Taking dance to people who need it most as lockdown continues

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020 our Welcome Project was in full swing, taking tea dances, street dance and salsa to people in nurseries, youth centres and care homes in the Tarner area surrounding The Dance Space site.

Open Strings at Brooke Mead

While Lockdown # 1 brought this to an abrupt halt, our Creative Communities Managers Luan Taylor and Lauren Proto, who are the driving force behind the Welcome Project, were determined not to lose touch with participants. 

At Brooke Mead Extra Care Facility, where residents have been in isolation in their apartments for months, Luan and her Assistant Louisa have been sending staff and residents regular dance-themed care packages. Read more about that here. And more recently, before lockdown # 2 restrictions were introduced, Luan has been collaborating with Open Strings to bring socially distanced music and movement to residents from their courtyard.

“Guided movement sessions were accompanied by live music provided by a cello, guitar and ukulele player,” explains Luan. “The residents absolutely loved them and would put in requests for their favourite songs. We even saw neighbours in surrounding flats join in, hanging out of their windows, whooping and clapping – it felt like a lovely unifying event for everyone.”

With many of our partners including Puffin Nursery, Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project and Brighton Youth Centre, partially or completely closing during lockdown, dance classes had to move online. Mindful that not everyone has access to the internet, we were so grateful to Sussex Community Foundation and Brandwatch for funds and donations that allowed us to offer participants the use of ipads and laptops to access their classes. This has been invaluable in helping us stay in touch with the people we work with, whilst helping them carry on moving, and feel connected to the world.

To help keep the little ones at Puffin Nursery active we commissioned dance artist Amy Toner to create pre-recorded weekly dance sessions particularly with the nursery children in mind. These free sessions were also shared with the more than 300 families who access Tarner Children’s Centre; as well as over 200 families receiving emergency food parcels via the Black & Minority Ethnic Community Partnership and Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project. These films are still available, so if you know a two to five year old who might enjoy a boogie, have a look.

Sadly, during lockdown #1, the much-loved Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project had to temporarily close, being transformed instead into a much-needed emergency food bank delivering to over 100 families in the area. We wanted to stay connected with our friends that use the centre, so we have been working with Federico Bedoya whose Salsa classes had been a major hit pre-lockdown, to create an online class especially for them. Information about the classes was included as part of the emergency food parcels, in the hope that we could offer some food for the soul to participants. 

At Brighton Youth Centre, we’re working with dance teacher Rochelle Rekowski-Donovan to provide a weekly, live online class for mASCot, a parent-led support network for families with a child or children with an Autism Spectrum Condition. These is a lifeline in connecting with this group of young people, who are enjoying expressing themselves and learning some new street dance moves. 

Mimi Banks, Project Manager for the mASCot network, told us: “One participant has been hit hard by lockdown and struggling with mental health - her mum was so pleased that she took part as she hasn’t interacted with anybody outside of the family for the past three months. Thank you, this is making a difference”.

Our brilliant Welcome Project Steering Group have been busy working with our Artistic Director Cath James to help curate our online screen dance festival 2020 Vision. Cath says: “It’s been fun and really inspiring to work with the group in this way, and I love the films they’ve chosen as they say so much about how many of us are feeling at this time. Watch the Steering Group’s 2020 Vision picks here:

With lockdown # 2 underway, we’re thinking again about how we can stay connected with our friends in Tarner. Lauren Proto says: “With the crackle of winter in the air, people need to stay moving and keep connected more than ever. We’ve started speaking to some amazing artists who will be flexing their creative muscles to get us all moving online in run up to Christmas and beyond. So watch this space!”