This summer, I’m collaborating with Poplar Union to begin the Dancing with Parkinson’s Company. In this short piece I wanted to outline the ambitions of the project and my journey so far…
It’s really exciting to be at this point, sharing the ideas for our Dancing with Parkinson’s Company at Poplar Union, as the seed was first planted when Poplar Union was only just opening. I had begun developing my Dancing with Parkinson’s programme with other partners and was establishing classes in the community – the first of which was in Hackney with St. Joseph’s Hospice – when I first met with Beth Watton over two years ago at Poplar Union. I wanted to develop two strands to my work; a classes programme, and a performance, research and making strand where dancers could take their experience to another level of artistic engagement. From our first meeting, it immediately felt like the right place for this. In the heart of the artistic, east London community, the venue is both welcoming and community focused, as well as cutting edge and forward thinking in their programming. It’s two years later, after having established a successful and flourishing class programme in east London, that this project is finally coming to fruition.
The artistic idea – Collectivity and Identity (CID) – is one that has also taken time and exploration to evolve too, and this time to think and clearly outline an artistic vision as well as a strategy for the programme has been necessary for everyone.
The Dancing with Parkinson’s Company will launch this June, with the CID project – an exciting, artistic experiment; bringing people with Parkinson’s, dancers, musicians, visual artists, guest choreographers, film and photography, together to explore how we identify with ourselves, how we generate self-belief and efficacy, and what dance brings that can harness and increase our awareness of these important areas of emotional intelligence.
Having danced with people with Parkinson’s for over 10 years, I have had the pleasure of taking a circular route, first learning about Parkinson’s in order to effectively lead movement in an inclusive way, then learning from people with Parkinson’s about movement itself, becoming more minutely aware of my own body in space, the value in understanding the rhythm, control, fluidity, and expressivity of dance, making me kinaesthetically more empathic towards others. From there understanding that in a collaborative way, movement exploration with people with Parkinson’s could be far more of a process of discovery, trying, playing, making and creating than merely learning to dance together. I believe ideas that come directly from the lived experience of Parkinson’s are more interesting to explore and share, than ideas that come from expectation, perception or are observed by an outsider. Therefore, my current research which will be part of my PhD with University of Roehampton, has sought initially to understand what is most important about dancing, directly from people with Parkinson’s, through interviews and focus groups with my dancers at St. Joseph’s Hospice, St. George’s Hospital and National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.
Taking the themes of space (physical and imagined); playfulness; collectivity and empathy; identity and self; (which were the most valued and notable themes that emerged in focus groups) as the beginning seeds of this project, we will be researching these together in the process of dancing together. The research happens in the doing – and the reflection and discussion afterwards, enables all voices and experiences to be heard. These themes will also be explored by visual artists making work inspired by what they see in the dance process. This strand of the project comes from a personal belief, that we see ourselves and the possibilities of movement differently, when it is shown to us through the lens of another. Not only will the dancers with Parkinson’s being seeing their own work depicted visually, the viewer will also see the body of dancers with Parkinson’s represented as a muse and subject of art, not defined by the illness of Parkinson’s.
We look forward to sharing the experience with you at an informal sharing that we will hold at Poplar Union in July. The sharing will demonstrate live dance, music and art work created from the CID project, in an informal exhibition format; with a discussion with the artists and dancers also taking place during the day. If you are interested in the project or more information, please do contact me to find out more.
Poplar Union and Danielle Teale are fundraising for the Dancing with Parkinson’s Programme via Space Hive. Please give what you can to this wonderful work by following the link below: https://www.spacehive.com/dancing-with-parkinsons