Dancing to the Music of Time performance at Queenscroft Park Picnic. Photo: Kinga Dawid
Like many other organisations, we learnt a lot of lessons during the pandemic. One of which is that we are here, as an organisation, not only to share the art of dance, but also the power of it. Thus, our Dance for Wellbeing programme was born.
Dance is a powerful tool when used to address fundamental needs such as increasing physical and mental wellbeing and addressing loneliness and isolation. Our peripatetic model has seen us taking dance to libraries, community centres and open spaces where people already are rather than expecting them to come to us. Local delivery and familiar trusted faces, our nurturing Artists in Residence, have been key to the programme’s success within a world that feels unsettling, sometimes scary and isolating.
Our work in this area builds on decades of producing participatory programmes.
For more than 15 years we have offered a weekly session called Dancing To the Music of Time designed to challenge misconceptions about what older people can do. In 2019 we expanded this to four other locations across the borough. Covid posed a number of challenges to the programme and in 2020 it was reimagined temporarily as two online classes. The group took part in an intergenerational project Up My Street with Lotus Youth Dance Company and created and rehearsed (via Zoom) a brand new piece called Grace as part of Greenwich and Docklands International Festival. It was performed in person (socially distanced) within an installation by Luke Jerram in tribute to the NHS.
Grace, part of Greenwich & Docklands International Festival. Photo: GDIF
Later in 2021 the sessions moved outside and became ‘dance walks’ and in 2022, with restrictions lifting we were able to resume (and increase) in-person, indoor sessions to six per week in locations such as Woolwich Library, Middle Park Community Centre, Plumstead Centre, The Nest Community Centre and Library, Thamesmead Moorings Social Club and Charlton House.
Dance for Wellbeing, Woolwich. Photo: Maria da Luz Ghoumrassi
We always have a relaxed start to a session, to give space for people to arrive, some may be late, some may need to settle, others are ready to go. Once we are ready, we begin with some simple ‘check in’s’ – finding out how people are and how they are feeling. We then begin a mindful, body check in with guided breathing and a slow and all over warm up. Once warm, the group may move onto creative tasks, or guided improvisations. These all follow the ideas of ‘5 ways to Wellbeing’ and interweave creativity with fall prevention techniques (if appropriate to the group) as well as simply dancing for dancing’s sake – because it’s fun, and joyous and lifts the spirits! Some classes have an interpreter to support those who find language a barrier, others have extra assistants on hand to support the inclusion of those with additional needs.
The Dance for Wellbeing class in Plumstead.
Dancing in nature is another way of supporting stronger mental health and in Greenwich we are so lucky to have multiple beautiful green spaces in which to do this. In 2022 The Royal Parks commissioned us to deliver an outdoor class programme to make better use of Greenwich Park and to draw new audiences and users to it. Our popular Tai Chi class led by the inspirational Chew Yeen Lawes attracted as many as 100 people of all ages per session and the participants reported that they felt healthier as well as finding friendships and the class being an anchor point in their week. We also included a popular programme of energetic and rhythmic afrobeat’s alongside sessions for parents with younger children.
“I was delighted to be invited by Greenwich Dance to practise Tai Chi in nature and amongst the most beautiful trees in Greenwich Park. Early morning ‘nature -bathing’ and practising Tai Chi, in infra-red sunlight, sharpens the brain and energises the body.”
Chew Yeen Lawes, Tai Chi artist
Tai Chi in the Park, Greenwich Park.
Bridget has been a member of our Dancing to the Music of Time class for many years, as well as being a trustee on our Board.
“I started dancing with Greenwich Dance when I retired from a busy job seven years ago. A friend took me along and I quickly realized what a special group it was under the wonderful guidance of Maria our dance teacher. Before joining the class, I’d suffered from a prolapsed disc and sciatic pain over several years and dancing helped me to safely strengthen my core muscles, become generally more flexible and really aided my recovery. But the opportunity to dance and move my body so freely within a relaxed and supportive environment has been the biggest benefit of all for me. I’d last danced like that at school and I immediately felt reconnected with my 16-year-old self.
Maria has the brilliant gift of making everyone feel at ease, whatever their abilities or physical limitations or backgrounds. In turn, participants support each other, always welcoming new people and making it possible for us all to express feelings and communicate through dancing together, in a way that is often beyond words. It’s become such an important part of my maintaining my own physical and mental health. The importance of movement, connection and companionship became even more clear when GD enabled us to continue dancing together online, and sometimes socially distanced, throughout the awful covid years. For the past seven years, every session has been a joy, each time leaving me more invigorated, energetic and with a great big smile on my face.
Having worked in Public Health for many years, I know very well the importance of getting people moving and connecting with others to prevent so much ill health, at all stages of life and particularly as we age. Greenwich Dance’s commitment to taking dance into the heart of communities across the borough, has drawn in many people who wouldn’t have taken up dancing any other way. Through my own experience of dancing with Greenwich Dance, I have come to fully realise how important dance is for so many people who wouldn’t take up other ways of looking after their physical or mental health. With so much evidence for just how effective dancing is at maintaining good health and wellbeing and the current renewed interest in social prescribing, surely opportunities like these need to be treasured and developed? The loss of these opportunities and all the time, expertise, experience and history that underpins them is a tragedy not only for participants and local communities but also for the wider cultural life and standing of the borough.
Thank you Melanie, the whole Greenwich Dance team and especially Maria and my companion dancers for all the wonderful time we’ve had together. I just hope we may find some way to not lose this precious and sustaining gift in our lives.”