Dancing with Parkinson's in Practice, Symposium round-up

Last week, with an international audience of over 75 guests, I was delighted to host and present the first Dancing with Parkinson’s in Practice symposium in collaboration with the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN) and Institute for Neurology.

The symposium was opened by colleague and friend David Leventhal, Founding teacher and Director of Dance for PD, who generously shared his thoughts on the practice of telling stories - we have to honour the real stories and find ways to share them… This set the tone for the evening and the values of our programme, which champions the voices of people with Parkinson’s and puts their stories at the centre of the practice.

Stories need telling, for which you need language, and words only go so far – most of life takes place well beyond the reach of words. Words can convey inner states, but they are always about things, they are not the thing itself - all this evening’s talk about dance is not actual dance. For me, the value in dance class is learning an expressive art - a creative language for both Body and Being, good for exploring and expressing things deeper than words
— Leslie Mapp (dancer with Parkinson’s)

The evening followed with presentations from Danielle Teale, artistic initiator of Dancing with Parkinson’s, and Ben Beare, research Physiotherapist and collaborator for the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery programme. Teale and Beare have been working together on a pilot research for the programme, and the presentation was an honest insight into the challenges of researching dance, and the pitfalls of data capture measures. Teale and Beare are continuing their research partnership and exploring new approaches in the continued programme from May 2019.

The main event of the evening was an opportunity to hear from our expert panel of dancers with Parkinson’s. Chaired by Alison Williams, who sits on the Dance for Parkinson’s Partnership UK Steering Group, and is a dancer with Scottish Ballet’s Dance for Parkinson’s Programme in Edinburgh.

For me, although the studio space is wonderful and full of light, the emotional and spiritual space of the class is equally important. The teachers create it, and our volunteers support it, and the dancers co-create it as well.
— Alison Williams (dancer with Parkinson's)
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Dancer Leslie Mapp who is a long standing member of Danielle Teale Dance, Dancing with Parkinson’s in Hackney at St. Joseph’s Hospice, gave a moving speech about the power of dancing and a true insight into the experience of a dancer with Parkinson’s. You can read an abridged version of this on the blog from a previous entry: Swan Song

As the disease progresses, you do learn new words - from medicine, from psychology, from statistics - but none successfully conveys the profound depths of the experience. It’s inexpressible in words, it needs speaking not just speaking about. Which is why the particular combination of music, choreography and infectious enthusiasm that Danielle brings to her classes is so rewarding.

Not only does it provide me with physical exercise for the movement disorder, it also provides me with a language for directly expressing my new persona as a person with Parkinson’s. And I’m learning the best way, immersed in company with native speakers. Everyone in the class is fluent in either Parkinson’s or dance, and we’re all learning from each other. Sure, I’d get the same physical workout from the gym, but most probably in an atmosphere of conflict and competition – refuse those limitations, fight that disease. Now that Parkinson’s and I are inseparable, I prefer the gentler language that dance speaks, one of working together, of exploring and expressing just who I am right now - in a language of collaboration, imagination, self.
— Leslie Mapp (dancer with Parkinson's)

Then the remaining panel, dancers Anne Prest, Steve Harris and Angie Heathfield, were invited to speak about their experiences - why dance, what keeps you coming, does the space affect your experience, what is important to you about leadership… all these questions opened a valuable dialogue between audience and dancers about their experience and what we can learn from them.

The Dancing with Parkinson’s programme at National Hospital for Neurology continues in May 2019 with regular classes and research taking place, funded by the National Brain Appeal. Keep in touch with us for more information and sign up to our newsletter for regular updates.

aep skills exchange: group, individual, autonomy and leadership

News from the aep...

Ensemble and collectivity

On Skills Exchange Day 3, Hannah Robertshaw and Danielle Teale collaborated to deliver a workshop exploring their joint interest of collectivity and ensemble from very different perspectives. 

Hannah shared her thoughts on the ensemble as a uniting concept in which dancers communicate through shared action. 

In my workshop I shared the working processed behind my research with people with Parkinson's. The Collectivity and Intimacy project was developed out of a curiosity for the teaching method of collectivity which is used in dance for Parkinson's to make best use of mirror neurons and external cueing, which is a highly researched and a proven tool for supporting people with Parkinson's to move with more fluidity and intention.

My research interrogates this teaching practice and questions whether it can be considered inclusive, as it is led by external direction (either visual, auditory, verbal or tactile) by the artist.

aep skills exchange: objects, stories, people

news from the aep...

Community Dance as Curatorial practice

On the second day of the AEP Skills Exchange, Lizz Fort took us through a practical task to highlight the importance of artistic choices, and how to deliver a session which provides trainee students with a window into the values of community dance, creative practice and artistry. In her own words she shares her thoughts behind the practice:

In my work as a dance teacher educator, as trainee teachers journey from dancer to teacher/facilitator, I feel strongly that they see themselves as artists in their teaching practice before they develop the skills to host creative dance activities with others.  The activity I hosted at the AEP is one way that I start this conversation. In addition, I wanted to open up a discussion with the other artists about my current interest in rethinking community dance as a curatorial practice, an idea I have been formulating for a PhD research proposal. The ‘object-writing-hand phrase activity’ seemed well suited to achieve both of these objectives.

aep skills exchange: the role of the artist

news from the aep...

holding the space

To begin the Skills' Exchange, I delivered a workshop which illuminated some of the concepts and thoughts that have led to this week. Most importantly, to highlight the different roles that are held by the artist in a creative situation, and how and why these roles are important.

By taking away the leadership figure, I set up a workshop environment in which boundaryless play could evolve, and the dancers were free to interpret their environment as they choose. The resources, the space, the music, the text based instructions and the other bodys in the space were available as markers to hold the space and provide inspiration but fundamentally the creative interpretation of the dancers was unstructured and unguided...

aep skills exchange: the listening approach

news from the aep...

identity and relationality

Today Katie Green offered a short practical session through which she shared her thoughts and enabled us to explore a ‘listening approach’ to directing. In her own words she shares the thoughts behind her practice practice...

By ‘listening approach’, I mean that I wanted to reflect on the ways in which I had, over time, integrated my experience working with a mentor and being a mentor myself into my experience directing groups of people (including both professionals and non-professionals) in a choreographic context. For me this means facilitating a working environment or ‘holding a space’ in which other people feel free to create their best work, rather than one that is explicitly about me and my process; the idea being that if I can guide people to create something that is as much from them as from me, it will have more integrity, it will say what it is intended to say more deeply or fully because it is not only about me and my agenda; it is about people more universally, and about what it means to be human