DANCE For Social Change
In this ‘In the Spotlight Series’ we asked Agata Sivokhin, who has been working with us for the past year and a half developing our Africa Social Enterprise Fund for the arts and creative industries, to research the impact of dance projects. Agata herself is a trained professional dancer who continues, in her spare time, to run her own classes ‘Dance in the City’.
AGATA SIVOKHIN: I started dancing when I was 4 years old in Budapest, Hungary, and then continued in Minsk, Belarus. As a little girl I just loved to dance and in my teenage years, this hobby turned into something much bigger. I began training for several hours a day and participating in the international Ballroom and Latin competitions. This was the time just after the Soviet Union collapsed, and the mood in Belarus and neighbouring countries was very gloomy and hopeless. In the dancing world, however, the spirit was very different: colourful sparkling dresses and suits, hair spray and glitter, loud up-beat music and of course the moves – elegant, sexual, expressing dreams and desires way beyond day-to-day reality. In fact for many, dance was, and is, an escape from reality – the special world with it’s own rules and purpose. Today I am still searching for answers to the questions: what is the purpose of dance in the world we live in? Does it have an unrealised potential to drive a significant positive change in our lives?
As a result of our research we wanted to highlight three areas of positive social impact that dancecontributes to:
Kinaesthetic learning and therapy
Inclusion: Wheelchair Dance
Wheelchair Dancing is defined as a partner dance competition and Dance-sport where at least one of the dancers is in a wheelchair. Along with the enjoyment participants receive from dance lessons, participation, and competition, wheelchair dancing, like other forms of dance, may provide physical and mental benefits. Wheelchair users have stated they feel more confident and inspired from consistent dance involvement. Some have suggested that dancing has enabled them to require less physical therapy because of the exercise they receive during practice sessions and performances.
Wheelchair Dance Sport Association (WDSA) is the UK National Governing Body for wheelchair dancingwithin the UK, for those who would otherwise be excluded from dancing.
WDSA aim is to promote and develop wheelchair dancing as a sport and leisure activity across the country, to raise the standard of instruction and competition in the UK and internationally at all levels, as well as making dance, in whatever form, fun, exciting and something that individuals who are part of this association and who take part in wheelchair dance are proud to say “I can do that”. Wheelchair DanceSport and Wheelchair Dancing is accessible to anyone, with no boundaries in terms of age or level of ability.
Disabled dancers are being taken increasingly seriously, showing themselves to be not only adept at their art, but genuinely remarkable artists. Dancers whose bodies work differently are demonstrating that they have the ability, in what is often a competitive field, to express their art in ways that sometimes non-disabled dancers are unable to achieve.
See our Interview with wheelchair dance competitors below.
Kinaesthetic Learning: MindLeaps
Dance therapy, is a type of therapy that uses movement to help individuals achieve emotional, cognitive, physical, and socialintegration. Beneficial for both physical and mental health, dance therapy can be used for stress reduction, disease prevention, and mood management. It promotes self-awareness, self-esteem, and a safe space for the expression of feelings.
MindLeaps 501(c)3 organisation based in the United States, creates dance and educational programmes for street children and out-of-school youth in post-conflict and developing countries. MindLeaps uses a kinaesthetic-based curriculum to improve the cognitive skills of youth to ensure they can go to school, enter the workplace and leap forward in life. Since 2010, the organisation has worked extensively in Rwanda, Guinea, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Dance is used as an entry point to the development of a street child’s mind. Kids come off the streets and into Mindleaps centre to attend a “fun dance class”, but in reality, this is a carefully crafted curriculum focused on developing 11 mental skills – ranging from concentration to retention and recall of information. This training “catches up” the street children to a normal level of cognitive development while shaping their behavioural transformation from aggression and survival to optimism and discipline.
Peace-building: War Dance versus Peace Dance
“Dance has immemorially served as a cathartic method whereby individuals and communities can experience the release of pent-up emotions and energies in a structured and healing context. Although war dances are common to most cultures, on the whole dance has been used a means of expressing the more affective and unitive aspects of human nature. Whether in the Sufi dance tradition of the Middle East, which has recently been revived in the West as Dance for Universal Peace, in the classical traditions of ballet, or in the modern popular dance traditions, the spectacle and experience of body movement in harmony to music, swaying and pulsating with rhythm, enables those who participate to sense something of the cosmic interplay of forces whose successful and creative balancing seems to be at the very heart of the human condition.” (Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict, p.761)
Peace scholars consider identity and relationships to the ‘other’ as key components in transforming conflict. Therefore, dance is a potential asset for peace-building, creating opportunities for nonverbal, embodied learning, exploring identity, and relationships.
Several non-profit organisations in different parts of the world already engage youth through dance and creative movement to transform violence, conflict and bullying in schools. However, it may well be that full potential of dance to promote empathy, anger management, and conflict resolution is yet to be realised.
Anna Arutunyan and Igor Kiselev
Anna and Igor are Professional Ballroom and Latin dancers from Belarus. They have are both highly experienced at partnering dancers in wheelchairs and have competed with them in International dancecompetitions.
As we all know, different parts of the world differ greatly in terms of level of integration, inclusion and providing access for disabled people to fully enjoy life. Anna and Igor are from Belarus, one of many countries, which are sadly much behind when it comes to providing infrastructure and changing attitudes towards full inclusion of disabled people. After decades under Soviet Union, the time of the denial of the very existence of citizens with disabilities ("There are no invalids in the USSR!" - the notorious slogan used by the politicians), the change of mentality and attitudes towards people with disabilities still has a long way to go.
How did you get involved in the wheelchair dance?
ANNA: It was a sad time in my life, when I decided to finish with my professional dance career. Someone I knew, asked me if I would try dancing with wheelchair dancers… My first reaction was “No!” but he asked me just to come and see. And when I met my future partner and his wife I realised that I want to work with them. They were so funny and open, they seemed like someone who enjoyed every moment in life. And I totally forgot about the wheelchair. And then we had fun at every practice, we went to the competitions, we became friends. And then I met Igor, my husband-to-be.
IGOR: When we started to dance with Anna, she asked me to come and meet the wheelchair team. One day I said OK, lets do that. And of course I was impressed and overwhelmed by really beautiful, interesting and open people. We spend a lot of time together. We saw many wheelchair dancers and of course not all of them are the same. Often they feel very offended by life. But dancing can give them positive emotions, and bring meaning to life.
From your point of view and experience, what role does dancing play in wheelchair dancers lives?
ANNA: As we could see from our experience, dance plays a very important role in every stage of life of a person in a wheelchair. It is an incredible activity to pick up during the rehabilitation process after an injury: it helps to strengthen muscles, teaches people to become advanced users of the wheelchair, gives purpose to life, encourages social interaction and emboldens people to live life to the fullest. In addition to physical activity, which contributes to the boosting of energy and positive emotions, the beautiful music, costumes and applause of the audience, transforms the life experience of wheelchair uses.
What was your most memorable and transformational experience of wheelchair dancing?
ANNA: We really had a lot of interesting moments when we were dancing together. One of the most memorable ones was in Moscow when we danced at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in front of many distinguished guests and celebrities. It was an interesting experience to watch their reaction and fascination. Russian people (and Belarusian) have so much to learn about the lives of disabled…
What do you believe needs to be done more or differently to achieve an even bigger positive impact?
IGOR: Every country has a different attitude towards disabled people. In Western Europe, there seem to be a significant improvement in terms of both facilities and the mentality of integrating people with disabilities in society. In the USA, for example wheelchair dancing is not that popular, even though there seems to be support to develop it… Of course, we need people who care about the cause and who are prepared to advocate for people in wheelchairs to open opportunities for them. And every one of us could be a bit kinder and more attentive to those around - there might be someone who needs our help.