Put on your dancing shoes

Words by:
Alison Sandilands
Featured in:
November 2011

Do you think dancing is just for the young, fit and mobile? Then think again. The not-for-profit organisation Lincolnshire Dance has been challenging this kind of stereotype for years, gradually making dance more accessible to everybody in the county.
Since Lincolnshire Dance was launched in 2000, it has worked to provide a platform for people of all ages and from all walks of life to enjoy the many benefits that dance can offer. A variety of dance styles are covered, from samba, Zumba and salsa to contemporary, jazz, medieval and burlesque.

Lincolnshire Dance’s work comes under the umbrella of four main dance programmes: Freedom in Dance, aimed at the over fifties; Aiming Higher, for young people with disabilities; Youth Dance Programme, supporting and developing young dancers; and the recently launched Dance4Life which encourages adults to embrace dance as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Dance4Life was launched in September with a number of events, including one at New Life in Lincoln where volunteers were invited to become dance buddies – voluntary roles providing support and company to adults entering into dance classes for the first time. People of a variety of ages stepped forward for this task and participated in some taster classes, morphing from burlesque beauties into Zumba queens in a flash.

One of the most upbeat and captivating tasters was the Egyptian dancing, led by Dance4Life instructor Connie Hurd. Bright and bubbly Connie is the perfect example of somebody whose life has been transformed by dance. The sixty-year-old of Hemswell Cliff, Market Rasen, only discovered her love for dancing in her fifties when she began taking tap dancing lessons and eventually decided to train as an Egyptian dancer at the Josephine Wise Academy for Arabic Dance (JWAAD) in London.

Connie first got involved in Lincolnshire Dance after finding out about the organisation at a networking event in Lincoln. She subsequently became a student on the Freedom in Dance programme, learning how to teach dance to the over fifties. “I learnt how to deal with older people who have medical problems and limited mobility,” explained Connie. “I discovered new types of dances, from Charleston to Broadway, and was taught how to teach people who are not even able to stand up. I have taught men and women between the ages of seventy-five and 100. I love it, they love it. It’s so much fun.

“The music and the movement lift their spirits. I visit care homes and some of the people I teach have dementia, but when they move they feel young again. It’s great. Lincolnshire Dance has broadened my scope so much. I would say to anybody considering learning to dance: give it a go. It’s great for your health and gets you fit. I have lost two stone dancing and feel better than ever.” Connie’s motto is: “Live well, laugh often, love much and dance.”

Inspiring more adults to take the first step into dance, just like Connie did, is integral to Lincolnshire Dance’s Dance4Life programme. The two-year project, which has received £180,000 funding from Lincolnshire County Council and NHS Lincolnshire, targets areas where there are not enough dance activities allowing adults to engage with their communities, or get fit and improve their wellbeing.

Alex Law, the Dance4Life programme apprentice, said the main focus is on adults who have not yet chosen to dance for any number of reasons including location, health or finances.

“It’s also about breaking down the barriers and allowing people to have fun, challenge themselves and socialise in their community,” she said. “Much too often, an abundance of classes for young people overshadow a distinct lack of quality classes for adults.” The villages of Wragby and Bardney have been specifically targeted and dance teachers are being encouraged to set up new classes in this area.

Among those who signed up as a Dance4Life buddy is fifty-two-year-old Brenda Whitehouse of Cherry Willingham. Brenda said she wanted to do this because she remembered how difficult it was plucking up the courage to get along to a dance class for the first time.

“I started doing zumba,” she said. “It makes me feel great and is a fantastic way to keep fit. I am always really buzzing afterwards. I’m addicted to it.” Angelika Kerns of Market Rasen also decided to become a dance buddie. The fifty-four-year-old said she had been on the lookout over the past four years for something like this. “The reason I wanted to do it is that I think it’s a fun way of exercising without getting bored,” she said. “I think there is often this hesitance for adults to try dancing, because they don’t think they should be doing it. I asked a friend of mine to come with me and I could see the hesitance was there.”

Another one of Lincolnshire Dance’s programmes, Aiming Higher, provides a series of dynamic dance sessions for young people with disabilities. The aim of these classes, which are organised as part of Lincolnshire County Council’s Short Breaks scheme, is to deliver an opportunity for youngsters with special needs to embrace dance and music and to explore new ways of interacting and expressing themselves. There has been much positive feedback with reports that some of the existing participants have shown significant improvements in movement, confidence and expression both in class and at home. The classes also give parents a respite, allowing them to leave their children in capable hands. The sessions are run by professional dance teachers who have experience in engaging with young people and supported by care workers. Youngsters with disabilities such as cognitive and sensory impairments, movement and handling needs and those who require palliative care, are welcome to go along and try out a class nearest to their home. There are currently five Aiming Higher dance groups established across the county: St Francis School, Lincoln, Thursdays 6pm-7.30pm; Scredington Community Centre, Mondays 6.15pm-7.30pm; John Fielding School, Boston, Tuesdays 3.30pm-5pm; Horncastle Youth Centre, Tuesdays 6.15pm-6.45pm; Abbey and Parish Church Hall, Bourne, Wednesdays 5pm-6.30pm.

Young dancers in Lincolnshire are supported by Lincolnshire Dance’s Youth Dance Programme which is designed specifically to encourage and enhance their development with projects such as workshops with professional dancers, choreography training and the opportunity to perform in shows. Lincolnshire Dance also runs the Lincolnshire Dance Academy, aimed at enabling gifted and talented young dancers to flourish with high quality training. This takes place in partnership with schools across the county.

Lincolnshire Dance director Keyna Paul said a lot of work had to be done in order to create the dance opportunities that exist in the county today. “When I started we needed to first of all encourage dancers to come and work in Lincolnshire,” explained Keyna. “We began supporting work opportunities for young apprentices and also worked with Lincoln University on a dance degree, in order to create an infrastructure for dancers to thrive in. It’s like a jigsaw – we had to put all of the pieces together first.” Keyna said the new Dance4Life programme stemmed from a realisation that there seemed to be lots of people providing dance for able-bodied young people, but not as many aimed at adults. She said: “We thought that all elements were there now for Lincolnshire Dance to grow. We were interested in looking at dance as part of lifestyle – for health and wellbeing. It’s about launching classes. It’s about capacity building. Adults should have the opportunities to dance, as young people have.

“We discovered that a lot of adults who wanted to dance don’t because they might live in a rural area or because they think dancing is just for young people or have been busy bringing up children. That’s where the buddy scheme comes in. Buddies are people who have already attended dance classes. We are looking for more. They need to like people and be able to give others confidence.”

If you are interested in any of Lincolnshire Dance’s programmes or require further information call 01522 811 811 or email: info@lincolnshiredance.com.

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