Category Archives: programs

An Invitation to Dance

There is a new article about local adaptive dance opportunities that I (Joanne Cuffe) wrote in collaboration with the Victoria Disability Resource Centre for their blog: An Invitation to Dance. (Update: I am including the article below along with all of the photos with alt text descriptions, as most of the photos did not get transferred when the VDRC switched to a new website.)


An Invitation to Dance
Kristian is turning his head and looking up to the top left corner of the photo, with a smile. He has one arm diagonally up to the left and his other elbow is out to the right with his hand by his ear. He is wearing a black t-shirt and dark pants and is seated in his manual wheelchair. There is some gym equipment in the background.
Kristian OakenShield dancing at MOVE gym.

Four months ago dance was not at all on Kristian OakenShield’s radar screen. But that definitely changed one day in September at MOVE gym, when, by chance, he encountered a Dance Without Limits session. It looked like great fun and he joined in.

Now the program, which is run by the Cerebral Palsy Association of BC, is part of his life, and he works as a volunteer at their dance sessions.

Kristian says he likes “moving the body in ways I would not normally, being creative with my imagination, and being more in tuned and aware with my body.” After dancing he feels “inner excitement and inner happiness–I know I am getting out of my comfort zone.”

Dancing has an extensive array of health benefits and it is fantastic for physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual and social well-being. Studies have found that dancing can decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety, lessen pain, minimize isolation, help heal trauma, promote healthy aging, and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Dancing can also improve range of motion, balance, coordination and agility; increase muscular strength and endurance; and benefit the heart and lungs.

Five adults are dancing, facing in different directions, with a few more people in the background. Two people are sitting next to each other facing the left. The closest person has his hand on the push ring of his manual wheelchair and the other dancer is clapping to the music. Behind them are two people facing each other, holding hands and dancing while standing. To the left there is a dancer who is turning her head to face the camera; she is stretching one arm in front of her, holding hands with someone not seen in the photo, and she is dancing while sitting in her manual wheelchair.
Dancers at a Celebration bringing together participants from five dance groups. Photo credit: Kirk Schwartz.

Kristian is an active member of MOVE gym and has been attending other dance workshops there too. He says his own specific goal is “to use dance to help me progress further in my quest to regain full function of my physical body.” He says he also gets real satisfaction from volunteering in dancing “to help enrich other people’s lives.”

Kristian’s advice to a peer, who wants to try an inclusive dance class but feels hesitant, is: “Just make a decision to take action and try it out and watch what happens.”

Dancing can be an amazing way of bringing people together, as communities have done around the world for a very long time. Dancing in a supportive setting can help meet a variety of basic human needs: for connection, acceptance, belonging, closeness, mutuality and respect; for autonomy, choice, freedom and spontaneity; for joy, humour, movement and safe physical contact; and for celebration, contribution, creativity, harmony, inspiration, meaning and self-expression. (This list draws from the Needs Inventory by the Center for Nonviolent Communication.)


The adaptive dance scene is varied and growing in Victoria in Lekwungen and W̱SÁNEĆ Territories.

In June 2016 five community dance groups came together for a Celebration. Each group shared the dance they had created in collaboration with artist facilitators, and everyone mingled during a dance party. Participants included dancers with diversabilities, dancers who are older adults, and dancers who are refugees and newcomers. The event was hosted by the Dance Alchemy project and the Community Arts Council of Greater Victoria, with funding from the BC Arts Council.

The feet of nine adult dancers are in a circle. They are wearing a variety of sizes and types of casual shoes, boots, socks with a cloud pattern, and running shoes. 5 people have just one shoe visible pointing to the middle, and 3 people have both their feet resting on the foot rests of their wheelchairs.
Circle of feet with the Wellspring Dancers.

On January 4th there was a follow-up event called Dancing in the Morning that welcomed all abilities; 45 people gathered to dance at 10:30am at Cedar Hill Recreation. Participants were enthusiastic and are interested in the inclusive event happening once a month, if we can find a large accessible space that is available on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday from 10:30-11:30am.

Locally there is a group focused on creating opportunities for inclusive social dance, with sessions starting in March. Dancing Together brings together people with diverse ways of moving, as well as queer, trans and gender-variant communities, to try different types of social dance (such as tango) and learn to improvise together respectfully. This is a welcome development, as many dance classes and clubs around town are inaccessible to many community members, whether it is due to the venue not being physically accessible, the cost being a barrier, or the teaching style of the instructors not being inclusive or welcoming.


As well as public classes, there are also a variety of ongoing dance groups that happen through organizations around Victoria in Lekwungen and W̱SÁNEĆ Homelands. I am honoured to facilitate dance groups with people with diverse ways of moving, perceiving and interacting, with six disability-focused organizations and nine organizations focused on Elders and older adults.

Six adults, ages 30s-90s and of different genders, are dancing in a semi-circle, while sitting on dining room chairs. They are leaning forwards a bit, and smiling to the camera. Most of them have their right hands stretched out towards their right feet; their right heels are out forwards on the carpet. Each dancer is wearing a different colour of shirt: teal, white, navy, red, cream, light green.
Joanne (left), with the Glenshiel Dancers and Lori Hamar (right). Photo credit: Kirk Schwartz.

In recent years I have led dance sessions with around 1900 unique participants, aged 4 years old to 103 years young. I live with invisible disabilities, and I notice that my sense of joy and well-being is drastically increased when I dance during the day in a community setting, compared to days when I do not dance.

I asked a few participants with one of the dance groups for their reflections on the sessions. Linda, Renee, Johnny and Lawrence all said that they had not taken a dance class before attending sessions at Kardel’s Futures program. Renee said she likes that she gets to help pick the music and that there are “no bad moves.” Linda likes “everything,” and Lawrence noted that “it’s fun AND Joanne plays Cantonese songs.” Johnny said, “I feel great after dance,” and Renee and Linda said they feel energized.

There have been integrated dance initiatives locally in the past, including by Geoff McMurchy, Dance Victoria, Lori Hamar, Brad Magnus and Dance Encounters. There are also examples from around the world of inclusive dance initiatives that believe that ‘if you can breathe you can dance,’ including Sins Invalid, which focuses on disability, sexuality and social justice, and DanceAbility International, which offers teacher trainings.

18 adults are in a big circle in a dance studio. Some dancers have their arms stretched wide open to their sides and some dancers have their arms raised to the front with elbows bent. 8 people are seated, using a variety of styles of wheelchairs, and 10 people are standing.
All Bodies Dance Project. Photo credit: Chris Randle.

There are many professional dance companies elsewhere that are physically integrated, where artists with and without disabilities collaborate, such as Candoco DanceAXIS Dance, and ILL-Abilities International Breakdance Crew. “Mixed ability dance is an approach that is accessible to all bodies and all abilities, including people with physical, developmental, sensory and neurological disabilities,” wrote the All Bodies Dance Project in an article about attending the first Canadian Inclusive Dance Teacher Intensive in February 2016. The people involved in dance companies in other cities are in dialogue, including All Bodies Dance Project in Vancouver, Propeller Dance in Ottawa, MoMo Mixed Ability Dance Theatre in Calgary, CRIPSiE in Edmonton, and Corpuscule Danse in Montréal.

Six adults are in a row on a stage, each doing a different move. Two dancers are looking to the right (one dancer is in the background behind a dancer who is using a scooter and has an arm lifted to the right). Two dancers are leaning forwards looking down (one dancer has her arm stretched down to the left with her other hand on the push rim of her manual chair, she is next to a dancer who is standing with arms straight down). And two dancers are looking to the left (a dancer, with an elbow to the side and hand behind ear and legs crossed, is seated in a power chair, next to a dancer balanced on one foot with the other leg lifted and arms out to the sides). They are all wearing a mix of black and red clothing.
All Bodies Dance Project dancers in See & Be Seen. Photo credit: Chris Randle.

Although the dance sessions mentioned earlier in this article are focused on being beginner-friendly, if there is interest, we could train together in the coming years and create an inclusive dance company here, too.

Emily J. danced with MoMo Dance in Calgary for three years and now lives on the island. “I’ve met some of my favourite people through dance – people who show me exceptional ways of being in the world. Dancing has generated new possibilities for intimate love and care, and moments of change and joy that I might not have had otherwise.”


Its Happening in Victoria

Lots of opportunities to participate in adaptive dance in the Victoria area:

Inclusive dance for adults: 
  • Adaptive Dance, Mondays 1:00-1:45pm at Cedar Hill Recreation; although the January class is full, if the waitlist fills up we will schedule another class. We are fundraising to have an All Abilities Dance Group there this April in collaboration with MOVE Adapted Fitness, facilitated by Joanne Cuffe. Learn more about the Adaptive Dance class.
  • 50+ dance troupe, Mondays 2:00-3:30pm at Cedar Hill Recreation, all abilities welcome. The group is also open to adults younger than 50, and is free thanks to support from Saanich Parks & Recreation and Made in BC. Learn more about the 50+ dance troupe.  
  • Dancing Together, inclusive social dance lessons that bring together people with diverse ways of moving as well as queer, trans and gender-variant communities, beginning in March. Learn more about the “Dancing Together” dance lessons.
  • Dancing in the Morning, inclusive dancing events that bring together participants from day programs and interested community members, on a Mon., Tues. or Wed. at 10:30am, happening a few times per year (or more often if a venue/ sponsors are found). Learn more about the “Dancing in the Morning” events.
  • To be in touch about the Dance Alchemy project, or community dance programs (sessions can happen on-site at local organizations, residences and community centres), contact Joanne Cuffe.
Opportunities to dance with other instructors:
  • Motion Ways, a custom dance/ exercise program tailored for individuals with neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s, epilepsy, peripheral neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, and acquired brain injury, Mondays 11:15am-12:15pm until April 10, at Gordon Head Rec Centre, a program of HeadWay, instructed by Lindsay Beal. Learn more about the motion ways program.
  • Juan de Fuca Social Club, weekly dances that are geared towards people with disabilities, Wednesdays 7:00-8:30pm at Juan de Fuca Seniors Centre: Learn more about the programs at Juan de Fuca (description for dance and drama programs is on page 42 in the January guide).
  • Dance Without Limits, free classes for children and youth with various disabilities, on Tuesdays 5:15-6:00pm until March 28, drop-ins welcome, at MOVE Gym, a program of the Cerebral Palsy Association of BC, instructed by Jordan Dalley. Learn more about Dance Without Limits.
  • Chair Exercise, a dance class for people living with multiple sclerosis and anyone else interested in a seated dance/exercise class, Tuesdays 12:15-1:15pm until Feb. 28, at Silver Threads Victoria, a program of the MS Society of Canada, instructed by Katrina Pavlovski. Learn more about the chair exercise class. 
  • Adapted Dance classes for children, youth and young adults, taught by Tiffany Tjosvold. Learn more about Adapted Dance classes.
  • Dance and Move for PD (Parkinson’s Disease) and dance therapy sessions with Sepora Mayim Jacobson. Learn more about Dance and Move dance therapy.

Dance Without Limits – Tuesdays 5pm, ages 5-15

Dance Without Limits is a free adapted dance program by the Cerebral Palsy Association of BC. Children and youth of all abilities are welcome, ages 5 to 15+.

I had fun facilitating the first Victoria class today, with a great group of participants, families, support workers and volunteers!

And there is room for more to join: if you know anyone who might be interested, please share this link: http://bccerebralpalsy.com/programs/dance-without-limits/. The classes are Tuesdays 5pm-6pm, from Feb. 9th-March 8th at Cook Street Village Activity Centre (parking lot entrance). To register, call 604-408-9484, or email admin@bccerebralpalsy.com.

p.s. Here is a short video from the program in Vancouver:

 

The days of summer are numbered

Greetings everyone!

My apologies for being so quiet online since the spring. Dance programs have been very busy and lovely with new locations across the region; however this has had a side effect: I have not had a chance to send newsletters, tweet, or post updates. And, I have missed being in touch with participants from dancing for wellbeing and dance for brain health sessions while classes paused for the summer.

Photo: ten people seated in a circle, each holding an arm of a sunshine prop with a pink circle centre.
Sharing laughter with residents experiencing memory loss, as we bounce a rubber chicken to a Beatles song.

Although I usually focus on updates that highlight a particular location, today my theme is numbers, which feels a bit odd. Yet numbers seem like a useful way to summarize the beautiful whirl of the past while, and to offer more context (/an alibi) for why I have been offline. As an example, during the past 7 days, I have danced with 132 participants, including 20 new people, at 13 locations. It’s an honour to connect and be creative with so many fun people.

In the past 6 months I have met 395 new participants at programs…. I find it quite tricky to keep track of so many people’s names – although at least there are some repeated names, such as on Saturday there were 4 people with the name Joyce across 3 locations! I started keeping tally of numbers of participants in 2012; in the past 3 years I have danced with around 1152 unique participants, at more than 50 locations.

Background is a map with roads; foreground has various location markers: circles and squares of different colours.
I use an online map to keep track of locations.

Over the past 5 workdays, I have bicycle commuted 80 kilometers. This is likely a record, as I do not usually go around to so many neighbourhoods in the same week. This week involved 10 different areas in Lekwungen and WSANEC homelands: Oaklands, Saanichton, Brentwood Bay x2, Burnside-Gorge, Gordon Head, Vic West, James Bay x3, Esquimalt, Swan Lake, Cadboro Bay, and tomorrow involves Sidney (…although I will bus both ways tomorrow). I am grateful that for autumn, it has been possible to set up my schedule so that sessions in the same neighbourhood are on the same day.

Recently, I am often out of the office from 10am-4:30pm with programs, and then I spend time in the office to prepare activities, playlists and props, and to follow up about logistics for programs (with ~20 organizations and workshops at 5 locations).

Photo: big rocks with tidepools, one person walking in the waterway, background: fog with silhouettes of trees.
Wandering in Long Beach tide pools

And, one of my favourite numbers from this summer: I spent 7 nights camping at Long Beach/ Tofino in Tla-o-qui-aht in early August. My family came together for it, from Gatineau/Ottawa, Nicaragua and Burnaby, and it was also where I met my delightful 4-month-old nephew for the first time.

I hope that summer has treated you and family as well as possible, and that we get to catch up and dance soon!

Graceful VIRCS dancers

During February and March, I had a wonderful time moving with a group of graceful dancers at the Victoria Immigrant & Refugee Centre. We did many group improvisations together, as well as dancing in two’s; this group is amazing at moving as a collective!

From the poster for the six-week series: “Relaxing classes for the newcomers that will help you: Learn English in a fun and friendly setting, Make new friends, Stay healthy with light exercises, Relax and have fun.”

We took some photos (a few blurry) on March 24th, during the last session; participants wanted to dance with ribbons:

 

Move (and laugh) to Music

A regular highlight of my week is connecting with residents at the Douglas Care Community, for a Move to Music session on Wednesday mornings. There is much laughter and playfulness; adaptive dancing, with relevant music, is excellent for engaging with people who are experiencing memory loss.

After each session I rate how it felt to me, in terms of connecting and engaging with participants, out of 5 stars (with 5 stars meaning ‘great’). The past couple months’ sessions here have felt like: 6 stars, 7 stars, 9 stars (a new record), 6 stars, 3.5 stars, 7 stars, 6 stars, and 8 stars. Thank-you to Leslie for impromptu photos of us with an Octaband (star/ sunshine/ octopus) dance prop a few weeks ago:

An especially beautiful day of programs

Today was an especially beautiful, full day of programs: it started with lively laughter, ribbons and a dance jam circle with people at Wellspring Support; followed by a fox trot, waltz and duets with people at the Cridge Seniors’ Centre; and then flamenco, merengue and graceful collective movement with people at the Victoria Immigrant & Refugee Centre Society. The day also involved confirming details for a couple of workshops in March: one at Capital Mental Health Association’s Bridge Program, and another at the Victoria Brain Injury Society. In the evening I prepared for the rest of the week, including for tomorrow morning’s weekly session at the Douglas Care Community.

It is an honour to get to connect and move with so many wonderful people. Participants continually remind me that there are so many ways to express joy without using words.

An exhilarating Sunday

It was an especially splendid session today with Lifetime Networks’ dance group, with everyone able to attend for the first time in a few weeks. When I asked for feedback, participants said that today’s session was:

exhilarating, joyful, fun, relaxing, refreshing, rewarding, independent, awesome, laughing, lordly, good, wonderful, perfect, A+.

A participant asked to lead the warm-up, and then we taught each other dance moves, moved with ribbons, had a dance-off in small groups, had a jam circle with the option of going in the middle to do a solo or in twos, and ended with stretching. After each session I write down how it felt to me, rating it out of five stars; today was an 8-star session!Lifetime Networks logo and text: lasting friendship & support for people with disabilities

Septembery highlights

Dance programs in September have been a lot of fun! I have had a splendid time connecting and moving with so many new participants.

A few highlights:

  • A rowdy group of dancers aged 4 to around 84 all laughing and grooving together;
  • A participant, in his 40s, mentioned a couple of times that the dance session was the first time he had ever danced while sober, which he said was something he had always wanted to do;
  • Full houses for both Dancing for Brain Health demos this month (for an overview of the demos see this post).

Photo: 7 adults in a circle around a sun-shaped prop, each holding a strandThere were 174 unique participants at sessions in September – including a new record for me of 128 new participants in one month. I facilitated sessions at 14 different locations, including 7 new places, in a lovely time of year for trying out new bike routes between sessions. (For a sample of a week`s programs, see the Joy & cohesion post.)