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Live Well & Dance with Parkinson's reflections: Nia Williams
Date posted: 13 April 2021
Nia Williams of MuMo Creative reflects on co-leading the March edition of Perspectives on Practice: online adventures in dancing with Parkinson’s. The session was focused on sharing with artists and practitioners the use of narrative themes, character and music to enhance movement practice for people living with Parkinson’s
Photo: Nia Williams - courtesy of Opera Anywhere.

Every Monday, throughout Lockdown, we’ve had the uplifting experience of leading a group of enthusiastic dancers living with Parkinson’s through a session of movement, music, creativity and fun. Our team of three—dance artists Louisa Dalton and Roosa Leimu-Brown and myself, the team’s musician—has worked for several years with this group of participants on English National Ballet’s Dance for Parkinson’s programme.

During the hiatus of the pandemic, while ENB were working on future delivery, we stepped in to keep classes going as MuMo Creative, our music and movement workshop project. A key aspect of both programmes is the use of theme and story to shape and develop each term, and on 29 March we were delighted to share an example of this work through the Perspectives on Practice online workshop.

Like many practitioners, we began our Zoom classes with comparatively little technological know-how. Our delivery has evolved over the past year by trial and error, and in response to our dancers’ feedback.

In the session we aimed to share a variety of the techniques we’ve used online, to discuss their pros and cons, while also reflecting on the use of narrative themes, music and character to inform and enhance movement. To do this we used material from our MuMo five-week term based on Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’.

We currently deliver our sessions live on Zoom but have also provided pre-recorded sessions for participants to access during the week, and a mix of live- led exercises and screen-shared video elements. During the People Dancing session, we hoped to demonstrate the benefits of film by leading from live teaching points into video. So, for instance, a port de bras based on Alice tumbling down the rabbit-hole was taught live by Roosa, then shared and followed on video; and Louisa’s plié exercise based on Alice growing and shrinking was also live-led, then shared with a seated alternative on the split screen. For these elements, requiring focus on the artist’s teaching points, Zoom’s speaker view/pinned screen was used, but we’ve also been taking advantage of the app’s other facilities to vary the group’s experience.

For the vocal exercise which I led, using simple words and characters to explore vocal range, projection and confidence, we came into gallery view and were treated to a glorious screen full of Cheshire Cat smiles and Queen of Hearts imperiousness! As a team we integrate movement, music, vocal and story elements closely, and to demonstrate this we moved from spoken dialogue between the Cat and Alice to Louisa’s seated exercise based on that text - which then became a split-screen remotely filmed dialogue between her and Roosa, giving participants the opportunity to take one or other of the parts.

One of the features of our live classes which we all missed during our early online sessions was the creative exercise, which invites input from the participants, always with wonderful results. A benefit of live online delivery is the use of breakout rooms to replicate this element, and for this session we used them to devise an exercise based on the four suits in a pack of cards (representing the Queen of Hearts’ playing-card courtiers). It gives a great feeling of creativity and togetherness to come back into the space and follow each group’s choreography of digging, clubbing and diamond-faceting, then learn a final ‘Hearts’ element all together.

This session as a whole was a chance to show what we’ve learned and are still learning, as we continue with our online workshops. It was interesting and inspiring to hear, in the breakout discussions that ended the session, about the experiences of other practitioners and participating dancers, and how everyone is adapting and looking ahead. Safe and regular access to specially tailored videos is certainly a ‘pro’ that came up frequently and looks to be a feature of delivery even after pandemic restrictions have lifted. But perhaps the overriding theme from practitioners and dancers alike is the importance and joy of social contact—if not in person, then in live online activity. For us, as a team of practitioners, flexibility has been the name of the game; we hope we were able to demonstrate that in the workshop, and we certainly saw it in the amazing work, ideas and response of the session’s participants during this challenging and extraordinary time.

Photo: Nia Williams - courtesy of Opera Anywhere