• Anne O'Connor


Updated: Feb 20, 2018

I was lucky enough recently to see a performance of the excellent show ‘Dancer’. Ian Johnson - Scotland’s leading learning-disabled artist - and Gary Gardiner perform ‘a delicate, dapper and downright hilarious exploration into what it really means to be a 'dancer.' In so doing they touch on all the reasons why anyone might be considered – or believe themselves - to NOT be able to ‘be a dancer’ and then they dispel all those reasons with a touching, funny and exuberant show full of vibrant music and entertaining dance moves. And powerful stillness. Just as powerful is the thread running through the show acknowledging how dance not only makes you feel alive, but it is where you can truly be yourself.

As ‘Primed for Life’, Anna Daly and I often use dance in our work with early years practitioners when we are promoting the importance of movement play. Our sessions always involve the opportunity for a bop and a boogie to different styles of music ranging from Marc Bolan to Penguin Café Orchestra, via calypso and new age music. Of course there are always a few brave souls who pick up the beat straight away and show us their moves. Then there are those who might be shy, but can’t help themselves once the music gets to them and their feet start tapping or their shoulders start to sway. Then there are those that really benefit from having a prop to play with – usually a scarf to wave and flick and float around with.

And there are those for whom it is the MOST scariest thing anyone could ever ask them to do and are already planning their escape out the door.

Surprisingly, these are often the youngest, slimmest and potentially most agile in the group. Whilst the older and more stately of us are leaping and hopping and bopping around the room, these young ones stand uncomfortably waggling their floaty scarf or staring into middle distance, trying not be noticed. And I can’t blame them – I certainly know what it feels like to be self-conscious on the dance floor and because our sessions are designed to be inclusive and non-threatening, we never put anybody on the spot or make them do what they don’t want to do.

But we do give people the chance to talk about how the process makes them feel and just like with singing or sports, many of us can date our reluctance or anxiety back to unhappy or shaming experiences when we were younger, and often at school. However, it is a worry that even in a safe and encouraging space, many young people still feel unable to ‘dance as though no-one is watching’, because of course, when asked, most of them will admit they are fine dancing at a club or party at the weekend. However, the big difference then, they tell us, is that they are ‘pre-loaded’ with alcohol.

Now it would be deceitful of me to pretend that I don’t know the joys of uninhibited, alcohol-induced dancing, but anyone who has bopped in their kitchen whilst doing the washing up will also know that alcohol isn’t the only way to find your true self in dance. Yes, it helps if no-one actually is watching, but the next best thing has to be dancing with young children, who really are still able to dance just because it feels good. So we owe it to ourselves to make the most of every opportunity to dance with babies and young children – and we owe it to them to do our very best to make sure that their experiences of dance are positive and life-enhancing and never unhappy or shaming. Because everyone is a dancer and everyone deserves to have that space where they can feel truly themselves.

Join Ann and Anna on their 2 day course for Early Years practitioners - Why Moving Matters – supporting Early Years development through dance and movement play.

Lancaster, Ludus Dance - 22nd and 23rd Feb 2018

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