‘Dance has long been recognised as providing a therapeutic benefit, a form of release and a means of expression.’
In February this year, Chaturangan Dance Company, with Bluecoat and Hope University, presented Fleeting Moments at The Bluecoat in Liverpool. This family- and dementia-friendly dance and music performance evolved in consultation and collaboration with people living with dementia and their companions.
Dr Richard Coaten, Dance and Movement Therapist who attended the performance gives us his impressions.
Some fleeting and inspiring moments were spent in the company of dancers Bisakha Sarker, Anusha Subramanyam, Fenfen Huang, Mary Pearson, musician and singer Chris Davies and Steve Boyland. Bisakha introduced three short sections of Indian, Chinese and contemporary dance, set to live music and vocal improvisation.
Bisakha spoke of the importance of the umbrella as a prop used in the dancing, especially in the piece by Fenfen Huang. She suggested that in a metaphorical sense we could think about the umbrella as a form of shelter against whatever ‘weather’ the dementia condition might throw at us, and how we can through movement and dance play with that idea, finding creative and playful alternatives to frame and ‘dance’ the condition differently.
Part of Bisakha’s endeavour is to blur the unnecessary distinctions between audience and performer; and no more so than when the audience is already marginalised by having a dementia condition and living in a care home. Residents and their staff were enabled to leave the routines of their care home to enter a public space, a performance space, to witness a high-quality professional multi-cultural and multi-art form and be a part of this ‘dementia-friendly’ event as both audience and participant. As one resident of a care home said to me afterwards: “It’s all so different, it made me hold my attention to it.” For this older person and for me it has indeed done what it said on the poster: ‘Fleeting moments to lift our collective spirits…’
Dr Richard Coaten, Dancer & Dance Movement Psychotherapist.
In search of a late style
Bisakha Sarker talked to Gopa Roy about her month in Canada as a Winston Churchill Trust Travelling Fellow, looking at age and dance.
In her visits to the culturally diverse cities of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, Bisakha was observing how art is being used in the care of older people; how senior artists are dealing with their own ageing; and exploring the concept of ‘late style’, discussed by François Matarasso in Winter Fire: if visual artists have an ‘early style’ and a ‘late style’, then why not dancers? She found it to be an energising journey of self-discovery.
Bisakha visited older people and practitioners using art in their care in a variety of settings. She found much excellent work being carried out with music and art, but much less using dance. Bisakha herself seems impelled to communicate through dance. Round-table discussions or lectures became dance sessions as she responded to the question “How do you do it?” Senior staff and directors found themselves dancing with art therapists, “everyone dancing together and having fun.”
There are well-established Indian dance artists in Canada who are training students to achieve excellence in performance, but who have not yet taken this excellence into health settings. This may change, however, for she found keen interest in her practice. For Hari Krishnan “it generates abundant light and hope.” The wealth of cultural diversity in Canada is still to be drawn on in the use of art in the care of older people and Bisakha felt a sense of pride in being a member of the community dance sector in the UK.
The Fellowship provided Bisakha personally with an extremely rich experience. She was delighted to meet Claudia Moore, whose response to growing older as a dancer was to set up a successful dance festival in Toronto, ‘Older and Reckless’, to be followed by ‘Young and Old, Reckless Together’. Bisakha told me that she was thrilled to have managed the trip physically; to be given back the confidence that she didn’t know she had lost; to find that in the later part of her dancing career (she is in her late sixties), in the words of Canadian poet Robert Bringhurst, ‘there are songs still to be sung’.
There will be a performance of Fleeting Moments on 27 September at the Bluecoat, Liverpool at 2pm.
Ageing Artfully: dancing with older adults
Akademi’s project Ageing Artfully has been supporting sixty older residents in Camden to help with their physical and mental well-being, with the help of chef Manju Malhi and dance artists Avatara Ayuso, Amina Khayyam and Khavita Kaur Rendhawa. Workshop courses combined South Asian movement classes, gardening in local allotments and healthy cooking classes. A series of ‘Bollywalks’ was organised, blending Bollywood-inspired moves with a pinch of storytelling to create fun, playful and enjoyable group experiences.
The links between South Asian dance and health and longevity are well-known, and Akademi recently hosted a seminar to discuss South Asian dance and ageing. Mira Kaushik, Artistic Director of Akademi: “It was good to hear from women who have participated [in Akademi’s projects] over the last three years . . . some walking for leisure or swimming for the first time . . . evolved from hidden Bangladeshi women in London to residents of the city who own the space. The concept of moner khushi ‘the pleasure of the heart’, to dance for inner happiness, reverberates strongly.”
In September 2013 the first Tea Dance for Dementia will be held in Hampstead Town Hall, inviting dementia patients, their families, carers and service users to a social dance, reconnecting with the pleasures of partnered dance, reawakening memories, to a soundtrack of music from Britain, America and Bollywood. Akademi dancers will be on hand to partner men and women, working with MA Dance Psychotherapy students as well as their own trained artists to support and interact with participants.