Age shouldn’t be a barrier to dancing or performing, says Vicky Thornton. She shares the story of DANCE SIX-0, a contemporary dance company for the over 60s in Salisbury.

Photo of dancers in a field

Adrian Harris

DANCE SIX-0 started in response to a visit to the Elixir Festival at Sadler’s Wells that included a performance by the Company of Elders, a contemporary dance company for people aged over 60. Judith Bossano, Meg Edgar and Philippa Heseltine were inspired to establish a similar opportunity for contemporary dance in Salisbury and sought my advice and support.

I was overwhelmed by their effervescence in describing what they had seen, their enthusiastic response and a very clear directive that “we need this”. Judith spoke passionately and eloquently about why at the age of 80 she felt it absolutely necessary to keep moving and dancing and experience the joy she feels when performing.

We were keen to emphasise that it cater for anyone over 60 with varying levels of mobility

Philippa identified the gap in provision for dance for this age group and navigated what else was offered locally to avoid duplication. And Meg felt this was something needed in Salisbury, recognising that dance brings many physical, social and emotional benefits that are so important for overall wellbeing. She identified Salisbury Playhouse as an ideal venue, considering its location, facilities and audience base.

High demand for places

Salisbury Playhouse enthusiastically recognised the project’s potential, offering support to trial the idea. We were keen to emphasise that it cater for anyone over 60 with varying levels of mobility. The playhouse facilitated three taster workshops with three professional dance practitioners, all fully booked with a positive response. A ‘talk out’ at the end revealed that some participants wanted to be part of a performance company and others wanted to join an open class to simply dance.

Bookings for classes opened following further promotion through Salisbury Playhouse and our growing contacts database, including radio interviews with BBC Wiltshire. The high demand for places resulted in two open classes and we held an audition for our inaugural performance company, selecting nine women and three men. Salisbury Playhouse continued to support us and we were granted start-up funding from Wiltshire Community Foundation.

At the Wiltshire Public Health Awards in April we won our category of ‘Tackling Health Inequalities in the Community’ for our work with people aged over 60. We hope this award reflects our commitment to offering opportunities but also in challenging stereotypes of what older people can and should do.

Performance company

Three weeks after being established, the company performed as supporting cast with Lila Dance in its touring production of The Deluge at Salisbury Arts Centre alongside Jigsaw Youth Dance Company.

The performance company has worked with resident rehearsal director Rosalind Conlon to create Dance Me which was subsequently performed at the Breathe event in Taunton, the Elixir Development Day at Sadler’s Wells in London, and the D-Fuse dance platform at The Point in Eastleigh. The company also took part in a Neon Dance choreographic weekend, developing their own solos and exploring new ways to generate movement.

In the summer we embarked on our most ambitious project to date, a co-commission with Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival to make a site-specific work set in Salisbury Cathedral Close. Celebrating the fleeting nature of live performance, four free performances were watched by an audience of around 600.

Dance for dementia

In May we introduced a third strand of activity called D60 Extra for people living with early-onset dementia. This was instigated by Wiltshire Council to respond to National Dementia Awareness Week and is funded by Wiltshire Council Local Area Board in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society. It uses gentle movement, creativity, props and music to increase wellbeing through dance.

This is the most challenging strand for us, in attracting and maintaining participants, and only through ongoing partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society is this project possible. We are exploring new partnerships with medical practices and local surgeries to make our offer available to more people who may benefit from it.

Never too old

Now one year since we launched, we have another three public performances under our belt and a new comedic work, ‘Fantoccini’, has been presented to paying audiences in Eastleigh and Bournemouth. Open classes are still oversubscribed and D60 Extra has attracted seven new participants and two carers. We have 60 older people dancing with us every week at three distinct levels, and we maintain our ethos that ‘you are never too old to dance’.

Vicky Thornton is Company Manager at DANCE SIX-0 and a creative producer.

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Photo of Vicky Thornton