How do you know if your dream has been realised?
In 2019, as I started my final two-year term as Chair of the Movement and Dance Division of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, I was asked what I wanted for the division and, without hesitation, I replied that I wanted movement and dance to be equal to sport and not the decoration on the top. Movement and dance falls between the gaps of art and sport, but we knew we has an impact within physical activity.
As the chair of the Movement and Dance Division (2015-2021), I had been advocating for movement and dance at every event I attended, but having been told it would never get on the agenda without evidence, I knew that this was our one chance to put movement and dance on the physical activity agenda. But with no funds, no research resources and the world going into Lockdown, how was that ambition to be realised? How could we demonstrate to the world of physical activity and sport that movement and dance were equally beneficial and have meaningful and valuable impacts and outcomes?
With the encouragement of the Alliance CEO, I began a Zoom consultation. Lockdown meant we could not be together, and transferring an interactive workshop to the virtual world tested us all, but it gave us all a sense of purpose, both personally and professionally, during those long months when we could not 'dance'. Using Sport England's strategy (Towards An Active Nation, 2016-2021) as a template, we considered each objective and if we achieved them through movement and dance. We knew we met each of the objectives, but with just anecdotal evidence gathered over 35 hours of consultation on Zoom with 38 teachers and practitioners, we needed something 'more' if it was to stand alongside funded reports. We needed data because the only way we could compare movement and dance to mainstream sports was to treat them like sports. The Alliance embarked on a project, the first of its kind; using Active Lives data, we calculated the social value of movement, and dance was analysed as if it was a sport. Alongside this, researchers undertook a literature review of evidence-based research to demonstrate the impact of movement and dance.
On Wednesday 28th June 2023, the report was formally launched at Westminster. A small group of representatives, who had arrived early, gathered in the café, the first time we had seen each other since February 2020. We were apprehensive; wondering if people would take time from their busy schedules to attend. The Alliance staff had prepared the Jubilee Room - it looked just like any other meeting, but it was not.
Movement and dance were centre stage, hosted by Kim Leadbeater MP; we were delighted that Shirley Ballas and Marius lepure were able to join us, and they were so generous with their time.
With the 3 APPGs (Sport, Dance and Performing Arts Education and Training) public health, NHS, education, Sport England and Parliamentarians, we were in the centre of the room, not in the corner looking in. We were told of the monetary savings, £3.49 billion social value, which included £157.56 million contribution to the reduction of type II diabetes and £430.3 million to physical and mental health. We listened to how movement and dance create cohesion in schools and how a young lad didn't know he liked dance until he was given a chance to try it. We all appreciated the impact that dance has on children with specific educational needs, the child who cannot cope in the classroom but can participate fully in dance without any additional support. We nodded with a collective understanding of how dance brought someone with dementia back to their family and stood in awe of those who create safe places and spaces for children to dance, keeping them away from gangs and the dangers of the streets.
Every M&D representative organisation had access to people who influence policy; we were front and centre. Everyone was talking about the benefits of dance and how it changes lives. There was no moment when we had to say...what about us?
People asked me if I was OK and why I was not crying because I have been known to shed an emotional tear. I stood watching the people in the room and, in a far corner, a group of dancers were talking about all things dance. Most had begun their dance careers in local halls, just like thousands of other children who are taken to Saturday morning ballet and adults who followed the music to peep cautiously into the room to discover the world of salsa and ballroom. They all found dance in different places and at different times in their lives; one became a Strictly Celebrity and the others became dance teachers, adjudicators and Board members, all sharing the same passion for dance in halls similar to the ones in which they had learned to dance.
In 2020 I began a piece of work because someone had faith in me to make it happen, but it was only when I had separated myself from it and looked in as an outsider could I truly appreciate the monumental steps we had taken. I close my eyes and see a room of people from different organisations and genres united through this report. It was a herculean challenge to begin the process of changing and challenging minds and perceptions.
What next? More people dancing, more social prescribing to local exercise classes, and more children dancing. One of the many questions might be how we encourage more boys to dance and celebrate their dance successes in the same way that the Lionesses and ladies' cricket teams have finally achieved the recognition they deserve. Girls have equal access to football in PE, but there are probably as many boys who enjoy dance as there are girls who want to play football. They should have equal access to movement and dance without the fear of name-calling and bullying or being made to feel inadequate because they don’t enjoy traditional sports.
This report is the beginning; it must be used in policy, decision making and funding. Those who are unfunded need recognition for their contribution to the physical activity ecosystem as they dance under the radar. Their impact and previously uncalculated and undocumented contributions are available for everyone to use in this document. Everyone should be given the opportunity to experience good quality movement and dance throughout all stages of life and find an activity that suits them and their needs and wants. There is a dance for everyone, and everyone should be allowed to dance their dance.
Exercise With Tracy
EXTEND Exercise and Medau Movement teacher. Keeping the muscles working, the joints mobile and having fun!