The participants in the creative movement projects on Fuse were older people from in and around Cork City and County: the clients of Ballyphehane Day Care Centre, the residents at Oaklodge Nursing Home, the patients in St Stephen’s Ward at St Finbarr’s Hospital, and the residents at Maguire House, the Dementia Care Unit at St Luke’s Home.
The projects aimed to open a creative space for older people to express themselves through the moving body and to be seen and recognized for who they are.
Awakening sensory awareness through working with breath, touch and imagery as central elements of the movement practice was a key focus of the work. Playfulness and spontaneity were encouraged and participants were supported in discovering and exploring their own personal movement responses.
Experiencing movement as a medium of expression, communication and connection was at all times central to the work.
While anchored in a movement practice that focuses on the body as perceived from within and values subjective experience, the specific methods and approaches varied depending on the setting and context of each project.
In some of the settings, I worked with groups of up to 15 people. In other settings, working with small groups of four to five participants or facilitating one-to-one sessions on the wards was more appropriate in order to best meet the needs and abilities of the participants.
Key elements of my movement practice – grounded in my training with Rosetta Life, a UK-based organisation which is a pioneer and leading exponent of arts in healthcare settings – are breath, touch and imagery.
The breath is our life force and therefore the ‘key to life, movement and rhythm’ (Hackney, 2002). It functions as a means to reawaken sensory awareness and is a powerful source of movement.
Touch offers a way to connect to our environment and other people. Especially when other channels of communication are not accessible, it is a powerful tool to reawaken sensory awareness and to stay connected to ourselves and others.
Moving from images derived from nature or everyday life experience offers people a way into discovering and expressing their own, personal movements, as opposed to replicating set movement patterns. This makes the movement work very accessible and allows participants to experience and create movement that is meaningful to them.
Drawing from these key elements, we worked with structured improvisation and creative movement tasks. Talking about favorite places and experiences allowed participants to share memories and often served as a way into movement. In Oaklodge Nursing Home, for example, we created movement about Ballycotton Island and the lighthouse, a place that evoked personal memories in many of the residents. In Ballyphehane Day Care Centre, the group had been on an outing to the beach; based on this experience, the moods and states of the sea and its movements became the central theme of the work.
In the initial stages of each project I often used props such as chiffon scarves and feathers, as they give participants something to hold on to and to relate to which offers a safe and accessible way into becoming expressive in movement. Breathing exercises and gentle stretches formed the beginning and end of each session.
The movement work focused on creative process, context and intent rather than product and form. This allowed me to consciously tailor the projects to suit the specific needs of the participants. Especially when working with people who are frail and in some instances living with dementia, the present moment becomes very significant and the movement work aimed at all times to meet people where they are in the here and now.
To share and open up the work to others, we invited families and friends of the clients at Ballyphehane Day Care Centre to a celebratory event to join in with the dance and movement.
The creative movement projects were evaluated within the framework of the overall Fuse Arts & Health Programme. I kept a reflective journal and wrote a formal evaluation report at the end of each project. Further, after completion of each project, an evaluation meeting took place with the project partners including a representative from MusicAlive and from the participating setting, usually the activities co-ordinator. As some of the participants were non-verbal, observations during and after the sessions formed an important part of the evaluation process. A comment book was kept by each setting to document the responses from participants and staff.
The creative movement projects were very well received by the participants and the staff in the different settings and the benefits and impact of the work was tangible. With each project running over 6-10 weeks it was possible to establish continuity, familiarity and trust, and this was an important factor for the success of the work. The ongoing support and engagement from the activities co-ordinators and staff in the settings also played a key role in the positive outcome of the work.
As the projects progressed, participants became very expressive in their movement and more and more willing to take creative risks. They contributed generously with their ideas and movement suggestions, and playful, light-hearted and imaginative movement interactions and responses emerged. At times, participants became very immersed in the movement. It was also observed that the work had a very calming and relaxing effect on the participants which promoted wellbeing by reducing stress levels. Contrary to the expectations from many staff at the settings it also became evident that a lot of men engaged very openly and enthusiastically with the movement work.
Here is a sample of the feedback received from participants, staff and relatives of the participants:
‘The sessions were always something to look forward to, I will miss them.‘ – Participant at St Luke’s Home
‘The calm atmosphere relaxed her and she fell asleep. Usually she is very agitated and it helped her to relax.’ – Family member of a participant at St Luke’s Home
‘I really enjoyed the movement, I am looking forward to the next session.‘ – Participant at St Finbarr’s Hospital
‘It was very soothing and calming and the relaxing atmosphere offered a welcome contrast to the busyness of the day to day work on the ward.‘ – Staff at St Finbarr’s Hospital
‘At the end of this movement programme I have realized that my preconceptions about men’s activities have been broken wide open.‘ – Staff at Ballyphehane Day Care Centre
‘I felt like crying, it was so beautiful.‘ – Staff at Ballyphehane Day Care Centre
Documentation and Dissemination
Each project was documented in a formal written report submitted to MusicAlive. The outcomes of the work will be disseminated as part of the overall Fuse Arts & Health Programme which involves a range of artistic practices including music, movement and visual art in healthcare settings. With the three-year pilot phase of Fuse coming to an end in 2016, a final report on the programme and a reflective essay will be published.
HSE South’s Cork Arts & Health Programme