The project marks a change in strategy for funder Sport England, which had signalled its willingness to consider how dance could tackle inactivity.
Inactivity among older people in deprived areas of the country is to be tackled through a new £495k dance scheme that will “disguise” physical activity as fun.
Led by One Dance UK, and delivered in partnership with development organisation Yorkshire Dance, the programme will take place in Leeds, Bradford and Doncaster and engage inactive people with “fun, accessible and social” dance activities for over 55s.
Older people will play an active part in the programme as volunteers, advisors and champions, which organisers say will bring communities together to reduce social isolation.
The project, supported through Sport England’s Active Ageing fund, also represents a change in focus for the government body tasked with building the foundations of community sport in the county.
“Being active is one of the most important things people can do to maintain health and wellbeing as they age. We’re delighted to be supporting One Dance UK and Yorkshire Dance with National Lottery funding to help get older adults lead happier and heathier lives,” said Mike Diaper, Executive Director at Sport England.
“We’ll be sharing learnings so successful approaches can be scaled-up or replicated across the country.”
The project is part of a strategic collaboration between One Dance UK and People Dancing, established earlier this year to lobby Government about the effectiveness of dance on improving mental health and getting people active.
A series of ‘Dance Activators’ will work intensively in the target communities, building relationships with older people and partner organisations to engage inactive people with “fun, accessible and social dance programmes”.
These could include regular dance classes, such as ballroom or jive, or contemporary dance approaches which can be inclusive of people with disabilities or health conditions.
“Data shows that dance is particularly effective at engaging women who, according to national surveys, are less active than men,” a spokesperson for One Dance UK said.
The organisation added it would be working closely with Leeds University to embed monitoring and evaluation in the project, which would provide evidence of “the effectiveness and multiple benefits of health interventions using dance”.
Wieke Eringa, Artistic Director of Yorkshire Dance, said: “Our participation in the Active Ageing programme is one of a growing number of Yorkshire Dance projects using dance to address issues related to age – among them inactivity, social isolation, Parkinson’s and dementia.”
She continued: “It’s also a genuine delight that projects such as Active Ageing enable us to give full-time work to a number of dance professionals in Leeds, Bradford and Doncaster.”
The project cements a change in policy for Sport England, the DCMS body focussed on building the foundations of a community sport system.
Until last year the organisation mainly funded dance-exercise activities, but began considering how other types of dance activities could engage target audiences with the launch of its £245m Active Nation Strategy.
Speaking at the time, a spokesperson said: “Sport England will fund wider forms of walking for leisure and dance than we do today by investing in what is most appealing to our target audiences, and will deliver on the outcomes.
“We will not displace existing funding (eg from Arts Council England) and will not intervene where there is already a strong commercial offer.”