Pilot scheme aims to use dancing to reduce falls of elderly

Helen Brown at the Dance to Health session at the Redbridge Jewish Community Centre

Helen Brown at the Dance to Health session at the Redbridge Jewish Community Centre - Credit: Archant

“You move it or you lose it.” In the studio of a busy day centre, a group of people aged over 60 are dancing – putting their balancing skills to the test and improving their confidence one step at a time.

Although this looks like a regular class, it is one of six pilot schemes across the UK under the Dance to Health project, which uses creative movement as a means to reduce the risk of older people having falls.

And the participants at the Redbridge Jewish Community Centre, all novices, have been having an absolute ball.

“When the years go by you actually get stiffer – you get stiffer in the mind and I think you get stiffer in the body.

“This is an opportunity to loosen yourself up,” said 64-year-old Susan Sidloff, of Gants Hill.

“I love music and I love dancing.

“It’s different and it’s fun and it makes you feel better about yourself.”

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Dance to Health was developed by the Arts Enterprise with a Social Purpose charity (Aesop) and designed in partnership with three dance groups, including East London Dance, based in Stratford.

At the community centre, the six-month pilot is coming to an end, having been running twice a week since August.

Conclusions are now being drawn as to whether it should be rolled out nationally.

According to Aesop, falls cost the NHS £2.3billion a year.

During the class, participants stretch, balance and strengthen their core muscles through learning short routines.

Instructor Danielle Teale, from East London Dance, said: “The whole point of the delivery style of the class is to have high expectations, so people feel there is nothing in the room they can’t do because teachers believe they can do it.”

Mariane Conway, 77, of Redbridge, who walks with the aid of a stick and has a pacemaker, said: “It felt like we achieved something in class and I was able to do it.

“We are never quite sure of what we are going to be doing next.”

When asked if she believed the class would reduce her chances of falling, a smiling Mariane said: “One hopes.”

“It doesn’t feel like exercise and it just feels like fun,” added Helen Brown, 69, of Redbridge, who said she feels “more confident” since joining the class in the summer.

“The teachers are inspiring – they are a joy, an absolute joy,” she said.

Talking about the benefits of the routines, Susan told the Recorder they help the participants to “stay loose” and improve their balance.

She added: “When you are confident you are not scared of falling, but the more scared you are of moving the less you end up moving.”

Danielle told the members they had improved beyond their imagining and said movements they found difficult at the beginning of the scheme had become “normal”.

Earlier this month, the group performed a 10-minute routine with members of the two other London pilot schemes in front of almost 500 people at the Southbank Centre, central London, for the first National Arts in Health Conference and Showcase.

“I would never believe I would end up doing something like that – when people applauded it was euphoric and it really lifted you up,” said Helen.

“It was truly unreal.”