Yorkshire brings older people together through music and dance

It’s coming on Christmas, as Joni Mitchell famously sang. And here’s how older people in Yorkshire are socialising at this… and other… times of the year. By Jessica Duffy of Leeds Older People’s Forum.

One of the ways we will celebrate Christmas this year in my family is by going to a carol concert. The fun factor about these things (and also the reason I love folk gigs) is that the audience is encouraged to join in. And there’s nothing like belting out a song to cheer the soul!

This year has seen all sorts of creative and arts-based projects involving older people in Yorkshire through the Time to Shine programme. Over 25 of the 100+ projects involved participants in something arts-based – often music and dance.  The important thing for most of them was people’s active engagement.

In Mature Company – the Yorkshire Dance project based in care homes was very clear about this. Care homes often have dance or musical entertainment but it is generally performed at the older people. Yorkshire Dance wanted to observe the value of engaging people through platonic touch: people held hands and danced together, seated or standing and the dance artists were able to adapt activities as sessions progressed. Perhaps most interestingly care home staff really saw the benefits to residents once they had to engage themselves as dance went online during covid lockdowns. You can read about how it worked and their innovative use of Dementia Care mapping to evaluate the what they did.

The CARA project used creative engagement through culture to support older members of the Irish diaspora, this involved music, dance, film and intergenerational work. 

Lychee Red enabled older Chinese residents of Leeds to get together. Part of the project saw members coming together to sing as a choir. There was a lot of nostalgia for this singing and the group also enjoyed the chance to perform together at other older people’s events. Singing together, all wearing their red choir t-shirts, really solidified the group. They also gained a lot of pleasure from being able to share aspects of their culture with other older people in Leeds.

Fever Dosti, a Radio Asian Fever project, trained 26 older people to produce and run community radio programmes aimed at the older community. It was an important part of Fever’s desire to engage all parts of their community so it could serve the widest cross section of South Asian communities in Leeds. They saw age being no barrier for those who wanted to engage in cultural activity and the project gave people skills and confidence.

Both song and dance proved invaluable for a number of small groups looking at working with people to improve both general health and medical conditions.

Ascendance ran specialist workshops as part of Time to Shine, specifically to support people with movement disorders. They ran classes where people were able to benefit from the physical effects of the dance, and which were carefully constructed to offer opportunities to form friendships and provide each other with peer support.

The Sing Aphasia Choir was one of the tools in the armoury of Speak with IT. the choir encouraged people to get together and make friends and helped with their aphasia. (Apparently singing and speaking come from different sides of the brain, and singing can help you make new neural connections).  The Speak With IT choir continues to meet up each year before Christmas to spread some seasonal goodwill, performing at Asda in Wakefield, and in Middleton (Leeds) before Christmas.

D Dance brought Bollywood dancing to a rural, predominantly white suburb in South Leeds. They used the novelty of the activity (for the area) and the input of a professional dancer to draw people in, and deliberately nurtured the social aspects to help create friendships and support across the group. Prior to Covid-19 the group planned to become self-funding, with contributions to room hire, tuition and refreshments paid by those taking part.

I hope you manage to enjoy some music, dance or another creative activity this Christmas, and in the New Year.

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