Reasons for older people to join a dance class
5th December 2017
This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.
Photographer: Rachel Cherry, People Dancing – Summer School 2017
As Strictly Come Dancing returns to the nation’s screens, millions of people across the UK are once again being inspired to ‘keep dancing’, or indeed to take up the pursuit for the first time. Whilst the TV show tends to be dominated by young, athletic professionals and celebrities, however, anyone who attends one of the many thousands of dance classes which take place around the country every week will know that most dancers are just ordinary people who simply enjoy the exercise and social scene their hobby provides.
Recreational dancing is particularly popular amongst older people, with its health benefits and the opportunities it presents to meet up with old friends and make new ones making a perfect combination.
It can be the case, however, that some of those tempted to give dancing a go are put off from signing up to a class due to a number of concerns – whether this is the worry of not being ‘good enough’, the natural anxiety that can accompany trying something new in an unfamiliar environment, or even feeling that a lack of mobility will prevent them from truly participating.
For this reason, a number of experts have contributed to this feature, all of whom are experienced either at running dance sessions in a variety of settings – from traditional ballroom classes to care homes – or have studied the many positive effects that dancing and movement can have on the lives of older people. Read on to find out what they had to say about how dancing is accessible for virtually everyone, and why this wonderful activity is beneficial in so many ways.
Photographer: Rachel Cherry, People Dancing Conference, Glasgow 2017
People Dancing is a community dance foundation which is dedicated to encouraging as many people as possible to find out what an exciting and rewarding activity dancing can be. Working with professional dancers, organisations and teachers, the team at People Dancing say that their ambitious vision is of “a world where dance is a part of everyone’s life”, and this certainly includes those who are over the age of 60.
Anna Leatherdale - Producer, Professional Development at People Dancing - shared her views on why getting onto the dance floor has such a positive effect on health and, just as importantly, can be thoroughly enjoyable, whatever the participant’s current ability or mobility:
“Whilst dance is a physical art form that involves the use of the body, it offers more than the chance to exercise: it provides mental stimulation and engagement; the opportunity to be self-expressive through a creative medium; physical challenges and rewards; and the chance to meet other people who share a common interest and to socialise in a community environment.
“But more than anything else, participating in dance is great fun! This is a key reason why dance is so popular and keeps dance session participants coming back time and time again. Dance helps people maintain a healthy, independent life-style, while the social nature of dance can help combat loneliness and boredom.
Photographer: Rachel Cherry, People Dancing Conference, Glasgow 2017
“In Britain, dance takes place in a wide variety of different places: from formal dance studios through to village or town halls, day care centres, hospitals, clubs, community and arts centres and specialist health-care settings. Britain is also fortunate to have a wealth of different dance styles and approaches to delivery, from social dances like ballroom and Latin, through to seated dance sessions, creative dance opportunities and performance groups. There are also specialist classes designed to accommodate people with additional needs that arise as a result of specific health conditions such as Parkinson's, dementia and cancer – so if you've an interest in dance there's likely to be a class that's suited to you. In short, dance offers something for everyone.
“People Dancing – the foundation for community dance – is the UK development organisation and membership body for those involved in creating opportunities for people to experience and participate in dance. With its membership reaching more than 4,500 dance professionals worldwide, People Dancing trains and supports dance teachers to work specifically with older populations. We have also supported/undertaken research that shows the benefits of dance to different sections of the population.
“There are a variety of ways to find out where dance activities take place. Search on the internet for 'dance' and the name or your local town or county; look for information in your local library or community centre. A great way of finding out, of course, is through word of mouth, talking to other people through clubs or groups of any kind to find out what might be available.”
The Trinity Laban music and dance conservatoire, based in London, is perhaps best known as one of the premier centres in the UK for aspiring young people to train to become professional creative performers.
However, the conservatoire is also renowned for providing a range of fantastic, community-based dance sessions at its headquarters in South East London and beyond, aimed at older people who want to harness the amazing health and social opportunities that dancing provides. Here’s what the team at Trinity Laban had to say about the various classes they run, and why they are so valued by the local population:
“Trinity Laban offers a range of classes to support adults aged 60+ through music and dance as part of their Inspired Not Tired programme. These classes take place at Trinity Laban’s facilities as well as throughout the area to make music and dance accessible to all members of our community. We currently have four classes running: Boundless; Voices in Motion; The Befrienders; and Young at Heart. Boundless and Voices in Motion are led by dance artists and musicians from Trinity Laban and aim to integrate dance and music techniques with creative practices. The Befrienders is part of a partnership with Ageing Well Lewisham and merges singing with other forms of art. Public performances are regularly an outcome of this class and past performances have taken place at The Albany, King Charles Court, The Horninman Museum, and more. Lastly, Young at Heart is led by Zoe Gilmour, who works with the Young at Heart Club at Bellingham Green. This class includes singing, creative music, and arts and craft workshops at a weekly social club. All of these classes are open to anyone over the age of 60 and all ability and experience levels are welcome.
“At Trinity Laban, we greatly value these classes and the opportunities they provide for members of the community. Previous research shows a wide range of benefits that music and dance have for older populations. Dancing has been shown to improve aerobic capacities, muscular endurance and strength, flexibility of the lower body, balance and agility, and gait speed of older populations (Keogh et al., 2009). These attributes are essential elements of physical functioning and improvements in these aspects could increase quality of life for older adults. Additionally, research has found that physical activity has had positive impacts on overall mood in older populations. Our Inspired Not Tired programme provides a means and a supportive community for these improvements to take place.”
Those who are over 60 and live in the capital, or know someone who fits this description and would benefit from trying out a dance class, should be sure to get in touch with the team at Trinity Laban today. More information about their fantastic Inspired not Tired programme can be found here: https://www.trinitylaban.ac.uk/take-part/for-adults/inspired-not-tired-over-60s-dance-and-music
A local charity aiming to create opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to get excited about dancing, Yorkshire Dance has recently led some significant research which demonstrated how people of retirement age can benefit hugely from regular dancing sessions, both physically and mentally. Read on to find out what Yorkshire Dance had to say about their research and how it ties in with their exciting plans for the future:
“Neuroscientists have recently revealed that the number one exercise for slowing down the ageing process is dance.
“Dance has been shown to improve balance, agility and muscle strength whilst improving mood and cognitive function. Dance can be social, fun and engaging and therefore stimulate new friendships and contribute to a reduction in social isolation and loneliness.
“There is increasing evidence based around dance and falls-prevention, with those participating in dance activity reducing their likelihood of falling significantly.
“Yorkshire Dance, in partnership with One Dance UK, has recently been successful in gaining investment through Sport England’s Active Ageing to lead on a programme of dance activity to reduce inactivity in older people aged 65+ through a range of community based dance programmes. The project will take place in Leeds, Bradford and Doncaster in 2018 – 2020, offering local opportunities for older people to take part in fun, social dance sessions. The project builds on learning from Yorkshire Dance’s ‘Dancing in Time’ project commissioned by Leeds Public Health in partnership with University of Leeds.
“The ‘Dancing in Time’ team worked with three groups of older adults in different areas of Leeds for ten weeks, running two 90-minute sessions per week in each location. As well as decreasing their number of hours per week spent sitting and increasing their hours engaged in moderate or hard physical activity, ‘Dancing in Time’ generated solid statistical evidence. Participants improved their mobility and balance and became increasingly confident in their ability to undertake tasks without feeling that they might fall.
“The research also showed that people who had taken part in ‘Dancing in Time’ felt happier at the end of the ten week programmes than they had at the beginning.
“Alongside ‘Dancing in Time’, Yorkshire Dance has been commissioned by AESOP as the Yorkshire lead of ‘Dance to Health’ – a national falls-prevention dance programme. [Read more about Dance to Health here: http://www.dancetohealth.org]
“The programme will enable seven Dance to Health sessions to be established in Sheffield and Ripon whilst supporting local dancers to train in evidence-based physiotherapy programmes which will then be delivered through dance.
“Over the past three years, Yorkshire Dance has also been developing a range of dance projects for people living in residential care, including those living with dementia and with conditions such as Parkinson’s. Projects range from bespoke one-to-one sessions to intergenerational group sessions that bring together primary school children and care home residents.”
Hannah Robertshaw, Programmes Director of Yorkshire Dance, says “it’s clear that dance has a role to play in enhancing the wellbeing of older adults. I’ve witnessed the impact that dance has as a way to improve both physical and mental health, particularly of older adults who may be living with a disability or long-term health condition. We are designed to move and to be active and age shouldn’t be a barrier to this.”
The healthcare group Bupa has been helping people to live longer, healthier lives for 70 years, so they know a thing or two about what is good for the human body.
The insurance and healthcare treatment providers said that a 2011 report they commissioned “found that only 20% of men and 17% of women aged 65-74 got the recommended level of physical exercise”, adding that “the report also found that dance can help boost confidence and mobility in older people, helping prevent conditions including heart disease, osteoporosis and dementia.”
Linda Patel, Professional Wellbeing and Activity Advisor for Bupa, went into some more detail about why joining a dance class can be so beneficial for both the body and mind: “Dancing is a wonderful occupation and can be hugely beneficial for older people. Not only is it a great form of exercise but it fosters confidence, inclusion and self-expression.
“As with any aerobic activity, dance can help maintain fitness, reduce blood pressure and improve energy levels. What’s more, it’s really inclusive and can be adapted for all abilities. For example, armchair dances are hugely popular amongst residents in our care homes, where mobility is more limited.
“It’s not just the dancing itself but often the music that comes with it. We regularly hold tea dances in our homes, featuring songs from the 1940s and beyond. The music can help evoke some really wonderful memories – even amongst residents with dementia – and it has such an uplifting affect.”
Alive (www.aliveactivities.org) is the UK’s leading charity enriching the lives of older people in care and training their carers. The organisation runs regular workshops throughout the south of England which are designed to improve the health and happiness of participants, focusing on mediums such as art, guided reminiscence and, of course, dance and movement.
It was mentioned earlier how Bupa have concluded that simply not enough people between the ages of 65 and 74 get enough regular exercise, but Alive have shared some data– from the same Bupa report (Keep Dancing, 2012) – which suggests the proportion falls even lower among those who are older than this. The team at Alive explained more about this figure, as well as the great work they do to ensure as many older people as possible benefit from their interventions:
“Only 9% of men and 6% of women aged over 75 get the recommended weekly minimum of exercise. For older people living in care, it’s likely to be even fewer. Dance is a great way of getting people moving, maintaining mobility and reducing the risk of falls while also improving mood and cognition.
“Alive has nearly 10 years’ experience in bringing dance and movement to older people in care homes (including people living with dementia). Sessions are designed to enhance physical and mental wellbeing through the joy and pleasure of moving, whether seated or standing. Alive facilitators use a variety of approaches, drawing on backgrounds including dance movement psychotherapy, creative dance, tai chi and Biodanza. Alive sessions create vital opportunities for people to experience a vivid sense of being in the ‘now’ as part of a social group, reconnect with significant personal memories and experiences, and look forward to dancing again.
“Anything can be a dance. Alive’s trained facilitators support people to express themselves in the moment, connecting with music, memories, emotion and each other. Feedback from staff and relatives shows the benefits can be immediate - or last for days:
‘They slept better and were still talking about it for days afterwards’ - Care Home Manager.
‘My mother was amazing last week. She hasn’t recognised her grandson for months now and, after the session, she recognised him immediately. We were astonished!’ - Relative”
Green Candle Dance Company
Photographer: Tracey Fahy
Based in London, the Green Candle Dance Company has a proud history of encouraging individuals from different walks of life to discover the joys of dance and movement, with a particular focus on reaching out to some of the most vulnerable and economically disadvantaged people in the country.
Here is some more information that Green Candle were able to share about their ethos and why their sessions are so popular:
“At Green Candle Dance Company we are committed to bringing dance as participation and performance to children, young people and older adults in our community and, through dance, to create healthier people and more integrated communities.
“We believe that dance can improve the physical and psychological health of older people and we provide a variety of opportunities for people to get involved with dance and integrate better into their communities thereby improving their confidence, self-esteem and well-being.
“Dancing or watching other people dance, moving to the music or even just tapping your toes to the beat provides an instant form of creative release that translates into a feeling of well-being, helping to encourage the mature person to lead a more fulfilled and socially interactive life.”
The most important people in Green Candle’s sessions, of course, are the participants, and the group were also able to share some testimonials which demonstrate the very real and positive impact their classes are having every week:
‘Really enjoyed the workshops and trying out new dance styles. It was a lot of fun! Great to be part of a group of older people getting so much pleasure from dancing together. Long may it continue!’
‘This is very enjoyable and helpful to older people. It allows us to meet and have friends as well as keep fit. Thank you to all of the staff and organisers.’
‘Some residents did not want to join in, however as the saxophone music started many joined in. I witnessed several of our residents that have mobility difficulties move to the music, even just tapping feet - it was great to see the engagement. Some of the residents that are living with dementia really connected with the music…..The grand finale of the younger and older generation coming together demonstrated that age is just a number. The diversity of the group came together through music and movement. One word....inspirational’
Photographer: Rachel Cherry
Anyone who thinks that they or a loved one could benefit from the sessions run by Green Candle Dance Company will be pleased to hear that the group also sent across details of how to get involved in the Senior Dance Company, as well as what those eager to learn can expect to experience once they have signed up:
“Green Candle’s weekly dance sessions for older people are designed to develop each individual’s skills using a variety of creative contemporary dance styles in a fun and supportive environment.
"The sessions aim to provide an opportunity for participants to meet and socialise with other people whilst gaining the physical and mental health benefits associated with dance activities. We provide a friendly but focused atmosphere to enable participants to work on improving their dance skills, with the hope of enabling a personally enjoyable experience that gives a boost to participants’ self-confidence and self-esteem.
“The Green Candle Senior Dancers regularly perform at local community and larger events such as Big Dance, Sadler’s Wells’ ‘Elixir’ Festival, the Royal Festival Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall. (Please note performing is optional)
WHAT? Standing active sessions leading to performances (optional)
WHEN? Every Tuesday from 10.30 to 12.30 during term time
WHO? Open to men and women over 55, no experience necessary, everyone welcome!
WHERE? Dance Studio at Oxford House, Derbyshire Street, London E2 6HG
HOW MUCH? Free for Tower Hamlets residents. £15 for the term for non-Tower Hamlets residents (free taster session available)
HOW TO JOIN? Contact Vicki Busfield on 020 7739 7722 / firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information, please visit Green Candle’s website or social media accounts:
Dance for All
Wherever people live in the UK, they will be able to find a dance class or session which suits their abilities and requirements, and this is certainly true north of the border. Dance for All, which was established over 30 years ago and is based in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, runs dance classes for people of all ages and trains students to become professional performers or teachers.
Like many of the experts featured here, Dance for All are keen to stress the many demonstrable health benefits of dancing, and indeed have a page dedicated to this topic on their website: http://www.danceforall.co.uk/health-benefits/. Further useful resources and interviews can also be found via this section.
Read on to find out more about Dance for All’s classes and the benefits they bring to participants, as discussed by the group themselves:
“It has been proven that dance, more than any other leisure activity, reduces the risk of dementia in elderly patients.
“For people who have health problems, including older people, it's important to check with their GP and, when deciding on classes to attend, ensure the class teacher is highly experienced.
“We have adult classes from beginners to advanced, including Drop-In Ballet (Beginners on Thursdays 8.15-9.15pm) and our ballet tutors are RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) teachers. The Royal Academy of Dance was founded in 1920 and is one of the world’s most influential dance education organisations. RAD's patron is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
“In addition to the physical benefits, the social aspect of attending a dance class is also important - we go into much more detail on all the benefits of dance in the above article.”
Photographer: Rachel Cherry, People Dancing – Summer School 2017
It should be clear by this point that there really is nothing to hold people back who have an urge to get up from their chairs and onto the dancefloor. It doesn’t matter whether they require no mobility assistance at all or rely on equipment such as accessible baths with showers to move around the home in comfort - there is sure to be a dance class out there which is perfect.