Jesal Patel | Working in Lockdown

Aug 17, 2020

Our Learning and Participation artists have shown sheer dedication and an unimaginable amount of flexibility in supporting us to continue taking dance to older people and young children with autism, even during the lockdown. We can’t thank them enough!

We commissioned the Dance Well artists to develop and produce bespoke digital dance activities for their individual participant groups, as well as devising professional development opportunities for them to enhance both their practice and the programme itself. Through a combination of creating, reading, discussing, planning and online learning, we’ve tried to ensure that when our classes start again, in whatever the ‘new normal’ looks like, we’re ready to inspire even more older people to Dance Well.

We asked our Dance Well artists to reflect on their experiences of working differently during lockdown. Below you can read how Jesal has taken on these challenges. The other artists’ blog posts can be found here.

Creating the Dance Well digital films for the older adults’ group I work with was a bit of a challenge for me. Firstly, I am not a fan of being in front of/talking into the camera. However, the more I did it, the more relaxed I felt. I managed to figure out how to position the camera, where to look and to adjust the lighting.

Secondly, talking to the participants as if I was present in the space at that moment in time was not easy. It reminded me of being in drama class at school (I genuinely hated it!), or doing any sort of presentation on my own – my worst nightmare. So I had to imagine that I was with my participants in a circle, having a combined energy. At times, I also tried having a bit of a laugh to ease the intense pres-sure of delivering a regimented workshop.

Thirdly, unlearning my left and right directions, which became slightly easier with constant repetition. And lastly, editing – a whole day’s worth of chopping, changing and several retakes for just a 10-minute piece.

“I really enjoyed planning the new Dance Well units and sessions using inspiration from the Heritage resource; it suited my abstract way of thinking. I came to realise that in my art practice as a painter, I go through this process automatically without realising, as it happens so quickly.”

The hardest thing for me was not being able to interact with the participants in person. Although my lesson plans always guide me in a session, I am a great believer of teaching ‘in the moment’. So not being able to pick up on the individuals’ vibes as the movements progress, and being unable to capture their experience and incorporate it within the movement structure, made me uneasy. I also missed the collective rituals, which enable the participants in a session to draw from each other’s energies to remain motivated and hold a conversation. Since working through virtual or recorded sessions, I have a different perspective on lesson plans – they’re life savers!

I really enjoyed planning the new Dance Well units and sessions using inspiration from the Heritage resource; it suited my abstract way of thinking. I came to realise that, as in my art practice as a painter, I go through this process automatically without realising, as it happens so quickly. It has now also become my natural approach to creating dance tasks. I dissect and peel off layers of the process, strategically revealing the path I need to take to get there. I used mind-maps to interpret the Heritage resource and draw inspiration from it to incorporate in my videos.

I’m not much of reader, in fact the book that we all read, “The Body Keeps The Score”, is probably the fifth book that I’ve ever completed. It was intense, informative, interesting and I was totally immersed in it, as well as in the “Dementia and the Arts” course I undertook. It really made me think about self-awareness, how it affects the people around me, and the reaction I get from them. It put me into deep contemplation, about individuals’ perceptions of each other’s actions and emotions. As a result, I incorporated certain practices into my day to day life, along with the workshops (such as breathing techniques, yoga and “collective rituals”) which I have mentioned earlier on.

The mini book club and “team tea” zoom meetings we had as the lockdown months went on were great, reflecting on each other’s views, challenges and solutions, made me think about my own. I felt very comfortable in expressing my views, as the team allowed for that. There were no judgments and no intimidation by any member. It feels good to be part of a team and an organisation which has and understands different thought processes and approaches, like my own.

“The hardest thing for me was not being able to interact with the participants in person. I also missed the collective rituals, which enable the participants in a session to draw from each other’s energies to remain motivated and hold a conversation.”

If these blogs have piqued your interest, then you can learn more about…

…our Dance Well programme here
… ​the Dance Well digital resources here
The Body Keeps The Score, by Bessel van der Kolk here
… the UCL Future Learn Dementia and The Arts online course here