Dance Well is Akademi’s 3-year community participation project, funded by the National Lottery through the Big Lottery Fund and was launched in January 2016. The project aims to improve the health and wellbeing of older adults who have ongoing health issues, are living in isolation in the community or face other barriers to participating in physical activity.
The impact of the arts on public health has long been understood by arts practitioners, but, with a growing evidence base to support this, the role of the arts in health is gaining increased visibility in the public domain (PHE, 2016).
Since its inception, Dance Well has worked with a number of partners across the London Borough of Camden and beyond, including Camden Carers, Third Age Project, Royal Brompton and Harefield Arts, Henna Asian Women’s Group and Netherwood Dementia Day Centre. These workshops have addressed a range of health needs; improving co-ordination, increasing cardiovascular endurance and reducing breathlessness, improving balance and easing pain caused by arthritis through the articulation of the fingers during mudras (hand gestures). The creative approach employed in these workshops, including Bollywood, Kathak and Bharatanatyam inspired movement, has been welcomed by participants who have found dance to be a more rewarding and enjoyable form of exercise.
“You don’t realise till later how much exercise you’ve done.”
Those who have not previously come into contact with South Asian Dance have also relished the opportunity to learn a new style of dance, often presenting a short routine to family and friends at the end of the series of workshops.
The impact of autonomy in movement and creative expression cannot be underestimated, particularly in those who have little control over other aspects of their day to day lives. Dance Well sessions therefore include opportunities for participants to explore movement in their own time, using props inspired by South Asian costumes and instruments, including colourful scarves, ghungroos, dandiya sticks and electric tealights. Participants, and relatives of those involved, have reported an increase in confidence, and connection with those living locally with similar health conditions, who they would otherwise never have met. This social interaction and development of friendships in the group enhanced the participants’ experience; encouraging them to try activities they were initially unsure about, and reducing inhibitions which may have previously prevented them from exploring creative movement and performance.
During Year 1 of the Dance Well Project, Akademi has reached over 300 older adults at 52 workshops, with 36% of attendees classifying themselves as disabled. As Dance Well moves into year 2, Akademi is keen to add to the growing evidence base supporting the use of the arts as a tool for prevention, self-management of ongoing health conditions and increased social engagement. To this end, in 2017/18 Akademi will partner with academic institutions and researchers to carry out qualitative and quantitative analysis of Dance Well workshops; providing in depth reports and educational materials for dissemination across the dance and health sector.
With planning for year 2 already underway, 2017 will commence with 8 weeks of workshops for people living with dementia in partnership with Arts4dementia, at St Pancras Community Association. Other projects planned for 2017 include further workshops at Harefield Hospital with rb&hArts, Dementia Befrienders and Barts NHS Foundation Trust in collaboration with Vital Arts.
Akademi would like to thank the Big Lottery Fund, the partners and dance artists who have contributed to Year 1 of Dance Well and look forward to building on this work in 2017.
Daykin, N., & Joss, T. (2016) Arts for health and wellbeing: An Evaluation Framework, Public Health England, UK