Something to Celebrate: Success and Collaborations
During the uncertainties of Covid-19 we need celebrations! This report celebrates the 10th year of Creative Dance 60+ (CD60+), a small grassroots dance organisation based in Tottenham, London. It considers new opportunities and collaborations across sectors and organisations and is timely, illustrating a bright future for active older dancers and intergenerational dance as well as new opportunities for employment and participation.
There is increasing interest in all forms of dance to meet challenges facing society, such as physical and mental wellbeing, loneliness, and inclusion. Dance, as an art form, is now being taken more seriously as, increasingly, international research finds it has many benefits for individuals, neighbourhoods and societies.
Older people dancing and young dance-artist facilitators
Once older adults find enjoyable, meaningful dance activities they tend to continue dancing whenever they can, especially when sessions are welcoming, friendly, inclusive, and new friendships can flourish. This creates opportunities for dance artists who wish to create choreography with older adults. Leading such groups is challenging but there are rewards and satisfaction when working creatively with people who want to dance. Different types of music, tasks and techniques can develop participants’ dance capabilities. Older people are aware of their strengths and limitations and will share ideas, enjoy themselves and appreciate dancing with talented younger people who are not patronising or hold negative, limiting views about ageing. Safety and care are important, but this does not mean that only gentle exercise, moving slowly with grace is appropriate for all. Older people are individuals who have different life experiences, opinions, and personalities; they have different learning styles and memory issues; different bodies and health requirements; many interests, responsibilities, and commitments. When the environment is relaxed, respectful and trusting, all participants can participate and express themselves whether dancing alone or with others.
Dance is located in different sectors including Arts and Culture, Health and Wellbeing, Sports and Leisure, Education and Learning. In the past, it often slipped through the net or was not considered important, especially as it is difficult to quantify benefits such as joy, creativity and satisfaction. This has meant smaller dance organisations have found it difficult to access sufficient funding. New solutions are needed to meet the challenges of ageing populations and keeping everyone physically and mentally fit and involved in their communities. Dance is increasingly attractive and is being taken more seriously by politicians and the medical professions with more opportunities for collaborations and sponsorship.
Creative Dance 60+ celebrates 10 years
CD60+ started offering open dance sessions in October 2010 as a small grassroots dance organisation, founded and managed by Jackie Richards, who wanted to bring neighbours from diverse backgrounds together to enjoy creative contemporary dance. She left her fulltime career in 2008 aged 60 years because she wanted to return to dance and community activities. She quickly recognised she was being designated as “pensioner” or “elderly” whereas she thought she was an energetic, active adult seeking new opportunities. Dance-wise, she found little available apart from line-dancing, aerobic or arm-chair exercise. By 2010 she had joined dance sessions for older dancers in central London and was performing in an older people’s dance company. Having led the development of a local community choir, she applied for local funding to start a creative dance grassroots organisation. There was preparatory work introducing and promoting creative dance to local people, especially to those who had no experience creative dance before. CD60+ is now celebrating its 10th year. Quite an achievement!
During the ten years, it has thrived, offering open sessions and giving sessional paid work opportunities to talented dance artists. Funding was always found whether from a bequest, the Community Development Foundation or the Local Authority as well as fees and donations. The sessions are inclusive, participants are diverse and there is a welcoming approach. The main activity has always been open dance sessions where people attend whenever they can, fitting it in with competing priorities such as work or caring responsibilities. Having a mid-session break and meeting together afterwards is important for socialising, as are end of term parties and now the CD60+ dancers’ WhatsApp group and Seedees Top Hits Facebook Page. An optional performance group “No Dance No Joy!” was created in 2012. It was not a dance company involving rehearsals or perfect performances but offered opportunities for volunteers to perform, using tasks and ideas developed during the open sessions. This included performances for Alexandra Palace 150th celebratory event at Alexandra Park; SAGACITY Festivals in East London, Dancing in the Air at the Vue Tube in the Olympic Park, Jackson Lane Arts Centre Night Club, and local women’s health events. All performances were well received, especially by younger people who saw positive images of older people enjoying life, friendship and being creative and active together. Getting older is not all doom and gloom, loneliness, decline and pain! In 2016, CD60+ was thriving; Jackie was finalising a work-based doctorate researching her varied activities including arts and older people, ageing, performing and championing active older people’s dance. It was time to hand over. Molly Wright, CD60’s then dance-artist/facilitator continued successfully. She handed over the management and dance facilitation to Elizabeth Arifien in 2018 when she moved away from London.
Going forward, new collaborations, developments and opportunities
Elizabeth has recently incorporated CD60+ into Creative Dance London (CDL) an evolving umbrella organisation she is developing with other dance artists and arts administrators. Molly and Jackie are still involved. Molly is one of the dance artists facilitating sessions and collaborating to develop CDL further. Jackie attends dance sessions and is available to advise. During lockdown, CDL initially offered Facebook live sessions which reached over 21,000 people from all over the UK, Indonesia, Australia, India, USA, and Brazil. It has recently secured funding from the National Lottery Community Fund and The Mayor of London’s Stronger Community Fund with Groundwork. Using Zoom as a digital platform has enabled them to continue to expand their reach and it now offers four creative dance classes which focus on older adults but welcome all ages and abilities to participate. CDL has embedded the values and ethical foundation set by Jackie and CD60+ and continues to challenge the perceptions of older adults in mainstream dance settings. As Elizabeth is a choreographer and filmmaker, she is excited to expand their messaging into dance films. CDL looks forward to future opportunities for intergenerational dance sessions and more collaborations with other dance artists.
The cloud of unemployment and lack of resources for the arts are real; it is impossible to know how societal challenges will be resolved. We can only live in hope. CD60+ created a positive, inclusive, friendly grassroots organisation, showing that older people’s dance can be mainstream, expressive and enjoyable, as well as benefitting health and wellbeing. Demand for dance sessions of all kinds will continue as increasing numbers of younger and older people want to dance, giving new opportunities for dance artists and teachers. To a more peaceful, hopeful, world!
Dr Jackie Richards
Issues in this report are examined in more detail in “Active Older People Participating in Creative Dance – challenging perceptions” a work-based doctorate (DProf) thesis/report www.eprints.mdx.ac.uk/23514
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