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Animated Edition - Autumn 2008
Old age is a stage
Hannah Lefeuvre, Time To Move Co-ordinator at Take Art, goes back for her future and focuses on her passion for work with older people
It's the last day of the Time to Move training, a three-day course in chair-based dance for older people. I am with a group of trainees and they have just shared how enriching they have found the experience. One of our active older groups visits to perform the piece they've been working on - Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll. The group invite us to join in their dancing - we all dance together, madly and spontaneously. It's my birthday and I couldn't think of a better way to spend it. A participant grabs me, flushed and exhilarated. She tells me that she's had four strokes in the last year but the class has been instrumental to her recovery.

I'm in a small residential home on the Somerset Coast mentoring two care workers who came on the training course. They are stuck for ideas and we start a discussion with the group. We lay out objects and material all over the floor and a story unfolds. We move to create on the arm of each chair and then wheel in the Zimmer frames and start decorating and personalising each one. We bring out torches and are guided by the light, shadow and glistening in one-to-one experiences. People's faces come alive. We have shared something intimate, with no words. Two hours pass. We are swept away.

I have always been drawn to the calm richness and depth of older people. I find them enchanting, and mostly very appreciative to have someone to talk to, to touch. Mature dancers are wonderful to work with and beautiful in photography and on film. I feel at home with older people and love their sense of adventure.

I was asked to write about my professional journey towards working with older people. This goes back to my childhood, where I visited local sheltered housing schemes to perform dances, Christmas shows and seasonal festivals, which continued into my teens. I always felt at home with older people. I don't remember viewing them as a distinct group, or realising my particular interest until travelling back from a village church choir rehearsal of older singers, I declared, "I love old people!"

Whilst at the University of Surrey, I missed the community engagement with people of different ages. Around that time, I attended a training day in Somerset and saw a film of the 'Burn and Rave' older people's dance project in Bristol (1996-1999). I requested a similar project at Surrey as part of my University Professional Practice and started to explore bringing these two worlds together.

From then on, in holiday time and in between jobs, I delivered weekly dance sessions at a local sheltered housing scheme. My undergraduate thesis explored intergenerational work with frail older people and pre-school children. As a graduate, I delivered freelance sessions for both age groups and looked for intergenerational projects across the country. I then became Project Manager for Ludus Dance Agency and subsequently Arts Development Officer for Preston City Council. When the position at Take Art was advertised, co-ordinating the Time to Move older people's dance project, it seemed ideal.

And it has been. Managing the Time to Move project has been a milestone. Specialising in one area of work in a beautiful county and working for such a nurturing, dynamic organisation has been a privilege. The project has allowed me to deepen my practice, both professionally as an artist, teacher, mentor, researcher, co-ordinator and advocate, and personally as an individual. Researching and understanding the physicality and psychology of ageing has been fascinating. The project is developing all the time.

It is a little daunting writing about our elderly population, to which, even with increasingly younger definitions of 'old' (45 in some cases), I don't belong. I previously worried that as a 'younger' person I wasn't qualified to work in this field, which can span over 50 years of a person's life. Now, I believe that if we are ageing all the time, then I am an ageing dancer too. I don't profess to know about ageing in later years, or what it feels like. All I know is my own continuing wonderful journey into maturity and that the ageing process interests me. I enjoy being with older people and want to provide opportunities to access one of the privileges that has shaped my own being, to move creatively. I am interested in change, discovery and being in the moment. This can occur at any point in our lives. Everyone is entitled to move and be creative and how wonderful to discover this joy in our later years, with so much life experience to bring to the form. Creative movement is a wonderful gift, particularly to people who may have given throughout their lives, but who have perhaps lost sight of their individuality.

We have a duty of care, as a civilised society, to respect and care for our elders, and this has been a deeply rooted social concept. With ageing high on political agenda, we are seeing more investments in such schemes. A health service that is warming to preventative work is good news for the arts. Despite significant developments over the last 20-30 years in dance with older people, we still have a long way to go in changing societal attitudes. Is our Western fear of ageing to do with our own regret or fear of death? Ageing is such a beautiful natural process. Personally, I am drawn to anyone who is comfortable within their own skin, at whatever age, but it is often most interesting in the very old and very young.

In terms of future explorations, there are so many potential dimensions in this vast age range. At the moment, I am interested in intergenerational work, death and bereavement, the freedom from falling, solo work, workshops for health practitioners and working specifically with older men. Hopefully, I'll be working in this field long enough to become a case study myself and by that time, this work will be widely developed and recognised for the value that it deserves. I look forward to that.

The Time to Move project has been funded by the Big Lottery Community Fund, with contributions from Somerset County Council and in partnership with Somerset PCT, Age Concern, Somerset and Reminiscence Learning.

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Animated: Autumn 2008