By Ian Russell (Retired Not Tired participant)
On Friday 7th February I attended Trinity Laban and the Older People’s Arts Network’s Specialist Training Day Older and Wiser. This one-day mini conference was offered to creative practitioners interested in working with older people. Kate Wakeling (Trinity Laban Research Fellow on the Retired Not Tired programme) invited me to join her in a Q&A about Dance for Health and All Singing and Dancing. My partner and I are participants in both, and before I retired I was a creative practitioner (and may be again!)
Can you tell us a bit about how you first got involved with ‘Dance for Health’ and ‘All Singing and Dancing’? What were you looking for / expecting?
My partner had brain surgery in 2004 and after a time had to retire early. I caught her up as soon as I could, so we’re both only just “older people”. When Sheila pressed me to find somewhere we could dance I wondered whether Trinity Laban might have anything for us. The very day I looked on the website was also the first day of Dance for Health and when we saw All Singing All Dancing we thought we’d go to that too.
We knew about dance at Trinity Laban because our daughter had danced with the Youth Dance group. As a primary teacher (and later a music specialist) I had very much appreciated the opportunities I had to attend showcases of Trinity Laban dance practitioners’ work with children. We knew what special work is being done on Trinity Laban’s Learning and Participation programmes and our expectation that we would be making art that is fresh and contemporary has certainly been met.
How would you describe the kinds of activities that take place at the two groups?
In both groups the practitioners take great care to help us warm up our bodies (and our voices) and to avoid discomfort and strain.
At Dance for Health Stella often teaches us sequences of movements and we make use of these in longer dance pieces. A good deal of the time we invent movements in response to tasks she sets us and to the feedback she provides. We do this alone, in pairs and in groups.
At All Singing All Dancing Maria works in a similar way and, additionally, vocalization and body percussion are a part of our dance vocabulary. Natasha’s approach to voice work also emphasizes the voice in the body. We have sung songs from different genres with lots of encouragement to shape an arrangement and to think about how we use our voices and other musical resources. We have invented and shaped our own vocal pieces.
What do you get from attending the groups? (i.e. what keeps you coming back?)
Dancing was mainly a “spectator sport” for me (but Sheila has always danced). I wanted to do new things after I retired and exploring how my body works and how I can use my body expressively has been a very welcome nearly new experience. I’ve also very much appreciated mixing dancing and music making; I think these are too often separated (other cultures do much better).
How would you characterise the way the two groups you attend are run?
I’ll answer this question in a different way: “How do you run a group?” is – of course – a key question for (prospective) practitioners.
For convenience I’ll talk about music groups, but similar things could be said about any arts group. A group will attract individuals with very different experiences. To elaborate just a little – they may have been and may still be active musicians in one or several genres; they may be listeners, chiefly, with particular musical preferences, perhaps with little experience of making music.
So, some of things a practitioner needs are as follows:
- To have well thought out plans for a sequence of sessions, but also to expect to get to know the strengths and expectations of the participants, and to signal this intention;
- Also to seek and respond to feedback BUT talk straight about her responsibility for (and experience in) leading activities that are satisfying for the group as a whole. It’s not a good idea to create the expectation that each individual will get everything s/he asks for;
- To signal the expectation that the group will develop its own particular way of working, with twists and turns along the way, but also to share objectives so that if the activity in any one session isn’t satisfying in itself then participants know where it’s heading.
What would you say have been particular high points of being involved in the programme?
I think it’s very significant that Trinity Laban have employed Kate to research the Retired Not Tired programme. We get a strong message from the practitioners themselves, but Kate’s work reminds us that the people running the Learning and Participation programme are also reflective practitioners who want to hear our voices and are open to the feedback she helps us to offer.
One of my goals in dancing myself is to gain more insight into the dance that I pay to watch. Developing a critical response to our own work and process – attending to issues of quality – is very rewarding in itself and also helps me to get more from the dance performances we like to attend.
It’s also been very stimulating to watch and learn from such experienced practitioners as they negotiate the complex issues I outlined and give us such good time.