Leeds dance troupe nets £50k in National Lottery funding for its Parkinson’s group

An uplifting dance programme for people with Parkinson’s has won nearly £50,000 in National Lottery funding.

The Dance with Parkinson’s group is celebrating a £50,000 windfall from the National Lottery Community Fund. Image: Lucy Barker.
The Dance with Parkinson’s group is celebrating a £50,000 windfall from the National Lottery Community Fund. Image: Lucy Barker.

Ascendance, which runs the popular Dance with Parkinson’s sessions, was awarded more than £49,000 to expand its virtual Zoom sessions and to work towards resuming physical meetings in the future.

The outreach programme helps people with the condition to work out their stiffness and to exercise their muscles.

Rachel Wesson, artistic director of Ascendance dance company, said: “We’re delighted that The National Lottery Community Fund has recognised our work in this way.

Ascendance is a charitable dance company, which was formed 22 years ago. It specialises in outreach, dance and film works.

“We will be able to offer our classes to more people with the condition and are now able to look at how we can get back to face-to-face classes again, while retaining the online offer and live streaming options.”

Before the pandemic, Ascendance would deliver its classes at venues across Leeds and Bradford. But it has been using video-conferencing app Zoom for nearly a year during lockdown to keep its members connected.

The group’s popularity has soared and its reach has widened as a result of the move.

Sessions for people with Parkinson’s have gone from three days a week to running Monday to Friday.

Members of Dance with Parkinson’s during an online session.

Rachel said: “What we are also wanting to do is to do some smaller group work as well because our classes are actually so full. We will probably do some more tailored groups and put on some dance yoga sessions as well. We are getting quite busy and expanding rapidly.”

One person who is impressed by the success of the group is Rachel’s mum, Miranda. She has Parkinson’s and helped to inspire the dance sessions which began in 2018.

Zoom has also helped Dance with Parkinson’s extend its usual catchment zone of Leeds and Bradford. Rachel added: “We’ve been attracting people mainly from our local area but we have seen an increase from elsewhere. We’ve got some people from Manchester, Wrexham and Birmingham. There are no boundaries with Zoom.”

Classes begin with a warm up to get the heart rate pumping. There are well known routines and people can also show off their dance skills during a ‘pass the move’ section.

Professional dancer Emma Clayton is a founder member of Ascendance and is a lead artist with its Parkinson's group.

Another important aspect of Dance with Parkinson’s is the social interaction. The Zoom sessions often begin and end with chit chat.

One participant, Roger, attends the virtual classes every day and says the group has “become a big part of my life”.

His positive comments have been echoed by many.

Rachel said: “For some people it has just kept them going on a day-to-day basis. They come and no one misses a class unless they have got an appointment. I think their actions speak louder than words.

Rachel Wesson, artistic director of Ascendance dance company. Picture: Lucy Barker.

“Whenever you say, ‘Is there anything else we need to do or change?’. They say, ‘No. Just keep doing what you are doing’. I think they are genuinely appreciative of the work and all want it to continue, which is amazing.

“The community has grown and we have got a lot stronger through this and got to know each other.”

The big question facing many community groups is when will they be able to meet face to face again? Rachel is hoping to return for a six-week trial at the beginning of June.

She added: “People can also Zoom into them and see what it is like. It might give them the confidence to come back as well.”


Ascendance is trying to bridge the digital divide so more people can benefit from its ‘Dance with Parkinson’s’ virtual sessions.

The dance company is mindful that not everyone has a computer or the Internet.

Last year it received funding from the Arts Council to help buy devices.

Now it has developed a technology team to help people to get online. This ranges from loaning them devices, help with data packages to steering them towards expert providers and libraries.

Rachel Wesson, artistic director of Ascendance said: “We are adapting as a society, but I think there is still this digital divide. So we are going to try and do our bit to make sure as many people that we can reach engage with the service.”

Ascendance runs online classes for people with Parkinson’s throughout the week. People can access its hour-long Dance with Parkinson’s Zoom sessions on Tuesdays (10.30am), Thursdays (1.15pm) and Fridays (10.30am).

On Mondays it is running ‘Dance Burst’ at 11am. It’s a 40-minute session aimed at building strength while standing or seated. Ascendance is also virtually hosting ‘Sing with Parkinson’s’ at 11am on Wednesdays. The 60-minute class features a fun warm up session, breathing exercises and favourite tunes to sing along to. For more information see: ascendance.org.uk, email: admin @ascendance.org.uk or ring 07933 685359.