated due to varied times of discharge from hospital.

Another project which addresses the mental side of health where dance provides positive benefits is ‘Moving for the mind’. In may 2017 the mental health care unit, Radbourne Unit in Derby partnershipped with Deda to put on dance workshops as part od an enrinchment programme for patients. This supported the work ‘Witness’ from Company Chameleon which explores mentl health issues and reflects on the co-founder, Kevin Edward Turner’s personal expeirnece with bipolar disorder. When he was in hospital he had similar based workshops and he stated that he ‘found them therputic as they gve me something to focus on other than the fact i was unwell’. He wanted to give back this positive experience to other people who were suffering by creating a comfortable space where people could share their experiences through words or movemtn. The Radbourne’s Unit, richard marrow mentions how there is a relationship between movement/dance and our emotinal and pysciological state and in the two hour workshop, people were dancing and sharing their mental health experience through movement and trust by being in close proximity to others without awkwrdness and anxiety. Deda ‘recognises that the arts are a owerful aid to improving the ehalth and wellbeing of adults, older adults, children and young people’ and through their work the movement helps sufferers express and manage feelings that could otherwise be overwhrlming. Kevin describes how ‘movement changes the way you feel’ and how sharing experiences ‘helps you better underestand whata you’re oing through’.


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