Dance On, Yorkshire Dance: Collective Power Award

| Anna Eaton

We are delighted to be involved again this year with the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance’s (CHWA) annual awards which focus on collective power (partnership and co-production), practitioner support and climate. The awards ceremony is taking place online on Friday 23rd April (get your tickets here).

We are partnering with CHWA on their Collective Power Award. This award aims to recognise an inspiring project, consortium, collective or movement of people in which meaningful partnership and co-production has improved the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities through culture and creativity. CHWA were positively overwhelmed by the quality of applications for this award. Each application told another story of the incredible work happening all over the country and the amazing collaborative and creative spirit of people responding to individual, local and global challenges. We loved the different interpretations of “collective power” and we were blown away by how people and organisations worked together to respond and adapt during the pandemic. 

Yorkshire Dance

In order to celebrate this work, we are running a blog series on each of the projects shortlisted for the Collective Power Award and this week we’re delighted to feature – Dance Onfrom Yorkshire Dance.

Dance On is a community-based dance programme aimed at increasing physical activity levels and enhancing wellbeing in inactive people aged 55+. The programme offers fun, accessible and social dance sessions which are adaptable to all, including those living with long term health conditions. 

The project is one of the first large-scale dance programmes funded by Sport England and is delivered by One Dance UK, Yorkshire Dance and Darts – Doncaster Community Arts. 

What stood out

We were excited to learn about the diverse partnership involved in Dance On, ranging from national, regional and local partners who are working at considerable scale. So far the programme has engaged over 700 older adults in areas of Leeds, Bradford and Doncaster. They connect with individuals who might like to get involved through health and social care partners and developing links with social prescribers. The Dance On team also includes over 20 skilled dance artists. 

We loved hearing about their commitment to co-design and co-production, including group work, dance taster sessions, community-based research to develop key messaging and branding and an older peoples’ panel who auditioned and selected the Dance On artists. And there’s also the positive impact it’s clearly had on those involved in the sessions:

“The classes are fun, they make me feel better, they’re very motivating… they have contributed to my overall fitness. I look forward to them so much. It’s good for my head as well… It’s contagious, in a way… the positivity is contagious!” Ann

“I don’t know what else we would have spent all our time doing really if we didn’t have dance”. Terry

“You don’t realise all the beneficial things you’re doing for balance, posture and so on because it’s just fun.” Jean

We caught up with Hannah Robertshaw, Yorkshire Dance’s Programme Director and some of Dance On’s artists and researchers to learn more about the project:

What has been your favourite thing about the project?

Hannah, Programme Director: From the start of the project, we had a real sense of curiosity about what meaningful co-design looks like with older people and community partners. We started off with a development grant which enabled us to spend time with older people developing the programme – included branding, key messages and project structure. We involved older people in selecting and recruiting dance artists and so from the outset, the project felt very rooted and owned by the community. We’ve continued in this approach – being led by our participants and community partners and enabling them to influence and steer the direction of the project. 

One of my favourite things about the project is how we’ve refused to conform to stereotypes of what older people might want or need. We’ve constantly challenged the status quo so instead of programming tea dances, we’ve programmed voguing, burlesque and African dance workshops. On International Day of Older People we held a massive flash mob in a local shopping centre where 60 people over the age of 60 performed together in a piece titled ‘Beige’. It was a complete riot and attracted loads of media interest including features on BBC Look North. At this point, we felt a sense of collective pride – like our project wasn’t just speaking to itself but that we had contributed to a really important narrative about how older people are portrayed in society. 

Charlotte Armitage, Dance On Artist: I’ve enjoyed collaborating with so many wonderful partners, participants and artists – so much variety, generosity, energy and joy. Being able to inspire, engage, enable and empower those who felt that they couldn’t dance or that dance wasn’t previously for them is part of the magic of this programme.

What have you learnt along the way?

Izzy Brittain, Dance On Artist: I have learnt never to underestimate older adults, and that there is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach. Each group is different and every dynamic deserves a bespoke approach. I have learnt that the social element of this work is equally as important as the physical and creative aspects.

Hannah, Programme Director: Prior to the Dance On project, we hadn’t really worked at scale before and so a great deal of learning has taken place about how to work across multiple community partnerships. Pre-pandemic, we were delivering over 30 weekly sessions, each one with a different community partner in a different geographic location. We quickly learnt that a one size fits all approach is impossible and each session had to be bespoke, tailored and adapted to meet the needs of both the community partner and the participants. Because Dance On is a research project, we also learnt a lot about gathering data effectively and what support is needed to enable participants to engage in research. As a result, we ended up creating an additional role within our project to support the project administration because we were drowning in data entry at various points. 

Dr Sarah Astill, Associate Professor in Motor Control, University of Leeds: I’ve learnt how important it is to ask the right questions of the right people.  Engaging with people and participants about what works best in their community. Tailoring the experience rather than trying to keep it consistent – as a scientist would – is not always the best option!

Has anything surprised you during the project?

Hannah, Programme Director: I think we’ve been surprised at the average age of participants. They have been largely over 75 years of age and in one session we had regular attendance from a gentleman of 104 years. We also have a guide dog that attends one of the sessions which always brings a smile to my face. 

I’ve also been really surprised by the success of online sessions during the three lockdowns. We didn’t immediately jump to digital as a solution during the first national lockdown as we knew that a high proportion of our participants were unlikely to have digital access. However, after a digital audit of our participants, we felt there was enough demand for a Zoom class. The demand for this has grown over the past 12 months and now we have five weekly Zoom classes and a monthly masterclass series. We also run online socials. The sense of community within the project that has be retained during the pandemic has been really surprising. 

Izzy Brittain: I have been surprised by just how huge the benefit can be for participants, in terms of both physical and emotional health and well-being. The strength and resilience of the communities formed, and their love and commitment to dance – even during such a tremendously challenging year, continues to astound me.

Dr Sarah Astilll:  I’ve been surprised by our ability to keep going, pulling on existing relationships, nurturing new ones often in the face of difficult and uncertain circumstances to keep ‘Dance on’ as a part of people’s lives and communities.

To find out more about Dance On and Yorkshire Dance, visit their website and follow them on Twitter @YorkshireDance.

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by Anna Eaton

Dance On, Yorkshire Dance: Collective Power Award

What we've loved, learnt and been surprised by. We hear from those at the heart of a project aimed at increasing physical activity and enhancing wellbeing for people aged 55+ which has been shortlisted for the Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance 2021 Awards.

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