Thursday, 8 September 2016

World Physiotherapy Day: Adding life to years through Dance

Today is World Physiotherapy Day.

The theme this year is Adding Life To Years.

I often mention dance - it is something I love and my body loves and it's generally marvellous.

I am part of 'Dugout Dance' in Oxford. A group of adults of all ages (although I am one of the younger ones) and all abilities - from 'never danced before' to 'teach classes of their own'.

 (Image from the Dugout website)

I see my dance teacher (Cecilia) as "about 50" the reality is that she's....quite a bit older :D 

Some of the dancers in our group would also qualify as 'ageing' (shh, don't tell them I said that!) - for example, Alan (who I blogged about dancing with last weekend, see 'Dancing on Wheels. Together) is over 70.

And although I'm not ageing yet, I do have physical limitations which get in the way and can make me a bit more vulnerable or stop me doing things - which would make any environment with set expectations very daunting and make me feel like I've been set up to fail and constantly highlight my limitations.

In this context here are a few observations on why Dugout dance seems so effective at getting us who have limited abilities to move with confidence and joy:

1. It isn't aimed at 'ageing' or 'disabled' people. It's is contemporary dance for people. It is the dance that is the important thing, not the age. It is dance for everyone.

2. Praise, appreciation and encouragement are common - but never age or ability related. I don't think I've ever been 'complimented' at Dugout with the proviso "for a wheelchair user" nor heard a compliment tagged with "for your age". Each dancers style of movement is appreciated on its own merit, as legitimate dance rather than 'a good attempt but of course it's inferior due to your age/condition'. (OK, people probably don't actually say that, but it can feel like it's implied or subconsciously believed.)

3. Although technique is sometimes formally taught, it isn't so that everyone moves exactly the same, nor is it to 'correct' errors, it is so that we can build on our natural movement so our dance becomes better. Not about judging but about dancing. And even here, we adapt where we want to.

4. Everyone adapts. So even though your adaptation might be unique, it's a total non-issue because everyone else's is too. 

5. Instructions contain permission to be different. One of the standard phrases is "Sitting, standing or lying, I want you to....." - No pressure to do things you aren't comfortable with. Which slightly ironically makes me more likely to try challenging things - I feel secure, and if I fail it's no big deal.

6. Sitting out when you can't do something is rare. It sometimes happens due to injury or fatigue, but the norm is to adapt. Can't get down to sit on the floor today? - no big deal, sit on a chair, or stand. Feel to wobbly for jumps today? - no big deal, use the upper body to convey the feel of it, or bend the knees and then straighten them so you 'rise' - or do whatever works for you. I've even spent the majority of a class lying down because I was too tired to dance sitting up - but I was still dancing, still moving, still simply a part of the class. I have never heard an adaptation belittled. Usually they pass as an unremarked normal, although sometimes Cecilia calls out "Brilliant adaptation there!"

There was one particular time I remember clearly. I'd had a pretty rough day so was feeling quite fragile. One of our older dancers was feeling very fragile too. I pootled along dipping in and out of the dance as I felt able to. At the end we were in a circle, dancing. He sat on a chair - joining in a little. I was sat on the floor. Most people were standing. Both of us were close to having run out of energy I think - so we danced together, small and slow. Small hand movements, - connecting through arms or gentle touch, no travelling, lots of pauses in comfortable poses - still dance, and unremarked in the environment of adaptation and acceptance that is so strong at Dugout, but also dance and movement that wouldn't have been possible in the average dance class. It was dance and movement that worked for us and was totally 'part' of the wider class whilst also being very different. Still directed by the class instructions, but not dictated by them.

Perhaps that is the key. That instead of instructions being seen as laws that must be followed or you fail, everyone there feels guided by them and supported in finding their way of moving.

This gives me freedom to move with confidence and without fear of getting it wrong. Because in our dance group, there is no 'wrong'.

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