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“I lost my husband 6 months ago – it’s funny, as soon as you have the freedom to do whatever you want, it’s like you don’t know what to do… A few weeks ago a leaflet came through my letterbox, and it was all about this group, I thought I’d give it a go. I’ve been coming for five weeks now, it’s been good. I don’t think I’d get out the house if it weren’t for coming here.”- Dance Active Participant.
Social isolation and loneliness are something that we hear about increasingly in the news these days, especially amongst the older generation. Reports tell us that the number of over 50’s experiencing loneliness in the UK is set to reach 2 million in the next 10 years (Age UK 2018, All The Lonely People) – a scary statistic. However, it’s only upon meeting and talking to people about their experiences that I have been able to start to understand what this sort of loneliness looks and feels like, and the immeasurable impact that positive interventions, such as the outreach work that Déda does, can have on people’s wellbeing and quality of life - one such project is Dance Active.
I was pleased to go along to one of Déda’s Dance Active sessions at the end of February, shadowing dance artist Danni Chell. This group is run weekly in a local church, and is well attended by regulars – many of whom have been referred to Dance Active as a falls prevention measure. This is only one of the Dance Active groups across Derby, which have been running for a couple of years now, and have reached and helped hundreds of older people to build their strength, confidence and, as I observed, friendships.
During the sessions, participants are led by Danni in a unique combination of dance and postural stability instruction, which Danni holds a qualification in. This innovative approach has proved to be hugely successful as a way of improving the balance and strength of those taking part – the key seems to be that approaching it through dance means the sessions are not only about exercise; they are fun, creative and engaging.
“It’s amazing how little we move in our day to day lives, until we come here!” – Dance Active participant.
The session comprised of a warm up, then a creative movement section and dance sequence, moving on to strength and resistance training and then a cool down. Time at the end of the session is always made for tea, biscuits and socialising; recognising how important it is to create a sense of community in the group.
The session was about keeping fit, maintaining independence and empowering people – the benefits of this work seem to even go beyond its function of preventing falls, enabling people to live their lives to the fullest, and reducing the risk of social isolation due to lack of mobility. One of the gentlemen I met is 94 years old, and cycles down to the group every week without fail - a testament to the work that Danni and all the other artists working on the Dance Active project are doing.
It was clear to see that those who come to the sessions are getting a lot out of it; chatting to the participants during tea and biscuits, I learned that although they each had a slightly different story as to how they came to join the group and how it is helping their physical fitness, a common thread shared by all was that they found the company of the others and the connections made to be one of the most powerful reasons that they keep on coming back. It is as much about mental wellbeing, and connecting with others as it is about physical fitness.
“People often say, ‘why go to a group when you could just do the exercises at home?’… It’s true I could do them at home, but I wouldn’t! … It’s really great company here.”- Dance Active participant.
It’s apparent that projects like Dance Active have a huge role to play in our communities, especially if we want to tackle the growing numbers of lonely and isolated older adults. At Déda, we are thrilled to be in the privileged position to be able to make a difference by delivering this work.
Dance Active is one of three projects that Déda is currently delivering to support the health and wellbeing of older adults in and around Derby. If you are interested in supporting this work, you can make a donation and find out more about Déda's #DanceTogetherLiveBetter campaign here.