Let’s Dance! Supporting people with complex disabilities to be active, develop communication skills and explore their creative sides

A woman holding on to a colourful parachuteI work as a Dance Practitioner at Step Change Studios, which is an inclusive dance company that provides opportunities for people with multiple disabilities to dance. Sense and Step Change Studios have been working together to support people of different ages and abilities to be active and explore their creative, communication and social skills through dance.

The benefits of dance are widely evidenced – not just in terms of physical health but also mental health and wellbeing. For the past few months I have been working with adults with complex disabilities in a Sense residential care home in Walthamstow, London, using music and movement to engage their senses, and promoting social interaction and physical activity through fun, play-based sessions.

These sessions have developed into a playful and creative space in which residents are invited to come as they are, listen to music, and engage with props to help inspire and explore a variety of movement. Props used in the sessions include a parachute, coloured and textured materials, sensory balls, balloons and stretch bands. I recently introduced a drum which a member of the Sense team and I used to emphasise the rhythm of music. The sensation of vibrations from music speakers and drums can be a positive way for residents to connect with the sessions. No session is the same, and I like to constantly explore new ideas and build on people’s engagement, taking different approaches and continuing to learn more about each resident.

Every resident engages in their own way, and I adapt my approach to individual needs and abilities. For example, people respond differently to different props, music, and movement. Over time I have been getting to know what each person’s experience is of their body, how they relate to their environment, and what their different personalities are – all of which informs how we interact. One resident ends up beaming and expresses enjoyment when using her arms to throw a parachute or piece of fabric up and down, or side to side with others. Another resident who is blind, clicks her fingers to the rhythms in the music and expresses pleasure when a balloon is pressed against her shoulders and arms.

Two people standing opposite each other. One of them is holding a pink ball with bumps all aroundWhat I love, is celebrating big achievements of what might seem like little steps but actually represents significant milestones for people. Most recently, one resident began responding positively to the vibration of the music speaker; this was an uplifting moment as it marked important progress in that person’s participation and engagement.

What has been striking in these sessions is the impact of the care team’s contribution, and how their input and engagement with the residents in this creative space has supported their participation and enjoyment of dance. The interactions between Sense staff and residents through dance and movement have helped add another layer to the relationships already established, as they enjoy social activity together.

Two people standing in front of each other holding each other by the hand. One of the people is wearing a glittery blue capeI am really enjoying supporting Sense residents and staff to enjoy dance and am constantly refining my approach, to enable people to develop their full potential. The team have a great, proactive attitude which creates a positive environment for people to flourish. I hope more organisations recognise the value and benefits of dance, in particular for people with complex disabilities.

For more on Step Change Studios visit www.stepchangestudios.com

Find out more about Sense’s Arts, Sports and Wellbeing programmes 

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