As dance facilitators, especially those who have been professional dancers or have reached a high level of ability, we need to think carefully about movement we choose for content and how we demonstrate movement to older participants, particularly dance novices and those with restricted movement. In fact, this is important not just with respect to older participants, it’s important when teaching or leading dance for those of any age who are not trained or experienced dancers. While this has been a concern of mine for some time it has been highlighted as a real issue more recently through COVID with the plethora of digital dance resources and live online dance sessions made available for people to access and participate in.

I have seen dancers and dance practitioners offering dance activity for ‘anyone, any age, no dance experience required’ or for ‘seniors, older people, people with Parkinson’s”. I am concerned when I see a facilitator demonstrating extreme range of movement eg in ballet turn out or lateral flexion of the spine, etc, with no guidance that beginners, less experienced or older participants should not attempt this degree of movement or no explanation of options for participants of different ability.

A particular example of questionable movement choice and demonstration is from a number of facilitators, in particular male facilitators, of dance for older participants or those with particular conditions, who demonstrate an entire seated sequence with their legs in a wide 2nd position. I have several issues with this in terms of both physical and psychological inappropriateness:

  • This is a demanding position to sit in for a sustained period and can do more harm than good. Most novice dancers don’t have this range of movement let alone an older person who may have arthritis or other hip issues.
  • We need to be cognisant that older people’s codes of behaviour were developed a number of generations before ours. Whilst we may be quite accepting of 2nd position as just another position, it may seem very bold, immodest or unseemly to an older person. So for many women, especially older women, it can be confronting and/or discomforting to hold their legs apart for a duration of time.
  • Similarly, it can be uncomfortable for participants be they women or men to look at facilitators, women or men, with their legs wide apart.
  • Sitting in this position can present issues for those with incontinence issues.

You have to ask yourself “what am I wanting to achieve by asking participants to do specific movements?”, “is it necessary?”, “is there a better option?”  And you don’t need to demonstrate extreme range of movement if it’s not likely to be achievable for your participants.

As long time dancers often we can take for granted what we can do physically. Movements or positions that we think are very basic can be a great challenge for others. Refrain from demonstrating to your extreme range of movement particularly if it is not something appropriate for your participants to attempt or strive for.

Some moves or positions that experienced dancers take as work-a-day can be extremely intimate and inappropriate for the non-trained dance participant.

When devising material or using material of others (no matter how experienced other facilitators may be) always question if this is the best option for YOUR participants and adjust, adapt or re-devise as necessary.

Extra care and consideration should be given when you don’t know who the digital participant is. Many novice or inexperienced participants just follow what you do with no ability to discern if it’s inappropriate for them, or they don’t have the confidence to adapt or change the movement to something else that suits them and their needs. Give your participants permission and encourage them to adapt movement if needed and help them with optional movement choices.

Alongside well considered movement, very clear explanations with options are just as important.

So think carefully about the content you choose for your classes/sessions and about how you present that material in regard to both how you demonstrate and how you explain or give instructions, directions and guidance in order to deliver safe and effective dance.