MAKING CONTEMPORARY DANCE AND MOVEMENT ACCESSIBLE TO EVERYONE
Published 14 March 2022 at 2:23pm
One of the freelancers who has benefited from the recent South Yorkshire Arts & Culture funding is Lucy Haighton.
She is probably best known in this area for being Artistic Director of Third Bite Dance (performance company of 50+ Contemporary Dance Sheffield) - a dance company for people in Sheffield aged 50 and over that defies expectations of the older body and celebrates the adventure of ageing and empowerment through movement and creativity.
Lucy has been working with older adult communities for many years, delivering workshops and choreographing work in collaboration with people in the community. Lucy has a Postural Stability Instructor qualification and is a lead artist on the nationwide falls prevention programme, Dance To Health. Classes are usually held in community settings and anyone who has had a fall or is at risk of a future fall is welcome with some people referred by their GP. In some cases, attendees are facing challenges with their mobility brought about by a stroke or other illness. These sessions focus on building balance, strength, mobility and stability as well as the creativity and energy of dance.
As Lucy explains: “Many people come to the classes to improve their balance and I help them to prevent a fall. I also teach them what to do if they do fall, so they can get back up using a chair and it becomes a less frightening experience. Once they start practising these movements at the weekly class, they become habitual, so it gives them the skills they need and strengthens the whole body. You don’t even have to be very mobile to attend the class - some people are wheelchair users or remain seated throughout the session. People find they gain in confidence, improve their wellbeing and they enjoy the social side of the class too.” “When it comes to helping older people to prevent falls, research has shown that people can be reluctant to follow exercises given to them by a physiotherapist as it feels like hard work. With the Dance To Health sessions, I combine poetry, movement, music and they have a social element at the end. They don’t actually feel like they are learning to balance or doing strength exercises, it’s brought together with an element of fun, in a class that helps them improve both their physical and mental well”
Lucy also specialises in working in care homes and assisted living care schemes with older adults and adults living with dementia. She is currently working on a project called ‘Moments Of Joy’ with Age Friendly In Sheffield, funded by South Yorkshire Housing Association. Before the lockdown, Lucy worked as part of a team of 4 lead dance artists and 2 musicians delivering a three year intergenerational dance project ‘We Danced’ involving school children going into care homes in the Parsons Cross area and undertaking dance workshops, designed to bring the older and younger generations closer together.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Lucy was on tour with dance company Spiltmilk Dance touring in rural locations across the UK. The following tour dates were immediately cancelled and it also became impossible to deliver her normal community-based classes face to face. Lucy Haighton said: “I’d never heard of Zoom and suddenly everyone was talking about it being the way to run classes. I had to get up to speed with setting up my classes on Zoom and I asked for a small fee per person for each class. My income dropped significantly, but I was lucky that I managed to get Arts Council Emergency Funding to help me to keep going.
During the Lockdown, Lucy also worked with Hubbub Theatre Company in Derby, co-creating a piece with adults and young people with learning disabilities over Zoom. Lucy says “Working online really helped people to keep an important connection going at a very difficult time.”
Lucy found that one advantage of using Zoom was that it helped her to extend her reach, so instead of all participants in her over 50s classes being from Sheffield, she gained dancers from across the country in places like Wiltshire, Doncaster, Scotland, Newcastle and Cornwall, as well as South Yorkshire.
Back in September, the South Yorkshire Mayor announced that £1m would be invested in arts & culture businesses, including organisations and freelancers who had been affected by the pandemic. This was at the discretion of local authorities, who administered the process and awarded the funding to meet needs in their areas.
From its £280k allocation, Sheffield City Council awarded £120,000 to the Freelancer Fund Round 2, recognising how artists and creatives have been impacted by the pandemic.
At this time, Lucy was delivering daily workshops via her laptop but, as it was 10 years old, it started letting her down. “When I heard about the South Yorkshire Arts & Culture funding, I was really struggling with my laptop. I was delighted when I received the funding as it meant I could invest in a new laptop and carry on delivering my classes and doing my invoices and admin work more efficiently. If there is another lockdown, I now feel confident and comfortable with delivering Zoom classes as a way to continue – it wouldn’t mean a great change.”
Once Lockdown restrictions started to ease, Lucy began offering blended workshops, with people having the option to join online or attend in person. This meant she could keep clients from across the country as well as locally.
Lucy explains: “I am really optimistic about the future. I feel so fortunate that I have such a strong network around me. There is a small team of freelance dance artists in the Sheffield area and we all help each other out – covering each other’s classes if one of us is working away and collaborating on projects together”
Alongside her work in the community, Lucy also does performance/choreography work where she has performed in major events such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
During Lockdown, Lucy choreographed and directed a film, involving 11 dancers in Sheffield, called ‘This is how gorgeous it feels’ which is due to be shown at an event that is planned for the summer. The film is a story of rediscovery and connection and invites the audience to celebrate new beginnings as the dancers emerge from lockdown into full life.
She also works with refugee and asylum seeker groups in areas such as Fir Vale, where English is often a second language and there are different culture and language barriers to overcome “Dance and live performance can speak to people, whether their first language is English or not. I want to bring contemporary dance and performance into people’s lives whatever age, culture, religion or background they are from.”
Lucy is optimistic about the future. She has plans to work with Spiltmilk Dance in the summer touring seaside show ‘Somewhere On Sea’ to care homes. Later in the year she is hoping to take some time off to work on a solo research project with survivors of domestic abuse.
For more details of Lucy Haighton’s work visit www.lucyhaighton.com and for 50+ Contemporary Dance Sheffield and Third Bite Dance visit https://www.50contemporarydancesheffield.com/
For more information about arts and culture funding in South Yorkshire visit our Arts, Culture and Heritage page.
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