“We will carry on dancing whatever happens next” How Dancesyndrome is making the right moves towards equality
With restrictions lifting this week we are uncovering how the pandemic has changed how Disabled people are getting active.
This piece is the first of three stories and discusses how DanceSyndrome run inclusive dance activities, co-produced and co-delivered by volunteer Dance Leaders who have learning disabilities, pivoted as the pandemic put shockwaves through the arts sector.
First established in 2009, DanceSyndrome is a multi-award-winning inclusive dance charity based in Lancashire with a special focus on including everyone, regardless of ability in the art of dance. As well as open online classes, DanceSyndrome delivers online dance sessions to schools, ethnic minority groups and individuals who would have typically found themselves without a chance to take part in the arts.
Over the last decade, Dancesyndrome has been supporting Disabled people to engage in their passions and have an opportunity to occupy leadership positions within the organisation. This co-production approach is central to their services – they are always looking to empower and support individuals to have a voice and a way to express themselves.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the arts industry was perhaps the hardest hit. Overnight every aspect of the industry came to a halt with studios, shows and exhibitions of all sizes forced to close. Even as restrictions began to slowly lift in-person activity was not able to return as normal and DanceSyndrome services were obviously affected.
But have they been able to recover and make the changes needed to keep engaging their community during the pandemic?
Dancing to a new beat
The impact of the pandemic was immediate for DanceSyndrome – forced to close their community sessions, and unable to navigate local bureaucracy at times, they like so many were forced to pivot online. But this wouldn’t come without cost. During the pandemic, many people who would have otherwise been dancing with the group every week, in person, were having to shield.
For those individuals the emotional toll was significant, and many struggled without face-to-face contact or the feeling of community the groups provided. Ensuring they could continue to engage the community during the pandemic pushed them to come together and develop a series of programmes available through Zoom to continue to engage their dancers. Many dancers have said that the move to Zoom during the pandemic saved their lives.
It takes more than two to dance
To help ensure that they could continue to keep going, and support their community, Dance Syndrome needed support. This is what led them to reach out to the Get Yourself Active team to help them access funding from the Tackling Inequalities Fund set up by Sport England.
The fund allowed them to set up outdoor dance sessions across Lancashire and Greater Manchester, to plan a return to indoor dance sessions in Covid-secure community venues, and to use online dance sessions when none of those options were appropriate for some people.
The additional funding means that DanceSyndrome has been able to secure the future of the programmes to allow those who have turned to dance for mental and physical wellbeing during the pandemic to keep on doing so.
Ultimately it is about more than being active or exercising – the programmes they run allow participants to enjoy physical activity in a way that suits them and allows them to express themselves and to follow their passions.
Their transition to the virtual world has also encouraged new members to join. A raft of new members have signed up, with people joining classes from areas across the world including America, Australia and China. The Zoom format has made classes even more accessible and now anyone across the globe can join in and become part of the “dance family”.
Keep moving forward
For now, at least, dancers will continue to log on to online classes and adapt to this new system of dancing. We have seen that the biggest challenge faced by dancers over the pandemic has been the extended time away from their “dance family”, and the online formats let them stay in contact and feel part of a larger community when many were physically isolated from loved ones or support structures.
Ultimately that is the power of Dancesyndrome. They form a family around their passion for dance and a shared experience of adversity and difficulty. The co-production aspect of the project – the chance to lead, choreograph, and perform in a way that is often rare, is perhaps the most inspiring part of the company. The pandemic has given them a roadmap to making access to physical activity more inclusive.
So, what’s next for DanceSyndrome? We caught up with Dawn Vickers, Managing Director at DanceSyndrome to see how they felt about restrictions easing, and what is next for them?
“There are feelings of both apprehension and excitement about easing restrictions. We are so looking forward to being back indoors together in the community centres that we’ve missed so much, but we want to make sure that everyone is safe and this has to be our main priority. So we are planning to start indoor sessions again slowly by coming back to just two centres in July, with social distancing measures in place regardless of the restrictions easing.
Our main focus is to bring everyone back together indoors in a safe and managed way, building back the confidence again for people who have been shielding for months. We’ve been able to meet outdoors since April which has been amazing in reuniting everyone and returning to indoor sessions is the next step. We will carry on programming online sessions too as a way to reach people who can’t come to face to face sessions yet.
We will carry on dancing whatever happens next, that we can absolutely guarantee”.
Want to learn more about DanceSyndrome? Visit their website here.