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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Out of Reach
Animated, Autumn 2001. Social inclusion - shorthand for individuals or areas suffering from a combination of linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing and high crime environments. Dance - multidimensional - associated with improved performance and effective learning, nurturing self-esteem, confidence, independence, positive social contact and a relaxed emotional and physical self. In a groundbreaking research initiative, Out of Reach, Dr Denise Peerbhoy, Jacqueline Birchall and Alicia Smith document the capacity of movement to influence the well-being and quality of life by inducing positive emotional and cognitive states. Although only speculative, in line with current theory, dance may have pronounced long-term educational benefits. Here they explain

Associated Attachment(s):

 Figures 1-7.pdf
Out of Reach started life in September 1999 as a community project working with socially excluded groups. Using dance as the medium, it created a link for social interaction through consultation, participation, observation and research. Funded by the Community Fund (National Lottery Charities Board) it was devised from a developmental need of Merseyside Dance Initiative (MDI) and the local community it serves. The project provides opportunities for groups and individuals to realise their potential in and through the medium of dance. It employs a full-time project coordinator and part-time project assistant.

Delivery of dance

Out of Reach offered dance on many different levels making it relevant to the needs of specific groups, either by taking the project to them in their own environment or enabling them to meet externally in another location. A series of planned sessions or one-off workshops responded to the nature and needs of a group and enabled them to network, share thoughts, experience ideas and gain new skills.

Groups targeted by Out of Reach
In accordance with the PAT 10 2000 remit (1) (Department of Culture Media and Sports - DCMS), social inclusion is a shorthand label for what can happen when individuals or areas suffer from a combination of linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime environments.

Definitions of 'absolute poverty' (Rowntree, 1971), 'the poor' (Townsend, 1979), and more recently, 'social exclusion' (5,6) (Berghman, 1995; PAT 10 - DCMS, 2000) have acknowledged the effects of unemployment and low income, restructuring of the family, and the growing inequality amongst societal groups.

Out of Reach, over a 12-month period, has worked with youth groups from low-income areas, the probation service, adults, mental health groups, and young people excluded from mainstream education. It has also provided training opportunities for adults.

Mental health: Wirral Mind
This group met weekly over a 30-week period, which was divided into three, ten-week blocks. The first concentrated on building trust within the group and enabled them to explore their own creativity through themed movement tasks and relaxation techniques incorporating massage, breathing and guided imagery. Props, such as feathers, enhanced the client's awareness of their breathing and developed their use of levels. Gradually, the group began to take ownership of the workshops and requested different dance styles. This precipitated the introduction of another dance worker who, over the following ten weeks, focused on contrasting taster sessions in jazz, African, Indian, and contemporary. The remaining ten-week block concentrated on contemporary dance, which led to the involvement of a further dance worker.

Probation service: Female Bail Hostel
This group started with two taster sessions over two consecutive weeks. The first was an aerobic class and the second a creative dance class. The aim of both sessions was to get the women involved, reduce feelings of self-consciousness, and to do something that got them moving together in a non-threatening manner, which did not draw attention to any one individual. Following these original sessions, an eight-week project was delivered in partnership with the Liverpool Tate Art Gallery, most of which took place away from their own environment. Its aim was to enable the women to create a piece of art or dance inspired by exhibits they had seen, associated with a specific concept.

In addition, a further three workshops in creative dance and jazz were facilitated each month to introduce dance and to build trust.

Young people: Knowsley Boys, Croxteth and Toxteth Youth Dance
These sessions took place in low-income areas where young people had not experienced dance as an artform, although the majority subscribed to a 'youth culture' and wanted to experience jazz and/or street dance. A class comprising a thorough warm up, movement vocabulary and choreography provided a more structured environment. Subsequent sessions explored the young people's inventiveness and new dance techniques with a view to fostering trust and their own creativity. This involved working with other dance workers in their own environment as well as their attending workshops and performances in other, perhaps unfamiliar environments.

Knowsley Boys
A recruitment programme in Knowsley primary schools was launched, which met with a considerable degree of suspicion and cliched perceptions that dance was not for boys. In many cases, this was simply due to their never experiencing a dance and/or movement session. However, after participating in a creative dance workshop many of the boys expressed their surprise - they had actually enjoyed dance and dancing! Having broken down some of these initial barriers a lot of interest emerged, so MDI decided to hold regular weekly classes open to boys aged eight to 13 years. Around 25 have attended since it began, and there is now a core group of eight members, who have participated for a minimum of 12 months. The same dance worker led the majority of sessions, with guest choreographers inputting occasionally for specific projects and/or events. Creative dance features strongly in the sessions; this allows the boys to freely develop their own movement ideas and explore those of others. A specific stimulus enables the group to work together to develop and explore movement phrases -developing choreographic and communication skills.

Analysis of dance sessions
Out of Reach has researched the impact of its practical activity by monitoring, observation and evaluation processes. The experiences of individuals and teachers from each group were drawn upon to assess the effect of dance on the individual. Here we attempt to capture some of the experiences of both the participants and key workers. The monitoring process varied according to each group.

Outcomes were monitored in two ways. Either by the subjective experiences of participants, or from dance teachers' summative evaluations, which were based on observation and feedback provided to them by participants. Subjective outcome information collected from participants was based on a self-report questionnaire given at the end of a series of dance sessions or a workshop. It included the following key 'open-ended' questions:

  • why do you come to dance?
  • what is it that you like about the workshop?
  • what does dance do for you?
  • what words describe dance for you?

Croxteth and Knowsley Boys were asked to complete a self-report questionnaire, whilst Adelaide House and Wirral Mind were monitored via observation and feedback methods. With reference to dance teachers' observations, specific notes were made about 'good' and 'bad' aspects of sessions, which were based on observations of participants, and comments from participants and organisations. An assessment of individual responses and comments from dance teachers, based on feedback from participants, showed specific themes with regards to how dance had affected them. An independent rater looked through individual responses, from each of the groups, in an attempt to understand clients' perceptions of the impact of dance on them. The same process was also applied to all information received from key workers.

So what are the implications?
It is evident based on the findings of our first year that dance is not just a physical and social exercise in itself but is also beneficial in many other ways. These benefits were assessed from the organisation's and participant's point of view. Analysis of subjective responses showed that groups found that dance, otherwise known as movement communication or movement talk, was valued by all groups, and was associated with positive experience. One way in which this was demonstrated was through the use of adjectives chosen to describe dance. It was perceived as 'excitement', 'brilliant', 'fun', 'happy making'. Whilst others associated it with 'freedom', 'creativity' and 'beauty'. Also, with reference to comments provided by dance workers, groups in general had a very positive attitude towards dance and participated in each session with enthusiasm. This affected the way that groups evolved - as documented by the dance worker with Toxteth Youth: 'Group looking forward to working on the project. They had a lot of positive feedback and ideas. Will let the group shape the project ...'(7)

It was clear that many of the youth groups associated dance with positive affect ie. mood enhancement, as well as increased energy and positive human contact such as the making of friends (see attachment - figure 7). The physical benefits of dance have previously been acknowledged (8,9) (Berryman-Miller, 1988; Corbin & Metal-Corbin, 1983). In general, the aforementioned physical and psychosocial indicators invariably affect the quality of life or, as it is known, general health or well- being of an individual (10) (Post, Witte, Schrijvers, 1999). One important aspect of quality of life is subjective well-being or happiness, which consists of two independent dimensions' (Argyle, 1987). There is an emotional and a cognitive dimension. The former relates to how 'good' a person feels, and the latter relates to their satisfaction with life. The emotional significance of dance was seen across all groups. In the words of participants, it made them feel: 'more confident', gave them more energy', made them 'happy', reduced tension, etc. In the case of aerobic dance, reduced mental and physical tension has been associated with physiological effects (12,13) (Ford et al. 1989; Estville, 1995); it can be presumed that changes in other emotions may operate similarly.

For Wirral Mind in particular, it was clear from feedback given to dance teachers that dance assisted in fostering a creative attitude and a relaxed state. In accordance with ideas about the creative attitude, participants in this group showed a lessening of defences through a reduction in inhibitions, guardedness, and a narrowing of consciousness. They also exhibited a loss of ego through being less aware of others (14) (Maslow, 1965). Similar shifts of perception have been found by others working with multi-modal expressive therapies (15) (Merill & Anderson, 1993). Our approach enabled participants to make the most of the dance sessions. Those who have used dance therapeutically have commented that amongst other elements dance, through symbolising and movement, can be used as a tool to stimulate the imagination (16) (Thulin, 1997).

This group also associated dance with increased feelings of self-esteem. Other researchers too have found involvement in dance to be associated with increased self-esteem (17,18) (Laurence, 1990; Dibbell-Hope, 2000), self-confidence (19,20) (Romance, 1985; Bournell, 1984) and life-satisfaction (21) (Osgood, Meyers, & Orchowsky, 1990). Satisfaction of dance was, for the Wirral Mind group, reflected in carers' responses. One commented: 'Personally I hope the dance sessions will be running again? The benefits were many: the physical exercise, the fact that several of the group member's problems are such that other exercise disciplines are not an option. The complexity of movement and coordination was good for concentration and the ability to transcend anxieties and offer respite from mental worries. The bonding together of the group and the positive ambience of the group was uplifting to the group? (22)

Overall, in accordance with theory about the therapeutic challenge of dance, feedback from workers and carers suggested that dance was eliciting spontaneous expression of feelings, a building of trust, transforming of stressful feeling states, and providing a feeling of group-belonging (23) (Thompson, 1997). The results of this study to date, along with other investigations, emphasise the potential of dance for improved psychosocial and physical health developments. Such findings can be used to reinforce the idea that every child should experience an arts project of some form (24) (Palmer-Jones, 2000), not only in school but also as an extra curricular 'out-of-school activity? (25) (Robertson, 2000). It is believed that such out-of-school activity, where assessment is informal and adventure and risk are encouraged and praised, helps to redress the balance of schools that operate in a more rigid and negative way.

Indeed, dance activity has been associated with improved learning performance /effective performance. This argument is based on the idea that a series of neurological and psychological events take place when dance is engaged in. According to Doyle (26) (Doyle 2000), increased brain cell connections occur in an environment in which there is a high level of sensory stimulation. This, together with a safe and non-threatening environment, positive feedback about movement, use of memory, and the use of music, which usually comes hand-in-hand with dance, all make the brain more receptive to learning. A more in-depth analysis of the influence of dance looking specifically at its relationship with educational attainment would be useful for evaluating its effectiveness in mainstream education. Indeed, reinforcing ideas about the association between learning and dance - it was recently found that boys who participated in regular dance classes over six months obtained better examination results than those not participating in dance activity (27) (Hartcliffe Boys Study - Eccleston, V; PAT 10,DCMS, 2000).

In summary
Collectively, individual responses were similar to those found amongst the sparse literature that has assessed physical and psychosocial affects of dance (28) (Berrol, Ooi, & Katz, 1997). Indeed, individual responses suggest that dance activity amongst those groups studied is associated with improved mood and social interaction, as well as mental and physical release of tension. In accordance with the idea of different domains of health status (for example physical, mental health, social functioning, role functioning and general health perception (29) - Williams, 1984), a multidimensional impact of dance on health is seen from the findings of this study. Such findings reinforce the positive value of integrated creative therapies into mainstream education (30) (Thorpe, 2000) and individual treatment plans in the field of mental health (31,32,33,34) (Gibson, 1980 Stanton-Jones, K, 1992; Payne, 1992; Heber, 1993).

Future research and recommendations
This first year of the pilot study has been particularly effective as a means of assessing the impact that dance has on the individual. It represents the beginning of a project whose aim is to assess, in more detail, the psychological and social effects that dance had on several different groups. Subjective accounts from a few questionnaires put to participants at the end of dance sessions, or workshops and comments fed back to dance teachers, were useful methods for assisting in a simple and straightforward assessment of individuals' perceptions about dance. The themes drawn from the information collected are important as they will be used and developed to assess long-term effects of dance in stages two and three of the Out of Reach project. 

A note of caution
The groups used in this study cannot be considered a representative sampling of all the groups interpreted. Nor, in any way has the research reported attempted to measure change over time. In order to discern any differences for any of the groups, pre and post assessments of all aspects monitored (before and after dance) would need to be used.

Out of Reach will continue working with those groups it has had contact with during its first year - building on research, as well as assessing the impact of dance on other groups not referred to here.

Dr Denise Peerbhoy, health psychologist and freelance researcher with Merseyside Dance Initiative, Alicia Smith, project co-ordinator, Out of Reach and Jacqueline Birchall, part-time project assistant. Contact MDI on +44 (0)151 708 8810. Email


To date Out of Reach has established 19 partnerships, and continues to build on these and initiate new ones. Existing partnerships are listed below:

Adelaide House*
Arts in Regeneration
Canning House
Catalyst Dance and Drama
Croxteth Child Development Service*
Education Action Zone - Dingle, Toxteth and Granby
Education Action Zone - Speke and Garston
Elimu and the Bluecoat Connect
English National Ballet
Hope Street
John Moores University
Knowsley Arts Unit*
Knowsley Youth Service
Liverpool Student Community Action
Ludus Dance Agency
Merseyside Youth Association
Philharmonic Community Education Unit
Wirral Carers Wirral Metropolitan College
Wirral Mind*
* These groups are discussed in this article.

Principles of partnerships

In their work with socially excluded groups Out of Reach, encompass principles of the PAT 10 Remit 2000 (Department of Culture Media and Sport).(1) These principles work to establish long-term, acceptable and satisfying programmes, which encourage choice, cooperation and commitment amongst local people.

The Principles of Out of Reach

Valuing diversity

  • projects are tailored to appropriate groups and are sensitive to organisations and cultural needs, eg youth groups, adult groups, mental health groups.

Embedding local control

  • enables organisations and their groups to participate, grow and be involved in the decision making of the project process with a vision to becoming independent and autonomous. It introduces them to training courses that work on introducing new skills, eg. Croxteth Youth Group.

Supporting local commitment

  • works with various groups to build on and encourage maximum creativity. In partnership with organisations, it supports and guides them, acting as a catalyst for development. Projects are sustained by 'cash, guidance or other forms (2) (PAT 10. DCMS, 2000).

Promoting equitable, partnerships

  • works in partnership establishing fair and workable contracts with both parties playing a equal part throughout the process.

Defining common objectives in relation to actual needs

  • works with groups who have a shared need and agenda, eg. probation service and youth service.

Working flexibly with change

  • format adapts well to different situations: it is flexible to change, which enables projects to reach their maximum potential. This is mirrored within monitoring and evaluation on processes.

Secure and sustainability

  • supports the independent development and ownership of projects, which exist outside the jurisdiction and guidance of Out of Reach. This is part of an 'exit-strategy' plan.'

Pursuing quality across the spectrum

  • it delivers its services in a high quality way, providing diverse opportunities in training and guidance.

Connecting with the mainstream

  • it works with other organisations concerned with the cause and symptoms of social inclusion to provide maximum impact.


1,2,6,27. Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) Policy Action Team 10. A report to the social exclusion unit, London, 2000
3. Rowntree, B.S., Poverty: a study of town life, Howard Fertig, New York, 1971
4. Townsend, P, Poverty in the UK, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1979
5. Berghman, J., Social exclusion in Europe: policy context and analytical framework. In Groom (ed) Beyond the threshold. Policy Press, Bristol. 1995
7. Dance worker feedback (anonymous), MDI, Liverpool, 2000
8. Berryman-Miller, S., Dance/movement: effects on elderly self-concepts, journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 59, 1988
9. Corbin, D. E. & Metal-Corbin, J., A handbook of exercise and dance activities for older adults, 1983
10. Post, M., de Witte, K., & Schrijvers,A., Quality of life and the ICIDH: Towards an integrated conceptual model for rehabilitation outcomes research, Clinical Rehabilitation, 13, 1999
11. Argyle, M., The psychology of happiness. Methuen and Co, Ltd. London. 1987
12. Ford, T., Puckett, J., Blessing, D., Tucker, L., Effects of selected activities on health-related fitness and psychological well-being, Psychological Reports, 64 (1), 1989
13. Estivill, M., Therapeutic aspects of aerobic dance participation, Health Care for Women International, 16 (4), 1995
14. Maslow, A.H.,The farther reaches of human nature, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, 1965
15. Merill, C. & Anderson, S., A content analysis of person-centred expressive therapy outcomes, Humanistic Psychologist, 21(3), 1993
16. Thulin, K., When words are not enough: Dance Therapy as a method of treatment for patients with psychosomatic disorders, American Journal of Dance Therapy, 19 (1), 1997
17. Laurence, A., The effect of dance on the self-esteem of intellectually dis-abled children, sl., sn., 1990
18. Dibbell-Hope, The use of dance/movement therapy in psychological adaptation, Arts in Psychotherapy, 27 (1), 2000
19. Romance, T., Observing for Confidence, Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 1985
20. Bournell, D., Movement is individuality: An inter-reliabilities approach to using dance taps, Music Therapy, 4 (1), 1984
21. Osgood, N., Meyers, B., Orchowsky, S., The impact of creative dance and movement training on the life satisfaction of older adults: An exploratory study, journal of Applied Gerontology, 9 (3), 1990
22.Wirral Mind Carer (anonymous), Liverpool: quote from a letter, 2000
23. Thompson, D., Dance movement therapy with the dual diagnosed: A vehicle to the self in the service of recovery, American Journal of Dance Therapy, 19 (1), 1997
24. Palmer-Jones, D., Arts Zones, animated, autumn, 2000
25. Robertson, M., Getting Hooked, animated, autumn, 2000
26. Doyle, B., Brain Waves, animated, autumn, 2000
28. Berrol, C., Ooi,W; Katz, S., Dance/movement therapy with older adults who have sustained neurological insult: A demonstration project, American Journal of Dance Therapy, 19 (2), 1997
29.Williams, J.I., Quality of life and the assessment of primary care, in Stewart, M (ed) Tools for Primary Care Research, Sage, Newbury Park, California, 1984
30. Thorpe,V, Billy left to dance alone as schools neglect the arts, The Observer, 8 October 2000
31. Gibson, R., The creative arts therapies: An overview Journal of the National Association of Private Psychiatric Hospitals, 11(2), 1980
32. Stanton-Jones, KM., introduction to dance movement therapy in psychiatry, Tavistock, Routledge, London, 1992
33. Payne, H., Dance Movement therapy: Theory and Practice, London, 1992
34 Heber, L., Dance movement: A therapeutic program for psychiatric clients, Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 29 (2), 1993

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001