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There is a growing wealth of evidence for the benefit of arts and cultural interventions to be included in dementia care, from diagnosis to the late stages of the disease.
As an arts organisation whose mission is to enrich people’s lives through the arts, Déda has expertise in this field and therefore well suited to be a part of this movement towards arts-based support for individuals living with dementia, through our ‘Dance for Dementia’ project. Run by our Dance Development and Learning co-ordinator Isobel, these workshops provide a space for members of the Hardy group (a local support group for people living with dementia and their carers) to participate in dance and benefit from movement and self-expression. The session was also supported by dance artists Cerise Tean and Atmica Reddy, who are both studying Dance Movement Psychotherapy at the University of Derby. In May this year I was able to join in one of these sessions to gain a better understanding of exactly how and why ‘Dance for Dementia’ works.
"I’ve always been a dancer, I’ve done ballet, modern, ballroom. I do some folk dancing too... My health makes it hard for me now though.” – Workshop participant
The session entailed a check-in warmup, a creative movement-based activity and a choreographed section where we learned the hand-jive. It was Joyful, energetic, and full of life.
Jean (a Hardy group volunteer), who is a big advocate of Déda’s project, emphasised that one of the reasons why this sort of activity is so beneficial is that is about letting go of fears and worries, and “really living with dementia”. The future can be full of uncertainty for a person with dementia. With loss of memory and other cognitive issues being one of the most widely reported symptoms of the disease, a diagnosis often means that an individual is faced with the prospect of losing their sense of connection to their past and parts of their memory as the illness progresses.
“… I just want to feel happy and relaxed, and to feel like myself.” – Workshop participant
Much in the way that the practice of mindfulness encourages us to live in the present as a way to cope better with the stress of everyday life, one of the most powerful things I observed about this session was that it became a space where worries about the future or the past could be left at the door, to focus simply on being creative and connecting with one another in the present. Dance as an artform is an invaluable tool; enabling connection and self-expression without the need for words.
“This is only the third session that we’ve done here, but it’s a great success… At first, people were nervous but now, as you’ve seen today, we just fall about laughing!” – Jean, Hardy Group volunteer.
“It’s social, it’s about being with people, and having fun.” – Workshop participant
“It makes me feel… Relaxed.” – Workshop participant
What struck me was that the workshop was very sensitively led by Isobel in a way that was truly person centred and empowering. Using a playlist of songs which were favourites of the group members, and recreating dance moves which they enjoyed in their youth meant that the studio was somewhere that they could feel empowered and confident. It was not a one-way delivery and demonstration of choreography as you might envisage in a typical dance or fitness class either; instead what emerged was a dialogue through which Isobel, the supporting artists and the group members were moving, observing, and responding to one-another in the moment. This is where I felt the real success of the project was apparent, because in this way, although the session was attended by individuals at very different levels of health and fitness, it was nonetheless able to cater to everyone’s needs in their own ‘here and now’.
Dance for Dementia is one of Déda’s health and wellbeing projects which has been featured in our Dance Together Live Better fundraising campaign. Thank you to all our generous supporters who have donated and helped us to deliver important work like this. To learn more about our outreach projects and how you can support Déda, please visit the support us page on our website http://www.deda.uk.com/support-us/ or ask at our Box Office.