Dance with a Difference

Dance with a Difference

Anyone and everyone can dance. I’ve always believed this.  All that’s needed is the opportunity and appropriate inspiration. There is plenty of both provided by the Dance for Parkinson’s and ​before the pandemic we were lucky enough to have classes at the Jerwood DanceHouse. Four of us are volunteers – Diego, Pam, Bobbie and me. I don’t think any of us knew what to expect. All we knew was that we were there to support both the tutors and participants and be alert for any potential problems.

The classes are given under the auspices of English National Ballet, but that shouldn’t put anyone off. There’s no need for pointed toes and leotards. In fact, it’s “come as comfortable as you like” as long as you can move. All the tutors are fully trained and we volunteers are also taken through a basic course.

As we take our seats in a circle it’s great to look around and connect with each other; lots of familiar faces and one or two brave newcomers, looking a bit apprehensive. There’s always a musician who somehow manages to accompany every movement with appropriately inspiring music. Though I must say I had a few qualms about Dido’s Lament. ENB’s repertoire concentrates our attention on whatever ballet they have in production. Seated exercising is demanding and is completely absorbing, thanks to the skill of the tutors, who, taking inspiration from the ballets, get us to stretch everything including our imaginations. We’ve been everything from peasants to swans, villains to heroes and a multiplicity of natural phenomena. Often, we’re shown a video clip of the ballet, so we have an idea of what’s coming. There are also “noises off” as vocal cords come into play, testing breathing; many of the sounds produced would not be acceptable in polite society.

Onto our feet and some gentle barre exercises reveal a hidden grace and intense concentration. We are soon using the freedom of the space (pre lockdown and hopefully again soon) to waltz, glide and most enthusiastically, march. We dance with each other in pairs, in groups, in lines and, most importantly, create. For the majority of people this can all feel strange, if not downright alarming. It is totally liberating and gives us all licence to be ourselves – to dance as though no one is watching. I must confess to watching just a little and being amazed. Every class is full of characters who have had and are having, full and interesting lives. There’s always the “naughty boy”. Yes, the men are there. There are those who remember childhood ballet classes and those who never thought they would learn what is meant by plié. 

The final march allows for a brief moment of performance for everyone to express their natural exuberance.  By now no one is self-conscious, we’re all in this together. Being together is inspiring, fun and often surprising.  To finish there is always a circle and a series of moves passed from person to person and finally a taking of hands (when we were allowed to) and a squeeze moves invisibly from one to another. Personally, I am very moved by this and want to thank everyone who’s been there with me.

As an added bonus there have been memorable trips to see whatever ballet is in the repertoire of English National Ballet. Then we can see how we’ve been a very small part of it all in our class.

Thanks are also due to DanceEast and ENB for offering sessions on Zoom. It’s been so good to see familiar faces. Let’s hope we can get together again soon for dancing, tea and chat.

By Jacqueline Marshall-ward