The journey of a remote dance project for adults with physical or learning differences, mental health issues or living with dementia.

Like many other community arts activities, our JOIO project was rapidly redesigned to have the maximum impact during the pandemic of 2020. We had originally planned to partner with Dementia Matters Powys to develop an action research project based in Ystradgynlais with our dance practitioners developing a distinctive Impelo methodology for working with people living with dementia and their circles of support. We were still in the planning stages as the Coronavirus arrived.

Although less of us this week, it was still fun....feel participants are enjoying the music and dances as much as ever. The costume and prop element is such a bonding tool - a way of being together even though geographically apart.                   Helly  - Dance Practitioner

At the beginning of the first lockdown Impelo commissioned our freelance dance practitioners to create a range of online pre-recorded dance workshops for all our existing groups. A special selection went onto DVDs with dance sessions suitable for older dancers and people with physical or learning differences as part of our mission to #KeepPowysMoving.

While promoting these free DVDs to individuals and organisations around the county, we met our three partners for a new version of our JOIO dance project.  Adding to Dementia Matters Powys, were Perthyn and Llys Glan Yr Afon.  The initial challenges included developing relationships of trust with new organisations and participants via Zoom, communicating clearly what we were offering, and brokering the best experience for each organisation depending on their needs and interests, their access to technology and their internal communication systems. 

Perthyn manages supported living in houses with up to 7 residents. We worked with one house in South Powys, and two in the North.

Llys Glan Y Afon is a larger residential organisation with over 50 residents of all ages living independently in flats with access to communal areas, activities and support.

Dementia Matters Powys ordinarily run 4 meeting centres across Powys for people living with dementia and their circles of support. Once the first lockdown began they immediately took their meetings online.

We were keen to get everyone involved with designing their part of the project. Our two dance practitioners Beth and Helly, ran zoom taster sessions before the online planning took place, so that staff and participants had an idea about what was possible. Each area of the project has been designed to the needs and interests of the participants. Beth and Helly took ideas for favourite music, parts of the body people were keen to get moving (seated participants in Llys Glan Yr Afon were especially eager to target their circulation and leg mobility) and either tied into existing themes or developed a new theme with the participants. One Perthyn participant loves Halloween which coincided with his last dance session, so his project was centred around creating a Halloween dance.

I really enjoyed today's session - my favourite part was dancing to Foo Fighters. My birthday is on Thursday 8th and I would like to do some birthday dances.                                          Ben - Participant

What a team! Having 3 members of staff present meant we could play with creating shapes together.. like our moving monster/creature. Birthday dance went down a treat and will have to stay in our repertoire.                                 Beth - Dance Practitioner

As well as delivering dance workshops, we built in two strands of training to the project. First was for our dance practitioners, with ongoing training supported professionally by a specialist dance practitioner in place as their mentor, as they developed their dance practice which also had to adapt to the challenges of working remotely. As Beth asked, “how do we communicate with each other that we want to deviate from ‘the plan’?”

Meeting with our mentor (online) was empowering! It was reassuring that we are experiencing the ups and downs of other Zoomers.  After, Bethan & I stayed on and had a really good chat which was also very productive - and felt like we bonded more as we covered all kinds of stuff!                                         Helly - Dance Practitioner

As part of this ongoing reflection, our practitioners kept a journal after each session which helped shape the next, building on the successes and adapting to the challenges.  

Great session - the group really love the more upbeat music we have been using and are managing to dance for around 45 minutes per session. No interruption from the tea trolley today - yay!                                                                                 Beth  - Dance Practitioner

Secondly, Beth and Helly were able to offer bespoke training to the partner organisations who felt inspired to continue the work in their setting after the life of the project. In Llys Glan Yr Afon, the Activities Manager took up the training offer alongside an enthusiastic participant who wanted to develop his skills and learn how to plan and run a dance session for others.

Feedback for this week is tired but good tired, they really enjoyed this week's movement and have said can they go to Brazil next week? They really enjoyed a bit more of a work out for them and they liked the music.                            Ezma  - Activities Manager

This project has been exciting, at times challenging and frustrating, but also moving and life-affirming. With our new ways of working, we have found that it is possible to broker, design and remotely deliver fun, responsive and inspiring dance projects in settings where dance may not ordinarily be accessible. 

We have learned patience, resilience and adaptability. Having two practitioners working together yet separately allowed them to bounce off one another, to pick up the lead if one lost internet connection, to support one another during uncertain times and to witness the journey of each part of the project.  Running a workshop remotely requires quite a different set of skills. Beth and Helly have had to rely on staff on the ground to manage the sessions and to help them assess levels of engagement which is much harder through the screen. We also found that having our own in-house tech support was critical to the success of the project. While there is no substitute for real life interaction, human touch and the ‘buzz’ of dancing together, we think we have been part of trialling and shaping what can be possible in these new and extraordinary times, and have hopefully reached people who may not ordinarily have opportunities to dance with others.

Magical session. Staff were so ready to dance with the participants and helped them get a well-rounded class. Participants seem much more at ease with the session and appear to be more open to partnerwork with the staff. Lots of gentle use of touch and guiding the hands, arms, legs and even the toes through movement. I think the participants really benefited from that attention to the feet as a member of staff commented on how stiff their feet were - we should do this more often!                                                                                                                                                   Beth - Dance Practitioner

Rosie McConnell