Back

Reimagining dance: creating an inclusive dance community online

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK, our dancers were hugely impacted. icandance celebrates difference in disabled children and young people through dance and performance. We offer weekly dance sessions for ages 5 to 25 years old with varying disabilities through a unique approach which integrates tools from Dance, Education and Dance Movement Psychotherapy. All our work is enhanced through touch. 

At first it seemed unimaginable to translate our approach, which relies on physical interventions, to a diluted online version. However, not doing anything felt just as impossible. Motivated to reassure our community that they were not forgotten we began to rebuild new ways of connecting. Teaching online and through recordings allowed us to delve deeper to understand our approach as we embodied being reflective practitioners who are comfortable with change. Working online would not and cannot be the same as in person and should not be measured as such. It offered us and our community a new way of being together and the results were fascinating. Producing a dynamic cycle of planning, delivering, reflecting, and reshaping allowed us to identify core areas of learning when offering an inclusive online practice.

Here are some ways that we reimagined dance and created an online dance community. 

Supporting our team: 

The pandemic offered us all the opportunity to experience a challenge together. Whilst we experienced it differently, we could relate to the day to day feelings of being in lockdown and managing the pandemic. The icandance team felt the challenges alongside our families and so team connection and wellbeing was the first step to connecting with our community. We took time to explore and support each other’s fears and ideas of moving forward online. 

We explored what it felt like to be a community. Though we were now online the feelings remained the same. A creative Community is……..

Here are some thoughts from the team on trying a new way of dancing together: 

"When faced with the pandemic I knew icandance needed to adapt but was unsure if it was possible as the icandance work is all about body and connection. The adaptation has been amazing, and as it was pointed out at some point, the organisation is not reactive but responsive. Therefore, everything was well thought out and in this way, icandance kept the high-quality of their service. The adaptation has surpassed all the expectations! I feel that I have been gaining new skills, I also feel more connected to the team and the dancers. It doesn't stop to amaze me how the children and young people have adapted so quickly, and in some cases, the zoom classes allowed them to enhance their expression and connection to their bodies and icandance." Maria 

"Looking back at the transition to online sessions I am amazed by the children’s ability to continue to develop their dance vocabulary, their friendships and their confidence by seeing each other on a digital screen! After my initial resistance about facilitating our sessions online, I have now fully embraced it and look forward to the sessions each week." Annemarie 

"The pandemic had caused me to face uncertainty, professionally and mentally. I felt unsure of the path to know how to work online with children and disabilities. At first, I wanted to avoid it.  But after allowing my fears to settle, I recognised the only thing we really have is the right now. Embracing this uncertainty, and working with the children and their families, I am enjoying the beauty and possibilities that has become. I have learnt when nothing is certain, anything is possible!" Fiona

Safeguarding is paramount

Physical and emotional safety required new policies, training, and roles in the team. Team training on working online and safeguarding was crucial before any work could begin. 

Identifying the needs of the dancer

The dancers’ needs are at the centre of our approach. We established first what was possible for each dancer and remined them that they were missed. Each family received contact to discuss about how they would be able to engage online. 

We use recorded messages from the whole team as well as personalised messages to each dancer. This was to help them feel connected and comfortable with seeing the team online. 

We created a #stayhomeanddance message to share. Visit it here: 

You can find some more of our dancing at home sessions on our youtube channel

Meeting the needs of the dancer

Meeting their needs starts with us and how we adapt our teaching to make dance accessible. We look at ways to adapt our thinking and working. This included ways of using our bodies on zoom and to make sure team members were able to model accurately for various needs. We welcomed feedback from families and followed sessions with communication about what worked and what didn’t for each dancer. In the pictures below you can see the team members (wearing black icandance t-shirts) modelling the movements in various ways to meet the needs of different dancers. 

The family as dancing partner 

Families danced along supporting their engagement. This required guidance from us on how best to work with their dancer. We loved seeing the families dance together and the stories they created. We hope to continue dancing together as families beyond COVID. 

Families shared their views on what the online experience was like: 

"She really loves the sessions and is excited for quite some time after each Saturday class, so a big thank you to you and all the team for doing them."

"He is really loving his icandance sessions and it’s so lovely to see him so engaged with people other than us, especially in such unusual circumstances. He always surprises me with how incredible adaptable he can be."

"Thanks so much for everything that you are doing, your team is always so positive and it really does feel like you are in the room with him."

"It really helps him staying in contact with the world outside, with the things he used to enjoy the most and still feeling part of the icandance community."

"She really enjoys icandance online as it has lifted the pressure of schoolwork and being away from her friends."

Home is their theatre

Stories, toys, and props became part of the dance experience which enriched creativity. We used what the dancers had around them to create a theatre experience. Dishtowels became scarves and soft toys became dancing partners. Together we recreated a home theatre that invited us in whilst being apart. We created performance opportunities within the walls of each dancer’s home and for our community to celebrate together. 

Our Youth Dance Company created an online performance called,’Dance of Hope’. They worked on this through the pandemic creating a way of connecting and developing throughout this difficult time. View their amazing dance here: 

We celebrated the end of our term by having a Family Dance Party which was a wonderful celebration. 

Final thoughts: 

Engagement online was higher than expected and the experience felt rich and rewarding. Unfortunately, we were not able to engage everyone and continue to look at what more can be done to meet the needs of all our dancers. Whilst we identified many areas of learning the key ingredient was relationship. The relationship we shared with each dancer and the relationship they valued with their peers. They wanted to be seen by each other most of all and to be reminded of a community of which they are part of. The online work allowed us to draw closer and not further apart as well as offering new ways of engaging that we will carry forward beyond the pandemic. The pandemic highlighted that working inclusively is not just a skill for making dance possible for all but a skill necessary for life. Inclusive practice is the ability to adapt, respond, reshape, and recreate. Vital skills needed for all as we move ahead in a world that is ever changing. Approaching difference whether it is dancing online, dancing outside, or working with social distancing in place requires an ability to adapt, reflect and most of all, to believe that reimagining dance is possible.

To find out more of what we can offer your family or organisation please contact Juliet directly on juliet@icandance.org.uk

Join our community by following icandanceuk on instagram, facebook, twitter and youtube or visit www.icandance.org.uk 
 

Written by: Juliet Diener, Founder & CEO icandance