'It's a time for just dance. Not to worry about anything else. It is such good therapy. I look forward to it every week. The happy go lucky nature of it and interaction keeps you young.'
We have been incredibly grateful to work with partners with such a huge range of experience and expertise. They helped us think about the kinds of dance activities that would appeal most to the people they work with.
As a result, we were able to create a programme of dance and movement activities including pop-up and taster sessions, performance opportunities, regular classes, and social events based around dance styles including salsa, street dance, bollywood, contemporary dance, capoeira, tap, charleston, and South Asian dance. All activity was free to take part in and was designed to motivate people to be more active, feel better both mentally and physically, and help those who participated to build a relationship with dance.
We set up a Community Steering Group in 2018, made up of people connected to Tarner; either because they live there, or use the services of our partners, or because they have a relationship with The Dance Space as an artist.
The group has been crucial in helping us understand the kinds of dance activities people might like to get involved in, and in finding ways to help make these activities as easy to attend as possible.
They’ve also volunteered at events, encouraging people to take part in activities and, crucially, their decisions have shaped the programme at our annual festival of dance, Our City Dances.
At the moment, 12 committed members from different backgrounds make up the group, ranging in age from young people in their teens to members over 80 years old - many of them have been involved since the group was set up almost three years ago.
One member told us: ‘Being a Steering Group member is wonderful, I think of dance now as a medium to reach out to so many people and groups that I hadn’t thought of before. My hope for the Steering Group is that we can ensure everybody has the opportunity to be included in The Dance Space’s future and when it opens I hope it becomes a beacon of dance excellence that excludes no one.’
At Puffin Community Nursery, we brought dance artists together with the children to use dance and movement to bring to life some of the topics the nursery was already exploring with the children. This included exploring the Brazilian art form of capoeira with Amazonas Arts as part of the nursery’s focus on exploring different cultures from around the world.
Puffin Nursery’s Manager, Tracy Fernley-Jones, said of The Welcome Project:
‘I think the main changes I’ve seen are in terms of the children’s confidence. I think the thing that I notice is that the things they do always exceed my expectations. You go along thinking “They might be able to do this” or “They might do a bit of that” and then some of the things that they are able to achieve and they get so much pleasure out of achieving it that their own confidence grows. They then enjoy the activities even more because they feel that they are getting something out of it. Seeing them blossom and grow in confidence and realise that this is something that they can do.’
‘My expectations have been exceeded at every level. I had the idea of not wanting it to go on for more than a few months, a year. We have done three years and we are still getting more and more out of it. The idea that this would be something that would interest them for a short time. No, it has grown bigger and it is better all the time.’
During the first lockdown in 2020, we commissioned dance artist Amy Toner to run online weekly dance classes for the children who were stuck indoors. We also commissioned dance artist Federico Bedoya to run online salsa classes to help get our friends in Tarner moving. We shared these as widely as we could – with families whose children attend Puffin Nursery, more than 300 families who use Tarner Children’s Centre, and more than 200 families who were receiving emergency food bank parcels via the Black & Minority Ethnic Community Partnership (BMECP) and Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project (BUCFP). We were surprised and thrilled that over 250 people logged in and took part in them.
At Brighton Youth Centre we experimented with different ways to encourage the young people using the centre to get involved, including flash mobs, taster sessions, pop-up workshops and weekly street dance classes featuring artists and genres such as:
- Parkour with Janine Fletcher
- Salsa with Federico Bedoya
- Tango with Ana Alvarez
- Street dance with Ellie Bishop (Project Female)
- Puppetry and dance with Ester Natzijl
- Tap dance with Lee Payne
- Charleston with My Charleston
- Dance & comedy with Avis Cockbill
- South Asian dance and bharatanatyam with Anusha Subramaniyam
Hannah Coxeter, Youth Worker at Brighton Youth Centre (BYC), told us: ‘Our partnership with South East Dance has allowed us to offer a wide range of dance forms to many young people across Brighton. The dance pop-ups, in particular, have helped to make dance a key aspect of our regular programme. This would not have been possible without South East Dance’s knowledge and expertise; they managed to find a pool of dance practitioners who are not only experts in their field but who can also engage and communicate confidently with young people.’
At Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project (BUCFP), we ran pop-up dance performances and workshops in styles from capoeira and salsa to charleston and tango. Our regular salsa class with Federico Bedoya proved the most popular, with 31 people taking part in 2017 at the beginning of the programme, rising to more than 470 by the end of 2020.
'South East Dance have removed any sense of dance being elitist or exclusive. I recall seeing carers dancing together at an event, laughing and smiling.'
Joy Rigby, Families Project Co-ordinator at Brighton Unemployed Families Centre Project, told us: ‘I wasn’t sure of my expectations, I just thought it would be a great idea to try to bring something new to people here, give them a chance to maybe get involved in something they could not necessarily afford to do, because quite often when you go to do dance it is quite an expensive thing to do. The things that came in, like the pop-up, were brilliant because it would come just after lunch, it was our busiest time…it was really good fun and people did get up and get involved with that.
‘Now we have our regular dance class with Federico doing salsa classes and again that was slow to start but now there is a regular group of people who come to that. I think it enables people to have a chance to do things they wouldn't necessarily get the chance to.’
To help the residents of Brooke Mead Extra Care Facility feel more confident in having a go, the Community Steering Group recruited older people from the nearby Sheltered Housing scheme at Leach Court and from the wider community in Brighton & Hove to act as Peer Motivators. People like Marge and Athina from Leach Court and Lisa and Vicki from Three Score Dance, who generously volunteered their time to encourage and motivate the older people with dementia to take part.
Activities at Brooke Mead included a 20-week dance programme called Dance To Your Own Tune; a series of themed workshops created by a dance and reminiscence specialist to help trigger memories, inspire movement and create connections between the residents. In the first three years of The Welcome Project, Brooke Mead residents took part in these activities more than 650 times.
One participant from a neighbouring sheltered housing scheme told us: ‘It is a time for just dance. Not to worry about anything else. It is such good therapy. I look forward to it every week. The happy go lucky nature of it and interaction keeps you young.’
Peter Huntbach, Older People’s Housing Manager at Brighton & Hove City Council, said: ‘The positive impact is clear from the involvement of our residents and staff in all the activities, and the feedback we’ve received. We knew that dance could be a valuable asset in bringing people together, but could not have imagined just how beneficial this would be. Residents come alive at events, even those with complex needs. I recall seeing carers dancing together at an event, laughing and smiling; given how tough care roles can be, the benefit clearly extended beyond service users and has enhanced staff wellbeing.
‘South East Dance have removed any sense of dance being elitist or exclusive. They actively helped break down the barriers as to what activities people living with dementia would enjoy, and the value of dance as a means of personal expression for everyone whatever their background. I am amazed by the dedication and commitment of the team, who all work tirelessly to bring events to fruition. I’ve worked with many organisations over the years and in a short period, South East Dance has become one of our key trusted partners.’
Perhaps one of the most ambitious programmes to come out of The Welcome Project is our flagship Our City Dances festival – an annual celebration of dance co-curated by the Community Steering Group. Launched in 2018, in partnership with Tarner Community Project and AudioActive, with a break in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, each festival has presented a mixture of dance performances and workshops for all ages from belly dance and hula hooping, to charleston and bollywood. The first two festivals alone welcomed a total of 5,570 people.
From September 2017 – September 2020, people attended more than 7,250 The Welcome Project events and activities. This included:
- 1,643 people took part in The Welcome Project activities, including 908 from the target groups we set out to reach
- Our The Welcome Project team provided 3,462 opportunities for people to engange in regular dance classes– including 165 young people; 159 children under five; and 28 older people living with dementia
- 5,570 people came along to Our City Dances in 2018 and 2019
- During the 2018 and 2019 festivals, 553 opportunities to take part in dance activities were created
- 45 volunteers were involved
- Dance activities featured 16 different genres from Bollywood to Tango
Based on the data and feedback from artists, partners, participants, audiences and our staff, it is clear that as a result of taking part in The Welcome Project many people have felt more confident, less isolated and have experienced better overall wellbeing.