Wardipedia – 31. Dance

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Move to the groove


Mental health wards are tough places to be. To work in, to be cared for, to visit. Dance is exuberant, connecting, expressive – a real tonic. Hospitals in Cuba have a head start because the country is alive with music and dance, in the street, on buses and we’d imagine in hospitals too. We Brits are considerably more, um, self-conscious about strutting our stuff, but given the enforced intimacy and exposure of being a patient, they’re only one small tap, grapevine or chasse away from losing themselves in the joy of dance. Simply putting on some dance music that will appeal to a particular group of residents (whether Viennese waltzes or Lady Gaga) can high-kick-start a spontaneous tripping the light fantastic. The Wii has a glorious range of dance styles for all ages and abilities. And given our non-Cubanness, scheduling in regular opportunities for dance helps staff and patients enjoy this as part of the cool ward culture. Parties and other special occasions are perfect for moving those limbs and grooving to the beat.

If sheer pleasure isn’t quite motivating enough, the physical and emotional benefits of dance are compelling, as described below. And if it just isn’t the moment for getting patients up and dancing, it’s worth having some nice dance DVDs for people to watch.

Why does dancing make us feel so good?

“Dance is different from traditional exercise – it’s more social. There’s an external source of music that everyone collectively moves to, so it’s a great opportunity for binding. When you move to certain rhythms, your body becomes synchronised with them, which is great for releasing all kinds of neuro-chemicals, some of which can help to inhibit all those things that make you feel stressed.” Dr Peter Lovatt (PsychologiesMagazine Jan 2012)

Health benefits

Dancing can be a way to stay fit for people of all ages, shapes and sizes. It has a wide range of physical and mental benefits including:

  • Improved condition of the heart and lungs
  • Increased muscular strength, endurance and motor fitness
  • Increased aerobic fitness
  • Improved muscle tone and strength
  • Weight management
  • Stronger bones and reduced risk of osteoporosis
  • Better coordination, agility and flexibility
  • Improved balance and spatial awareness
  • Increased physical confidence
  • Improved mental functioning
  • Improved general and psychological wellbeing
  • Greater self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Better social skills

Dance can:

  • Increase people’s motivation to participate in physical activity and maintain that participation, because they see dance as fun, expressive, non-competitive and sociable
  • Increase people’s physical fitness, strength and abilities, often more effectively than other forms of exercise
  • Assist recovery from illness, reduce pain and the perception of pain
  • Build self-esteem and elevate mood
  • Support people to develop social interactions and encourage them to engage in new social, leisure and physical activities
  • Improve quality of life.

Cool facts, hot feet – a review of the evidence of the health benefits of dance

Spoilt for dance choice

Afro-Caribbean vernacular
Experimental / Freestyle
Hip-hop & Funk
Line and country
Participative  improvisation
Traditional Jazz / African-American vernacular

Ward examples

  • Regular opportunities for dance, appropriate to age and culture (not too much breakdancing for people over 50 or waltzing for teens)
  • Vibrant bunch of dance forms including hiphop, rock and roll and disco
  • Dance Movement students do placements on wards
  • Staff member has undertaken training in armchair exercises for the elderly and frail run by local College
  • Regular jive and salsa sessions take place
  • Staff nurse who is an experienced and qualified dance teacher teaches salsa, street and classical
  • Staff support patients to take part in community facilities, with patients doing everything from Tae Kwondo to ice-skating
  • Funding is obtained from community arts’ organisations
  • Students on dance courses facilitate groups
  • Professional dance companies run community outreach projects
  • Staff make use of dance-related contacts
  • Visitors are welcome to take part!
  • Dance therapy groups are facilitated by the OT
  • Dance activities are highlighted in newsletters
  • Dance exercise DVDs are used
  • Local visiting dancers give performances
  • Dance often spontaneously erupts in the ‘sharing music group’
  • Dance-themed films (i.e Gene Kelly, Michael Jackson) are used to encourage dancing
  • The ward has a good selection of Wii dance games, for example:-
  • Just Dance
  • Just Dance 2
  • Just Dance 3 (Special Edition)
  • Zumba Fitness
  • Dance on Broadway
  • ABBA: You Can Dance
  • Now That’s What I Call Music – Dance and Sing
  • Get Up And Dance
  • Michael Jackson: The Experience.
  • Bank staff are employed on their skill base, an example is one individual who is trained in singing, dancing and drama and consequently has provided a twelve week theatre skills group. Incorporating drama, singing and street dance.
A dance session that uses a large sheet:
  • The sessions began with a warm up exercise. The facilitators start by getting everyone to take hold of a large sheet. This provides structure, eg where to stand, and a platform from which movement could be coordinated and originated. This helps participants to develop confidence in not just their own movements, but in how they move in relation to others.
“It’s about working with staff and patients to help them develop non-verbal ways of communicating with others. This could include eye contact, gesture and touch. Our aim is to help people be more aware of their bodies and how they interact with others – and this is the same for staff and patients.” (Avril Hitman, Artistic Director of Magpie Dance). From here

Patient Examples

  •  I thought I was lazy but it turns out I was just scared I wouldn’t be any good at exercise. That’s why I now love ‘Wake and Shake’ because you can’t really do it wrong!
Some of the Benefits of Circle Dance in Care Homes and Support Settings:-
  • Enjoyment at the time and enjoyment which is able to be recalled – ie creates a buzz.
  • Reduces isolation of users with dementia who tend to be withdrawn
  • Exercise & movement and ‘essential/required’ exercise
  • Reminiscence, Life History, and a tool to link to / develop / refresh other activities
  • Outer enjoyment and inner well-being
  • An activity which benefits younger people with dementia and does not involve conversation for those less able to participate in discussions
  • Couples and relationship sustaining
  • Can be used at Relatives’ Social Events – to engage relatives and families in activities
  • Cultural activity – both users and staff
  • Conversation/contact/friendship encouraged/stimulated between users
  • Helps bond relationships in a group when some are diagnosed with dementia and some are not – ie mixed user groups
  • The impact of the type of music and the circle
  • Links to the recommendations of the National Dementia Strategy (UK)
  • Encourages newer staff to develop their skills and confidence



Categories: Activities, Wardipedia