Blog: dance and well-being

Hayley is Programmes Manager and Core Artist (Dancer) for darts. Here she discusses her work with dance and the benefits she has observed on well-being.

In my role as a Core Artist, I’ve been involved with dance programmes across all areas of darts’ work. I’ve worked with a wide range of people, from primary school children to older adults in the community.

To me, the best thing about dance is the opportunity to feel free. I see dance as playing, and that’s what I always try to convey to the people I’m working with, whoever they are. We live in a society which is strictly regulated in so many ways, but dance isn’t restrictive. It doesn’t need to be competitive, it doesn’t have to be rule-bound. The physical benefits of dance are well-documented, but having time to play is just as important in order to build good emotional health in everyone, adult or child.

Everyone knows that music gets people in touch with their emotions, whether that’s through lyrics, melodies, or just a song which happens to reminds you of a particular place or person. When you add movement to music, you get a particular type of magic. It’s an incredible natural mood booster. Dance gives you the opportunity to react to music, to translate it through your own body. Dance and music are intrinsically linked, and I believe that if music has ever made you feel good, then dance will too.

In Hotel California, The Eagles sing ‘some dance to remember, some dance to forget’. For me, dancing is about neither – it’s about being in the moment. It’s about allowing yourself to simply be.

When you tap your foot in the supermarket aisle, you’re dancing. When you’re in your kitchen and swaying to music, you’re dancing. Dance is for everyone, regardless of the level of movement you are able to produce or how ‘good’ you think you are. That’s something that I feel very strongly about and I instil throughout my workshops.

I’ve seen a huge range of benefits in the people I’ve worked with. With children, I think they really respond to the fact that dance reduces the ‘right and wrong’ filter that is so drummed into them in other areas of life. It allows them freedom and emotional expression, allowing them to truly be themselves.

It’s a great method of communication too, and really useful in improving social interaction. A child might struggle with writing or with speech, but they don’t need to be an excellent writer or vocal communicator to tell stories through dance.

Because I don’t frame dance as something you can either be good at or fail at, it validates everything each child has to offer. I see my sessions as participant-led – they provide the content and the inspiration, and I help them put it together and channel it. I think that this really helps children feel proud of themselves which in turn makes them feel good. They see that their contributions are valued and they feel they’ve been successful, they’ve achieved, and they’ve done this through being themselves.

I’ve watched children transform during a single session – from insular and uncertain at the start, to uninhibited and joyous by the end. All human beings should be able to move in unbound ways. Dance is the epitome of that. It’s about enjoyment and freedom.

darts is leading the Doncaster branch of Dance On, a programme funded by Sports England with the aim of setting up a network of regular, fun dance workshops for adults over 50. We are working on Dance On in collaboration with Yorkshire Dance and One Dance UK. Find out more about Dance On here, including venues and times for our current dance workshops in Doncaster.