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Dance and Movement: breaking through language barriers

Every Tuesday we spend the morning dancing with a group of Bangladeshi women in Longsight. The women are between the ages of 35 and 80 years old and are mainly housewives, mothers and grandmothers with very little time for themselves or to spend time on hobbies.

Many of the women in the group experience mobility restraints and other health concerns such as breathlessness and lower back pain. Our dance classes are carefully planned with this in mind so the women can experience a class that is enjoyable and challenging without exacerbating any conditions.

Dressed traditionally in salwar kameez and hijab, the women were very keen and happy to be there. There was much chatter between the women. This dance class acts as a social event, exercise class, and creative wellbeing outlet all in one.

The women were exceptionally fast at picking up new routines. On just hearing the word dance, many of the women would instinctively begin to sidestep wave their arms, nodding their heads and smiling. The women associated dance with having fun and moving in an upbeat and lively manner so we made sure the class and sequences replicated these dynamics.

All the movements in track one were replicated with excellent precision and timing by all the ladies in the group. Footwork presented more of a challenge as quick footwork is not a part of these women’s everyday, pedestrian, lifestyles.

As we are often working across multiple languages and cultures we use common imagery instead of formal dance terminology to overcome barriers of missed communication.

One sequence is based around the idea of water and rivers. This was particularly useful for this session, in part, because of the cooling and soothing nature of water on such a hot day, and because the fluid movements gave all participants a chance to move the body rhythmically without too much challenge.

All dancers learnt and performed the sequence very quickly, leaving room for an additional creative task. Speaking to the group we asked the women to name for four river or water-based activities. These were then turned into a dance move and added to the sequence, with a final challenge of a balance for fun, capping off the sequence.

Many of the women started adding water sounds vocally whilst dancing – showing that music, dance and drama are considered one art form in many cultures, from outside Europe.

We then asked the women to select the music and the dance moves. At first, the women were resistant to changing the dynamic of the room, seeing Afrocats as the dance expert and authority figure, with the women as participants and learners.

However, with persistence and encouragement, they saw their dances were welcome, of value and appreciated by all. It helped with creating an equal environment where the ladies could share and express their movement and we could learn about their cultures.

When we, as humans reintegrate sound movement and story together we find a fuller expression of humanity and lived experience - which connects deeply with personal spirit and all people present in the room or performance space - empowering everyone in creating a bright exciting and positive environment.


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