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1,000 older people will benefit from the extension of a ‘Dance to Health’ programme involving arts partners including Yorkshire Dance and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Dancing in time session
Dancing in Time – Richmond Hill

Sara Teresa

The rollout of a dance-based falls prevention programme by arts and health charity Aesop will see 1,000 older people benefit from a new £2.3m investment.

The programme will run for two years from October 2017, during which time 63 interventions will take place across England in Wales. These will be delivered in collaboration with health and social care providers, and arts organisations including Yorkshire Dance and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

“If an arts programme is evidence-based, can benefit patients and save the NHS money, then it deserves to be available to all patients who could benefit, anywhere in the country,” said Tim Joss, Founder and Chief Executive of Aesop.

“Our goal is for Dance to Health to be the first such programme.”

Dance-based alternative

Two types of session will be offered through the programme. The first are six-month ‘improvement’ sessions, commissioned by the NHS and free at the point of delivery for the older person, which will replace traditional falls-prevention programmes. The second are ‘maintenance’ sessions, which will be more like dance groups and ensure health benefits are maintained.

Previous Aesop research showed how the Dance to Health programmes could address a problem that costs the NHS £2.3bn a year, as the rates of completion for dance-based alternatives to NHS exercise courses are 55% higher.

An evaluation of the Dance to Health pilot programme in February 2017 also concluded that dance artists could be trained to deliver classes which were an enjoyable artistic challenge, faithful to healthcare objectives, and would deliver measurable reductions in loneliness for participants.

Phase 1 rollout

The expanded Dance to Health programme will involve a “lot of test and learn”, according to Joss, with a ‘researcher in residence’ employed to offer continual feedback on how best to improve delivery.

“With this expansion, we’re beginning to get a feel for scale. We’re working with more arts organisations and health providers, and have expanded into Wales,” he told AP.

“If all goes well, we’ll be looking to take the programme across the UK.”

The expanded programme will receive support from ‘Dialogue Partner’ organisations, including Age UK and NHS England, and collaborate with eight Arts Council England-funded dance organisations.

One of these organisations, Yorkshire Dance, will host six different sessions, each lasting 26 weeks, across Sheffield.

“One of our strategic objectives is to take quality dance experiences to those that don’t normally have access to them, and by working in care homes and other non-traditional dance environments, we’ll be fulfilling this,” Wieke Eringa, Yorkshire Dance’s Artistic Director & CEO, told AP.

“There’s massive potential for health funding to contribute to arts activity, and we’ll be providing regular employment and training for dance artists.”

A formal evaluation of the programme will be conducted in 2019, ahead of an anticipated national rollout in the coming years.