Focus on Research

Focus on Research

Presented at IADMS (International Association for Dance Medicine and Science) conference in Limerick, 28-31 October 2022

Hard to believe it has already been a year since the collaboration between Russell Maliphant Dance Company and EncoreEast resulted in the beautiful performance of Focus at DanceEast, and yet the life of this project lives on.

Claire Farmer and Helen Laws recently returned from the Emerald Isle having presented some of the research findings from the project to an international audience of dance educators, researchers, scientists and healthcare professionals.

The response was fantastic. We were programmed alongside other researchers interested in dance with older adults and followed an excellent presentation from Dr Ashley McGill discussing appropriate research methods for assessing the benefits of participating in dance. Our mixed-methods, co-designed research was an exemplar of this and delegates, several of whom considered themselves to be ‘older dancers’, were genuinely excited and moved to hear about a project that forefronted the performance aesthetics achieved in a company of mature dancers, over the health outcomes of participating in dance. We were able to show clips from the documentary ( and performance of Focus ( which elicited a quite passionate and, for some, emotional response.

One self-identifying older dancer and researcher gave a heartfelt ‘thank you’, and said that 10 years ago when she started looking at older dancers in her own research she felt like she was “shouting in the wind”. She added “this is so important because the human race is living longer and [older] dancers are more seasoned and smarter than younger dancers … so inspired by this, just keep going … there’s not an expiration date … we’re proving that … just keep moving!”

Other thoughtful questions, inspired by this and fellow presenter Louisa Pett’s research exploring meaningful dance experiences for older adults’ wellbeing, asked:

  • whether we had observed any links between emotional and physical ‘balance’
  • is it time to stop using terms like ‘older bodies’ – older than what? – questioning the dualist interpretation of body and mind
  • do we need to reanalyse the existing ‘physical function’ testing measures used in health settings as so many are based on speed rather than quality of movement – how can researchers write and talk about subtle movement strategies observed that don’t conform to this kind of testing?
  • how is Russell Maliphant’s approach to ‘releasing tensions’ and ‘holding patterns’ in the body experienced by these dancers?

Stella Eldon’s ethnographic research as a ‘participant observer’ on this project will shed further light on these questions, hopefully to be shared in future international conferences and publications.

Helen Laws