Following a significant research and development period, our exciting AWARD-WINNING family dance programme has proven that creative dance can help to reduce social isolation amongst children aged 0-5 years and their parents and carers and contribute to building physical and social confidence in children to get them ready for their first years at primary school.
Since becoming winners of the Essex Prize Challenge in April 2017, The Dance Network Association has been funded additionally by London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and The Broadway Theatre to deliver ‘Active Families’, a dance participation project aimed at a wide range of children with their adults over the last 12 months. Centrally located at The Broadway Theatre with weekly sessions from April 2017 to March 2018, we met 31 families coming from different backgrounds, ethnicities and previous experiences of dance to widen their awareness of dance and its role in healthful behaviours.
Delivered by dance artist Louise Klarnett, the project was designed to encourage families to try dance out as a way of keeping fit and meeting other like-minded young families in the Borough. Whilst the aim of the sessions was to encourage creative dance movement alongside developing basic motor skills and fostering independent thinking, we also found that the work can help families connect to others and build confidence for all involved. By giving time for the children and adults to develop social relationships amongst themselves and with new family groups, we have been able to demonstrate that dance can bring together groups of people to connect and interact with other people in ways that previously wouldn’t have been possible.
“We have met new friends here as well as meeting old friends too. My child is connected here, he knows that we are going dancing, and he is excited. He wants to move, he practises at home and he makes me join in. And when we get here he squeals, he’s happy and content, he wants to play and join in. It’s an absolute pleasure to see him growing his own relationships, and for me to meet others who are having the same experiences of bringing up a child that I am.” Parent
Intrinsic to families connecting with each other has been to ensure that the content of the sessions is based on movement play – open-ended structures in which children and adults alike can play, explore and develop their physical and social confidence. Using props, rhymes, moving big and small, repeating activity and placing an emphasis on enjoyment and fun have been key to helping families build their dancing community and with that has come a spirit of trust and non-judgement amongst all involved. Even small physical and cognitive developments were noticed and celebrated, and so confidence amongst all the dancers, has blossomed to create a vibrant, open-minded group which are drawn together by their love of dancing. And at the end of the sessions the all-important group time where we have snacks, colouring, tea and coffee allows everyone to socialise more, set up play dates and feel supported.
Our findings suggest that creative dance has the ability to bring people together to feel emotionally, physically and mentally connected. In engaging with dance, participants’ confidence in moving and interacting can grow, one’s sense of connectedness may feel more rooted and so overall health and wellbeing can flourish too. You can see more by reading our research report:
Film Documentary and the ‘Active Families’ Programme at the Broadways Theatre has been funded by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and supported by The Broadway Theatre.
We would also like to thank Explore Culture at Essex County Council, Active Essex, and Families Included Prize. Without their additional support of our wider family dance research across greater Essex the dance programmes would not be possible for The Dance Network to produce.