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The Rhythm of Life is a powerful thing: dancing for health and wellbeing in the South West

  • Date: 11 March 2014
  • Artform: Dance
  • Area: South West
Parkinson's Dance @ PDSW Parkinson's Dance @ PDSW

Dance organisations in the South West are responding to the region's ageing population profile by developing a programme of work with older people.

Pavilion Dance South West is the national dance development organisation for the region and an Arts Council England National portfolio organisation.  They support dance strategy across the South West and their vision is of a world where everyone has the chance to be happier and healthier by experiencing dance and dancing.

As more and more people live longer, there is an ever-greater emphasis on improving the health profile of the older population but better physical fitness for active older people is only one aspect of the impact dance can have.

Deryck Newland, Artistic Director, Pavilion Dance South West, says: 'There is compelling evidence of the preventive health benefits of dance, irrespective of age, but equally conclusive evidence that dance improves overall wellbeing too.  Joining a dance class can help you increase self-confidence and help build your social skills; it can reduce stress and stop you feeling isolated.  And that's because dancing is inclusive, dancing can be tailored to match anyone's physical capability and, most of all, dancing is fun!'

One of the organisation's priorities is to advocate for and embed dance as part of every community's health and wellbeing provision.  The Breathe strand of their dance development programme focuses on this area and brings together regional dance partners and arts and health organisations to set strategy and discuss issues through the Breathe Action Group.

Deryck Newland says: 'We obviously have a strong focus on developing work with older people but we also consider work to meet public health priorities such as tackling obesity.  Across the region our partner dance organisations have developed expertise in specialist fields such as Dance and Dementia or Dance and Cancer Treatment.  At Pavilion Dance South West we have a particularly strong link with Parkinson's, running a weekly Parkinson's Dance Class for people who are looking to overcome some of the limiting symptoms of the disease.'

But, with the South West having the highest proportion of people over 65 in England, dance for older people is an ever-growing strand of work. 

Deryck Newland continues: 'Our dance work with, by and for older people is increasing in importance and exciting in its potential.  Last year we employed a Dance & Older People Producer to map activity across the region and develop a coherent programme of activity that includes older people's dance companies that perform and tour; sessions in care homes; and bespoke programmes for people with dementia or Parkinson's or those living with other long-term medical conditions.  We also provide opportunities for care home workers to develop singing, music and dance skills.'

One of the new initiatives Pavilion Dance South West is developing is called Dance Companions, a regional framework of local networks of older people interested in dance.  The programme will use the networks to allow active older dance volunteers to support those less confident or more isolated to take part in dancing or attend a dance performance.

For many older people it is the social aspects of participatory dance that are most valued and most important.  As one older dancer put it: 'It makes you feel alive, almost like you're young again.  It's amazing that dancing can make you do that.  I don't know anything else that can have that effect on you.'

In 2011 Bupa published Keep Dancing...The health and wellbeing benefits of dance for older peopleBupa believes that this report shows that policy makers should pay more attention to dance when considering ways to promote active lifestyles and healthy living, especially for older people.

It states: 'Too often policy makers in Government and beyond overlook the contribution that dance can make to the welfare of older people, often concentrating on exercise and sports-based activities and ignoring the inclusive nature of dance, and its potential contribution.

'We believe that supporting organisations that provide dance activities for older people in the community, in care homes and in hospitals, can make a major contribution to the better future physical and mental wellbeing of the increasing numbers of older people that will make up the population of the UK and many other countries.'

Deryck Newland agrees: 'We've seen a huge increase in the range and number of opportunities for older people to get involved with dance and have also seen the very real impact that this has had.  I'm thinking of projects such as Activate's Dance Generations in Dorset, and Take Art's Life Circles in Somerset or the recent launch of Tacchi-Morri Arts Centre's Bolder Dance Company for over 55s and Dance in Devon's Silver Dancers.'

In 2013 Pavilion Dance South West produced the leaflet Creative Ageing Through Dance to highlight some of the excellent dance programmes being delivered across the South West.  The wide range of projects shows the rapid expansion of this strand of work but consultation with agencies and practitioners across the South West also uncovered a lack of sustained resourcing that threatened further development. 

Pavilion Dance South West are looking to address this through a fundraising initiative to support a regional team of producers focused on delivering long-term programmes for dance and older people.

Deryck Newland says: 'We want to give a higher profile to Dance and Older People, increase awareness of the very real benefits and positive outcomes for everyone taking part.  We're part of a group aiming to found a National Festival in 2015 and I'm hoping we can launch an annual or biannual festival here in the South West as well.

'Everyone should have the chance to dance and growing older shouldn't limit that opportunity.'


If you want to know more about Pavilion Dance South West or any of their projects, go to or contact Helga Brandt on or 01202 203637.