Dance company Ascendance is helping people with Parkinson’s Disease to move more easily
The Dancing with Parkinson’s programme assists sufferers with their movement, stiffness and also boosts their well being.
The outreach project has been delivered across Leeds and Bradford since 2018 by the Ascendance dance company.
They used to meet at venues in Pudsey, Meanwood and Otley before lockdown. But they have been using video conferencing technology on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays to continue their dance sessions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ascendance’s artistic director Rachel Wesson said: “Balance is a big issue with people with Parkinson’s so we do a lot of work like physical strength training and coordination of body parts to keep things moving. Another thing people with Parkinson’s have is a lot of stiffness, so again we use the movement to stretch out the body and get things going.”
Rachel’s mum, Miranda, has Parkinson’s and she helped inspire the sessions, which have an important social element also. The dancer added: “I think it is absolutely vital, especially now because many of our participants have been shielding and are probably shielding again throughout the winter, to keep that connection and routine. Doing something that is the same and seeing the same people is really key. As is for us to check in on people so they feel they are supported.
“I think particularly with Parkinson’s, the mental health element, which I guess is the silent side of Parkinson’s, doesn’t get talked about as much. The anxiety and depression can seep in if they are not connecting with other people.
“People say people with Parkinson’s have quite a masked face and don’t often show emotion. But with the work we do we usually get them to laugh and to smile and to use their faces, which is really lovely.
“We have really built, and even more so over the last six months, a real community of people.”
This week the group has been taking part in the Leeds Digital Festival. All its different groups have been learning the same piece of choreography. These Zoom dance sessions have been compiled into a five-minute film for the festival, which also features interviews with members.
Ascendance, which is also a professional dance company as well as a charity, is also working on another film after getting an emergency Covid-19 grant from the Arts Council. A team of three professional dancers and two volunteers has been shooting footage with filmmaker Devon Armstrong in Meanwood Park, by the River Wharfe, Rodley and at Rodley Park. It is hoped the finished work will be shown at film festivals in the future.
The dance company was also working on a 360 degree Virtual Reality film project for the Saltaire Arts Trail 2020. But the collaboration with filmmaker Lucy Barker has been put on hold because of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Rachel thinks online will be the way forward for the foreseeable future but she hopes her group may be able to resume physical meetings in the spring. She added: “I’ve got this idea to finish off our project for everyone to meet up, maybe at an outdoor event in a park somewhere, where we all perform a piece of choreography together and film it as the launch of hopefully starting up again. And to continue our regular classes and the work with our professional dancers.”
Ascendance was formed 21 years ago by a bunch of graduates from the Northern School of Contemporary Dance.
They started off working in art galleries and bookstores but the company soon progressed to theatre venues and to outreach work with school and colleges.
One of its outreach classes is Dancing with Parkinson’s. Before covid it ran sessions at Robin Lane Health and Wellbeing Centre in Pudsey, Otley Courthouse, Holy Trinity Community Hall, Meanwood and Victoria Hall in Saltaire. But the classes have moved onto video conferencing app Zoom during lockdown.
The charity gets project funding for its activities. It is well supported by the Arts Council who fund Dancing with Parkinson’s and the 360 Virtual Reality work at Saltaire. It also gave them a Covid-19 emergency grant.
Ascendance’s artistic director Rachel Wesson said: “Leeds Community Foundation has also given us some community funding as well, which is kind of seeing us through the winter months. But we are always applying to small charitable funding to keep us going. We run on a shoestring and I do most of the managing but we are expanding, hopefully, in the future. It would be nice to get regular funding.”
Leeds Inspired has also helped fund it this year.