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Animated Edition - Summer 2005
Policy into practice
Diane Amans sheds welcome light on the meaning of partnership working and how to achieve it
We know that dance makes an important contribution to health and well-being, and that government policy on strategic partnership working means that we're expected to work co-operatively with other professions. But how do we do this in practice? As dance artists, how do we engage with other people's agendas and still keep true to what we're about? It's not always easy but, in my view, it's definitely worth building relationships with other professionals.

Community dance practitioners need to be able to talk about the benefits of dance in terms of these people's agendas. It doesn't dilute the art form, nor does it mean that dance is in some way less important. But it could be that some of the partners/stakeholders/other agencies don't realise how important it is. We need to understand their priorities and help them understand how dance could become part of their action plan. If we can explain how what we do connects with health and social care priorities, for example, we're more likely to be approached to run community dance projects in different settings. In fact, we don't have to wait to be approached. We could actually be more pro-active in connecting with the priorities of other organisations.

You may be asking, Why should we be pro-active in connecting with Health and Social Care agendas? What about community dance agendas? This is an understandable point of view. Dance professionals don't want other professions to dictate what they do. It reinforces the notion that dance is something to be used to help other professionals achieve their aims and objectives. But we can do something to change this perception. We can choose to see ourselves as equal partners in a collaborative process which benefits everyone involved. After all, the agendas are not very different.

Consider this example from a Freedom in Dance 'mature movers' project which connects with the standards in the Department of Health's National Service Framework: Older People.

Health and Social Care Agenda

  • Encourage active older age
  • Promote good mental health
  • Reduce age related disease
  • Improve balance and co-ordination
  • Reduce social isolation
  • Challenge stereotypes
  • Root out age discrimination
  • Treat people as individuals
  • Recognise and manage diversity.

Community Dance Agenda

  • Engage people in dance activity because it is life enhancing and it makes you feel good.
  • Make new choreography which challenges age stereotypes
  • Build relationships with others by sharing pleasurable activities
  • Create opportunities for self expression
  • Celebrate the diversity of each unique individual participant.

The agendas are very similar. We just use a different language. We need to draw attention to the similarities in our aims and build relationships based on mutual respect. It makes sense to do this, especially if we want to open doors to new work opportunities and stimulating challenges. If we can create alliances with other professions, together we will strengthen funding bids and bring more resources into community dance. It will also create new opportunities for dance with groups and individuals who currently do not dance.

How do we create alliances with other professions? Partnership working in arts and health is like working at partnerships in any area of life. It's about building relationships. Whether we're part of a multi-agency initiative to set up a community dance project or getting to know a new circle of friends, the relationship-building skills are very similar. They include finding out what the other people are interested in; learning to speak the same language; identifying things you have in common.

These are the 'people skills' necessary in any effective relationships. It's also useful to find out about the wider contexts in which our partners work - the government's national frameworks, present and future funding sources, legislation and local authority priorities. We're more likely to be listened to if we can outline proposed projects in a language which connects to other people's agendas. This will help our partners understand our aims and priorities aswell, and might lead to unexpected sources of funding or in-kind support.

When I am planning a dance project I have clear ideas about the artistic content. In my mind there is no ambiguity about the aims. It's an arts project. But there is more chance of my getting other partners involved if I can profile other elements of community dance, such as its contribution to arts and health, its impact on social inclusion, its potential for addressing citizenship and diversity issues. Even if I'm not working in collaboration with other professions on this project, it's a useful exercise to consider how it could connect to other agendas. You never know, I might want to do a follow-up project with this group and I might need partners to get involved.

Partnership Case Study
Here's a good example of how a dance project was made possible through totally unexpected resources. I was invited to demonstrate Freedom in Dance methods to members of South Manchester Healthy Living Network. The audience included representatives from health, social care, housing, transport, leisure, regeneration. Volunteers from the audience took part in a creative dance workshop whilst I described how the various activities linked to the prevention of falls and healthy ageing. I did not need to point out that people were having fun and enjoying social interaction as well as creating dance which engaged performers and audience.

After the event I had two phone calls. One was from a housing manager who wanted me to set up similar sessions in a sheltered housing unit. Did I know how he could raise funds for this? The other call was from a leisure services manager who had a budget and a remit for engaging more over-fifty year-olds in exercise. Did I know of any groups who may be interested in participating? I put them in touch with each other and we set up a dance project. We were delighted to work with partners from health, housing and leisure services.

Challenges of Partnership Working
It's not always this straightforward. You sometimes find yourself in partnership relationships where there are tensions because the partners want different outcomes, or there's a shared vision but no one wants to lead on it, or there's no funding and all the partners are too busy to write funding applications. This can be really frustrating if you're a free-lance artist who's been invited to put together a proposal and a costing and, three meetings later, it still doesn't seem to be going anywhere. This is where the dance practitioner may need to take the initiative in pushing for some decisions. If you're the only one at the table who is not on a salary, it's in your interest to get things moving. Occasionally I've taken the lead in suggesting that a project is not viable because the partnership doesn't have the resources to achieve what it has set out to do. There's nothing to lose by taking the initiative in this way. Sometimes a project does not get off the ground, but then I don't have to go to any more unfocused meetings in my own time and can move on to more promising ventures.

On the other hand, an artist's intervention might nudge people into action. In one memorable Strategic Health Partnership meeting we really seemed to be going nowhere and I questioned whether it was worth continuing. Suddenly one partner excused himself from the meeting, only to return minutes later having made a hurried phone call which resulted in a firm funding offer. Then another partner disappeared and returned with match funding. All this was within twenty minutes of my suggesting we call it a day because there was no funding to continue the dance project!

Is it realistic to expect community dance practitioners to get involved in public sector partnerships? Have they got the skills to do this? Partnership working needs people who can build relationships and that is something we're very good at in community dance. They are the skills we're using every day. Community dance practitioners are creative, resourceful people with leadership skills and experience of communicating with a diverse range of people. As flexible professionals who can 'think outside the box' we can work with other stakeholders to develop joint visions and deliver change. We're just what is needed to translate arts and health theory into practice.

Diane Amans, director of the UK based community dance company Freedom in Dance and a partner in Pathway of the Biscuit Training and Consultancy team, can be reached at freedom@amans.fsnet.co.uk or 0161 427 5093. A leaflet about Freedom in Dance activities is included with this issue of Animated.

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Animated: Summer 2005