Dancing with a Disability
In the first of her series, Gemma Hirst looks at how dance acts a therapy for the mind, body and soul.
When Marc Brew was seriously injured in a car accident, he naturally thought his career as a dancer was over. He'd spent 20 years with professional troupes but now he is paralysed from the waist down. He couldn't imagine his life without dance. "Dance is who I am. It is a part of my identity."
But years on, he is the founder of the Marc Brew dance company and has many successful performances to his name. Such as MayBe and Fusional Fragments. Fusional Fragments looked into the concept of fusing fragments of life using classical and contemporary dance, investigating whether these elements can be fused together or if they should remain apart.
Marc talked about if he didn't have dance as an art form it would have made it harder to accept his new body "my whole life has been about dance and movement and I have always thought that without dance I can’t do anything else and looking back on my career it is true."
He created a solo piece called For Now, I am that told his story of his car accident which explored what it meant to be broken, reborn, purified and to build a new relationship with a new transformed body which looked at him being paralysed. In creating the piece he has learned more about his body "I have found that I need to communicate and demonstrate through my upper body more rather than standing up on my legs- I need to use my hands and arms more to express myself."
Before the accident Marc had never realised how much dance had an impact on his life "because dance is my profession and it was what I was training to do, I never thought about it as therapy but after my accident I think going through that rediscovery and passion for movement that I had to improve my life did act as a form of therapy but I didn't go into dance with that intention."
This happened to Lauren Watson who was injured in a car accident in 2000, which left her paralysed from the waist down. She had tried using physiotherapy to improve her lifestyle but being stuck in a wheelchair made her unhappy .
Lauren found Ariel performance and thought she would give it a go "it looked really difficult and challenging and it was artistic, creative and fluid and that's when I made up my mind that was what I was going to do."
The aerial performance gave her body awareness and allowed her to explore what her body could and couldn't do "in a way it helped get in tune with my brain and body and after a while I learnt to love it a lot more."
She has also found aerial performance as a way of dealing with her new body, saying "I am much more accepting of my legs being so weak because I don't need them to be perfect for what I do."
Experiencing aerial and performance arts has helped Lauren think about how her muscles work "it can really make you think about how to move certain muscles and it takes away the pressure because you are learning a performing art and art doesn't have to be perfect."
Lauren has had a positive experience using physical performing arts as a way of dealing with her new life and thinks that it can be a great way to keep not only your body but also your mind healthy "my experience has been fantastic and I wish everyone could love it as much as I do. I think having a physical activity really is a great way to recover especially to keep your mind healthy because therapy."
Quite happy that she was able to find this art form of Ariel performance, Lauren is now working on aerial apparatus and collaborations with other aerial performers "I'm not sure what would have happened but I am glad I found it because it's my passion and my life. I can't image life without it now."
Ellie Travis is a Lecturer in Dance Science and has an MSc in Strength and Conditioning and BSc Sports Therapy at Teesside University. She works with the BA Dance performance department as a strength and conditioning coach to develop the dancer's fitness.
She believes that dance can have a number of benefits such as improving stamina, given her confidence when speaking in front of others, strength, stamina, grace, musicality, focus and all round good health as she has experienced this as a dancer.
Ellie has experienced dance as an outlet to help clear the mind as during her primary and secondary school years she had to deal with a family member illness saying "I used classical ballet as a creative outlet to help me forget and focus on something other than a family member's illness. I didn't think of this as a creative outlet then, but looking back I am certain it helped me through and kept me focused."
She also found dance to be a creative outlet during her GCSE and A Level "I do believe dance is a good platform for people to express themselves. At school, I was quiet and just got on with my work, but when I was out at dance class I felt I was my true self and able to express myself properly."
Lynn Campbell a Dance Movement Psychotherapist believes that we need to move more "in our culture we are moving less and less and we getting more focused on credence and importance to head and decision making and forgetting we are animals. We have evolved to move and we are supposed to be expressing ourselves through movement and energy."
Campbell studied her MA in Dance Movement Psychotherapy at The Laban Centre and now works in Bare Toed Dance Company as a Movement Medicine teacher to pass on her skills and bring creative opportunities for adults to help explore dance and improve mental well-being.
Telling us what the benefits are of being involved in dance she adds “dance is a physical and a creative movement, when people hear the word dance- they think of steps and they think of skill and structure, but I like the idea of listening to your body intelligence and just letting your body move."
It is all about understanding your own body as Campbell said: “It is those benefits of finding your unique creative state being expressed”.